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Shawn Michaels, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash and Sean Waltman remember ‘The Curtain Call’
The footage makes you appreciate just how far technology has come since May 19, 1996. Had it happened today, a hundred iPhones would have captured the moment in high-definition from every conceivable angle. Instead, it exists as a single shaky video clip shot from a handheld camcorder somewhere in the mezzanines of Madison Square Garden.
It shows four men in a WWE ring surrounded by a blue steel cage. The quality is sketchy and the colors bleed, but the figures of Shawn Michaels, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash and Triple H — enemies in the ring, but 4/5ths of the backstage collective known as The Kliq (along with Sean Waltman) off-screen — are somehow unmistakable. One day later, Hall and Nash will exit WWE and head to WCW where they will start The Monday Night War as generals in The New World Order. But, tonight, they celebrate in front of an appreciative crowd as longtime friends in an act that is both a touching show of camaraderie and, in the eyes of many traditionalists, an unforgiveable insult to sports-entertainment convention.
More than two decades later, their celebration is remembered as “The Curtain Call” (or, in some circles, “The MSG Incident”) and its impact has yet to be forgotten. A few hours before Scott Hall was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, WWE.com sat down with most of The Kliq (The King of Kings — once the group’s junior member — was busy running an empire) to talk about the most controversial night in the controversial history of their controversial alliance.
This is the story behind The Curtain Call.
WWE.COM: Did you guys plan The Curtain Call ahead of time or did it just kind of happen that night?
SHAWN MICHAELS: It was talked about in Europe then it was never talked about again. We had done a European tour, then we came back and had this last run. For us, not that we needed a reason to celebrate something, but everything was the last time we’ll be doing this, the last time we’ll be doing that.
KEVIN NASH: This may be the last time we’re in a Lumina van! We should really drink tonight.
MICHAELS: Then, that night, as best as I can recall, it was Hunter coming up and going, “Hey, are we doing that thing we talked about?” I don’t think anybody remembered it.
NASH: I walked in and talked to Vince and Pat [Patterson]! You [points to Michaels] were with me and he said it was fine and we were supposed to go to [New York City steakhouse] Smith & Wollensky afterwards. And it just turned into a thing …
WWE.COM: Before we get into the fallout, let’s talk about the incident itself. What do you remember about that moment at the end of the night?
SCOTT HALL: I remember standing in the ring and we’re all there together. It was unheard of, but the people appreciated it. I remember looking at Kev, we’re all hugging and I remember thinking we all made it.
NASH: I remember — and I think we may have even said it in the ring that night — that we weren’t disbanding The Kliq.
MICHAELS: We were taking over the business.
We were taking over the business.
NASH: We’re going to go down south and take over Ford Motor Company. You guys run GM and we’ll run the automobile industry.
MICHAELS: I remember Vince came up to me after and said, “Did that mean a lot to you?” I said, “Yes it did.” “Then it meant a lot to me.” And he was fine. It was fine that night.
WWE.COM: So there weren’t any locker room blowups that night?
MICHAELS: It was not a big deal until it became a big deal. It didn’t become a big deal to us until it became a big deal to Vince.
NASH: What you have to realize is this is before the Internet was what it is now. This is an era where even though that happened it wasn’t like it went viral, you know? People didn’t even have cell phones.
MICHAELS: What happened was the same thing that happened a lot of times — [Mr. McMahon] on the ride to wherever, getting phone calls. Honestly, it was big to the old timers in the locker room before it was big anywhere else.
NASH: It exposed the business.
MICHAELS: We were of the mindset that people understood what the business was, the entertainment aspect. All the stuff we do now we were trying to convince them to do back then. You know, pull the veil back a little bit. Everybody knew we were all real friends. We didn’t see the harm in doing that.
SEAN WALTMAN: We had that different mentality before everyone else caught up. We can do this and it’s not going to hurt the business.
MICHAELS: A lot of the traditional guys did not like that. [Mr. McMahon] had to put the hammer down.
NASH: One thing I want to say is that situation and those actions were never done with malice.
WALTMAN: No way.
NASH: It was four guys that had spent a lot of miles, a lot of hours and a lot of our lives, [and we were] saying goodbye.
HALL: On the other side of the coin, I understand the talent that was still there thinking, “What’s with these dudes? They’re leaving and they’re trying to hurt us.” That wasn’t the way it was. Sorry, man, we stayed out there a long time because the fans were cheering. Had they not cheered, we’d have left. It became really emotional.
We stayed out there a long time
because the fans were cheering.
MICHAELS: I look back at a lot of the stuff we did and I [understand] the heat. It’s not like we worked really hard to try and endear ourselves to people [in the locker room].
WALTMAN: As long as we liked each other.
NASH: We had five of us. I don’t need more than four friends.
WWE.COM: So why did you break up the band? Were you second-guessing your decision to leave WWE for WCW leading up to May 19?
NASH: How could you not? You looked at their television and The Giant’s fighting [Hulk] Hogan on top of Cobo Hall, they get in a monster truck battle, The Giant falls off the roof and comes back in the main event and gets The Yeti to wrap around Hogan. And we’re going there!
WALTMAN: Even if you have all the confidence in the world, when you see that it’s like, “Really? Am I really good enough to go in there and change that?”
NASH: It was one of the hardest decisions I ever made in my life.
HALL: I also felt a certain sense of betrayal, because Shawn’s a guy I’ve known since ’84 in Kansas City. He smartened me up about the business in that Oldsmobile your parents gave you. I felt like I was betraying a guy who elevated my career to its zenith and made it possible for me to get a nice offer, but I also felt a certain responsibility to my family. I had asked if there was anything to do to change my situation and I was told not at that time.
NASH: Same with me. If Shawn Michaels wasn’t watching WCW Saturday afternoon TV and looked at [Rick] Steiner and said, “Do you know Nash? You think he can come up here and be my bodyguard? I think he’s kind of funny.”
WALTMAN: When you were doing Vinnie Vegas.
It was one of the hardest decisions
I ever made in my life.
NASH: Yeah. Without that, I don’t live at the beach. I’d be at a strip joint right now, managing it.
WWE.COM: Shawn, did you ever try to talk your friends out of leaving?
MICHAELS: No, no. People always ask, “Was there animosity?” But, to me, it was more sadness. I’d been traveling with these guys every day for the last several years. We’d gotten so close. It just sucked. It’s like your best friend moving away when you’re little. I woke up and faced these faces more mornings than I did anybody else’s.
NASH: By far.
MICHAELS: Sometimes closer than I probably should’ve been.
WALTMAN: Four guys in a hotel room with two beds. Usually happens that way.
MICHAELS: It started with me and Scott. Scott and I worked with each other every day for two years. Then Kevin came in and me, Scott and Kevin worked with each other for two years.
HALL: In my memory, it was always sold out and they were hanging from the rafters. And I had the [Intercontinental Championship]!
MICHAELS: There was a comfort there, traveling and being with the same people every day. That was going to change for the first time in a long time. It sounds very soft, but it was the truth.
HALL: It was a different schedule back then, too. It wasn’t uncommon to work 20, 30 days in a row. At one time I remember having more physical contact with you than my wife … which is why I’m divorced.
MICHAELS: I wasn’t married. I was single at that time. They had responsibilities. How do you look at your buddies and not say, “You gotta go for the dollars”? They had those things I didn’t have to worry about.
WWE.COM: Did you feel competitive with one another once you were on opposite sides of The Monday Night War?
HALL: I felt just the opposite. I felt so happy. Man, wrestling caught on fire and it’s not like we did it, but if you want to look at who was on top of the highest-rated shows on each channel it was those guys that got a load of heat.
MICHAELS: Look around this business in general! All these guys — plus Hunter — are a part of a lot of those times.
WALTMAN: Every major thing that happened!
MICHAELS: And that ain’t by accident, my friend.
WWE.COM: Are you surprised by the impact The Curtain Call has had on the industry?
HALL: I did Steve Austin’s podcast not too long ago and he said, “I’m glad you all did that, because Hunter ended up getting screwed and I got a big push out of it.”
NASH: We didn’t even leave the building thinking we’d done anything. We just knew we had a hell of a house.
HALL: We felt like we were going to say goodbye to all these fans at The Garden. Thanks for your support all these years, because, man, we’re going to the bush leagues. We’re going to the farm club.
NASH: Yeah, we’re giving up the Yankees pinstripes for the Yomiuri Giants.
HALL: Yeah. We’re getting guaranteed money, but, yeah, I’m selling out. I felt like it. I never thought it was something we were going to be sitting here talking about at the Hall of Fame.
MICHAELS: What these guys did — whether Vince wants to admit it or not — opened the doors.
HALL: It seemed like a good idea at the time.
MICHAELS: I understand people’s perception of it. That’s one thing that time, wisdom and all that gives you. It wasn’t done to stick anybody in the eye. It was just friends expressing their care for one another. But, as a wise guy once told me, it isn’t show friends — it’s show business.
WWE.COM: That’s a perfect last line right there.
HALL: Wish I’d have said it.