In the early-to-mid 90s, I was a big professional wrestling fan, specifically of WWE, then known as the WWF (And before we go any further, yes, I know professional wrestling is “fake” in the sense that everything is predetermined. Do I come up to you and go “DUR HURR YOU KNOW IT’S ALL FAKE, RIGHT??” when you and your family/co-workers/whatever are discussing Lost, or Kyle XY, or your favorite scripted show? No, I do not. Then please don’t do the same to me and my pro wrestling fan brethren. Thanks.). I’ve gone in and out of wrestling fandom since then, mostly due to college friends that were huge fans, but regardless, I tend to lurk and occasionally post on the WrestleCrap forums.
My inspiration for this particular blog post actually comes from two sources. The first was a topic on the Wrestlecrap forums titled “Accidental Pushes” (In wrestling parlance, to “push” someone is to throw your resources behind them, give them lots of screen time, the quality spots at shows like the closing match, make them your champion, etc. etc. etc.), and the link goes directly to my post in said topic. If what I’m saying there looks like it may as well be in Russian to you, I’ll translate: “This could be more accurately phrased as ‘Steve Austin gets really lucky that Jake Roberts happens to be playing the character of a Born-Again Christian at King of the Ring ’96’…” and the rest is pretty much the same.
The second inspiration was the AIM away message of a friend from college, basically lamenting the predictability of wrestling nowadays, and missing the Monday Night Wars (Wikipedia was the only thing I could find that accurately summarized it. *Muttermuttermutter*) where WWE (I’ll be calling the company “WWE” from here on out, even though they were actually “WWF” during the timeframe in question) was forced to be on top of their game due to the competition.
Here’s the thing, though. The Monday Night Wars really weren’t as epic as people remember. Indeed, outside of the brief shining moment for a year or two when WCW was top on the world, that company’s entire existence was plagued by incompetence. The Monday Night Wars officially ended in 2001 when WWE bought WCW, but I would argue that I knew WCW was finished as early as 1999, watching the Hulk Hogan/Ric Flair First Blood match where, as multiple people have said before me, “They started bleeding and it didn’t count.” Even then, I got the impression that WCW was a complete mess and was barely trying at that point.
Let’s go back to 1996 and to the title of this post. At the WWE’s King of the Ring 1996, Jake Roberts, playing the character of a Born-Again Christian (Which may or may not have intersected with Roberts’s real life at that point), makes a run to the finals of the KotR tournament, where he is unfortunately vanquished by Steve Austin. During his coronation ceremony, Austin breaks from whatever script he may have had (Most promos or whatnot don’t have exact scripts so much as a list of points the participants have to hit. How they hit those points is up to them. This is an excellent example of what happens when that exercise goes badly; it’s also where my current name on the Wrestlecrap forums is derived from) and ad-libs a line that goes approximately “You can sit here and you can talk about your John 3:16…Austin 3:16 says ‘I Just whipped your ass!'”
From there, the rest is history. Austin goes on to become WWE’s biggest star for a time, they sell millions of dollars worth of merchandise with “Austin 3:16” on it, and one could argue that the Monday Night Wars are over before they ever really began. And it was all because Austin was lucky enough to have Jake Roberts for an opponent. Without Roberts, Austin never ad-libs “Austin 3:16”, and wrestling history may well play out completely differently.