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OOLD SCHOOL
The Rock's 1998 Heel Re-Turn:
A Blueprint for Randy Orton
July 29, 2004

by Rick Scaia
Exclusive to OnlineOnslaught.com

 

[NOTE FROM THE PRESENT DAY: Just yesterday, I made the case for Randy Orton -- despite an increasing number of cheer from live crowds -- remaining a heel in the eventual break-up of Evolution. In fact, I spun a scenario in which Orton would MANFULLY re-assert his heelishness by taking over the reigns of the group from HHH after briefly teasing fans with hints of splitting off from the group to become a fan favorite. It was meant as a bit of an homage to The Rock's memorable heel re-turn at the 1998 Survivor Series. It was at that show that

Rocky swerved everybody (including gullible fans) by siding with the evil McMahons to win his very first World Title. It was a defining moment for the Rock, the one that made him into a main event superstar.  It's a moment that Randy Orton NEEDS to have before he should be handed his first World Title.  So, to remind you (or to tell some of you newer fans) where I was coming from when I came up with my Orton Scenario, I present my original coverage of the Survivor Series 1998, complete with pissy retort to fans who DIDN'T like the amazing storytelling at the time (I can only assume that, with hindsight, they've come to agree with my original assessment).  Enjoy...]

 
OO PPV RECAP: WWF Survivor Series 1998 (and Analysis)

Originally Published on WrestleManiacs.com on November 15, 1998

The People have been had.  After embracing "The Rock" Rocky Maivia over the past 3 months, the fans were swerved just minutes ago, as Rocky Maivia showed his true colors.  Love him or hate him, the Rock is now the WWF Champion.

The Rock's reign begins as a result of a masterfully woven storyline that more than tipped its hat to last year's controversial Survivor Series finish.  Turning on the fans and embracing the McMahon family, Maivia defeated Mankind in the tourney final by locking in a Sharpshooter as ref Earl Hebner and Vince McMahon (who was standing ringside) called frantically for the final bell.   Mankind, of course, never submitted, as the scene recalled last year's Shawn Michaels victory over Bret Hart.

Shane McMahon also revealed his true colors, returning to his father's side by screwing Steve Austin out of a win in a semi-final match against Mankind.  Mankind had thought HE was the "chosen one" for the WWF and the McMahon family, though the results of the final revealed what fans had suspected all along:  that Mick Foley was just another pawn in Vince's master plan.

The incredible show-spanning angle was extremely surprising and entertaining, though much of the match-by-match action was nothing particularly special.  It was the closing angle the "made" the show.  But the matches and individual segments all served the final purpose of ensuring that the finale of Survivor Series 1998 will not be something we soon forget.   The detailed results:

  • In the opener, Mankind drew "mystery opponent" Dwayne Gill.  Gill is probably best known for being one half of a jobber tag team with Barry Hardy some 6 years ago.  Needless to say, Mankind polished him off in about 20 seconds.
  • Al Snow upended Jeff Jarrett in another first round match.  Jarrett tried to use the Head as a foreign object, but failed, opening the door for Snow to land a head shot of his own and score the win.
  • Steve Austin and the Big Bossman brawled for several minutes before Bossman got intentionally disqualified by using his nightstick on Austin.  Austin wins, but is now "in no condition" to continue.
  • X-Pac kept things interesting against Steven Regal for an 8 minute match (and Regal looked much better than he did on Monday night)... but ultimately, both men were counted out of the ring, giving Steve Austin a bye into the semi finals.
  • Ken Shamrock and Goldust went about 6 minutes before Shamrock rallied with a second rope hurricarana and an ankle lock to advance to the second round.
  • Rocky Maivia was supposed to face HHH in the first round, but HHH is still out with a bad knee, so Pat Patterson and Gerald Brisco announce that the Rock will now have to face the Big Bossman.  Bossman runs in and gets small packaged and defeated in under 5 seconds.  This would later be revealed to be all part of the "master plan."
  • Undertaker and Kane battled in the first quarterfinal match... this was the slowest segment of the evening, as these two have fought so many times (with no end apparently in sight), that it would take something extraordinary to get fans fired up.  Undertaker got the pinfall win when Kane was distracted by Paul Bearer.
  • Mankind and Al Snow hooked up in the next 2nd round match.  It was revealed the Vince McMahon stole Mr. Socko and planted it on the Head... and when Mankind discovered this, he flipped out, repossessed the Sock, and put Snow down with the Mandible Socko.
  • The Rock took on Ken Shamrock in the last second round match...  the match went back and forth until the Bossman hit the scene, apparently trying to pass the nightstick to Shamrock.  But the Rock "intercepted" the pass, and pasted Shamrock with the club, scoring the win.   Again, it looked like a lucky break for the Rock, but was in fact part of McMahon's master plan.
  • In a fairly short match, the women's title changed hands as Sable cleanly pinned Jackie following a power bomb.  Interference from Marc Mero failed, as he was also powerbombed on the floor outside the ring.
  • Austin vs. Mankind in the semis....   some good brawling, leading up to a big rally for Austin.  Stone Cold hit the Stunner, but Vince himself popped out of his wheelchair to stop the ref from making the count.  Austin hit another Stunner, and Shane McMahon hit the ring to make the count...  but Shane only counted to two before flipping Austin the bird.   Mankind made a comeback while Austin was distracted by Shane's histrionics, and was given a final assist from the Stooges, who hit Austin with a chair.  Mankind made the cover, and Shane made the three count.  The McMahon clan fled the ring and left the building with Austin in pursuit.
  • The Rock next encountered the Undertaker in the other semi.  The Bossman hit the scene again, but was not involved in the finish.   Instead, Kane eventually ran in to cause a DQ in favor of the Rock.  Taker and Kane brawled through the crowd as the Rock took the cheap ticket to the finals.
  • The triple threat match for the tag straps was certainly non-stop action, but a lot of it was tough to follow, as it wasn't clearly explained till a few minutes in that there should be three men in the ring at all times.   In the end, Billy Gunn powerbombed and pinned one of the Headbangers to get the win and help the New Age Outlaws hold on to the straps.
  • The main event for the vacant WWF Title pit the Rock vs. Mankind.  It was the best match of the show, with a lot of extracurricular action and the incredible show closing angle.  Partway into the match, Vince and Shane came to ringside, apparently cheering Mankind at times.  The match continued past the 15 minute mark with great back-and-forth action... until finally the Rock got the "high sign" from the McMahons.  Maivia locked in a Sharpshooter as McMahon and ref Earl Hebner called frantically for the bell, recalling last year's finish to the Survivor Series.  Mankind never submitted, but the Rock was crowned the new champ nonetheless.

Post-match, the Rock celebrated with the McMahons, calling the fans "trailer trash" and inviting them to kiss his ass.   When Mankind requested an explanation from Vince, the Rock laid him out.   Austin returned to ringside to make the save, and eventually cleaned house on Maivia (and also on Mankind).  But behind the apparent "happy ending," the fact remains that the Rock has returned to his heel status of a few month ago, and is no longer the Peoples' Champion.  He's Vince McMahon's Corporate Champion.

[Amidst much internet hoopla about how the show sucked from a wrestling perspective and that it was stupid for the WWF to turn Rock back into a heel, I posted the following additional analysis the very next day....]

Survivor Series thoughts have got to lead off...  bottom line:  this PPV told a story, and a damn good one.  It took all three hours to do it.  You could pull out any single segment and critique it by saying, "That was pretty mediocre".... but if you take the show as a whole, it's a video keeper (albeit one that I'll exercise fast-forward on in the future).

I've seen all the criticisms... and I just flat out disagree with them all.   Turning the Rock heel is NOT a desperation move.  Nor is it a stupid business move.  It's the BEST DAMN MOVE for both the Rock's career and the WWF as an organization.  And on top of that, the heel turn (or heel return) was done with such flair and precision that even if there are negatives to the move, I'm willing to grant some leeway.

I don't see that this move was a "seat of the pants" desperation move to try to swerve all the smarts.  The pieces fit together too well for this to be a last-second decision.  On top of that, I think if the WWF was "desperate" to make the most of its admittedly thin talent roster, the EASY way out would be to exploit the suddenly popular Rock for millions of dollars in t-shirt sales. 

And how is this a stupid move?  I hate to be a dick, but I got a ton of e-mail and have read other accounts that criticize the heel turn because the Rock was "so over" as a babyface.  People are getting pissed, if I may read between the lines, BECAUSE THEY LIKE THE ROCK.  That makes this a pretty markish criticism, if you ask me.  You got tricked into liking the Rock, and now he's a heel.  So you're pissed at the WWF for doing it?  You're not gonna buy the Rock's merchandise?   Sorry people, but that's pretty much what a heel turn is SUPPOSED to be.

And stupid from a business perspective?  I think not.  The WWF hasn't had a really solid heel wrestler since Bret Hart left a year ago.  Vince has been the company's top heel, but he can't get in the ring and do anything about it.  And you have to remember, I'm a guy who said three months ago that the best thing you can do for the Rock if you really like him is to CONTINUE to chant "Rocky Sucks."  You didn't listen, and the Rock became massively popular anyway...  but it seems like the WWF braintrust smelled what I was cooking.  It's good for the Rock to be the bad guy right now.  He's still learning the business, and it's easier to do things to make people hate you than to sustain babyface appeal based on a raised eyebrow and a wacky elbow drop.  The Rock is pure gold as a heel.  As a babyface, he was just waiting to be exposed as a two-trick pony.  Now, he'll get some seasoning, and when he DOES return to being the ever-popular Peoples' Champ (be it in 4 months or 4 years), it'll mean that much more, and he'll be that much better at playing the part...   Steve Austin needs that in-ring foil; he needs Rocky's Piper to his Hogan.   This could be a special feud, and it's all predicated on the Rock being the bad guy.  That is simply NOT a stupid move no matter how you slice it.  So they sacrifice a few t-shirt sales in the short-term?  They'll bang a huge number for WrestleMania, when I'm sure it'll be Austin vs. the Rock with the Gold on the line....

The rest of Survivor Series...  like I said, it wasn't anything special.  The best matches were the Rock vs. Mankind in the finals and Mankind vs. Austin in the semis (and yeah, we were marking out big time for Foley... I wanted to believe so badly that he could actually win!).  The worst was Undertaker/Kane; these two are better than average for big men, but we've just seen it so many times before that it'd take them busting out a Rey Jr. caliber match to make us care.  Everything else was just "eh," with nothing sucking, and nothing registering as particularly memorable.  But the storyline was so intertwined with so many of those segments that it made them a PART of the memorable experience.


  
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E-MAIL RICK SCAIA

BROWSE THE OO ARCHIVES

Rick Scaia is a wrestling fan from Dayton, OH.  He's been doing this since 1995, but enjoyed it best when the suckers from SportsLine were actually PAYING him to be a fan.

 

 

 


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