The Corporate Ministry: A History
By April 1999, things had taken a decidedly dark turn in the WWE Universe. Corporate intrigue, dark rituals, familial betrayals and bloodthirsty rivalries shrouded WWE in an air of mystery and terror, the likes of which had never been seen before, and have not been experienced in the years since.
The chief culprit behind those dark overtones was none other than The Corporate Ministry, an unholy alliance formed on the pilot episode of SmackDown and consisting of The Undertaker’s Ministry of Darkness and Shane McMahon’s Corporation. ( WATCH CORPORATE MINISTRY PLAYLIST)
Theirs is a sordid history, one filled with twists and turns, acts of violence and depravity, and men of ill repute. While in existence for mere months, the notorious super faction held WWE and its Superstars under a black thumb during their historic and unforgettable reign of terror.
With the landmark 700th episode of SmackDown upon us, WWE.com looks back at its pilot episode and tells the full story of what was, perhaps, the most terrifying stable in the history of sports-entertainment.
Prelude to Darkness
Betrayal is the only truth that sticks — Arthur Miller
Knowing precisely what The Corporate Ministry would one day become, it is only appropriate that its roots can be traced back to an act of betrayal. At Judgment Day: In Your House 1998, the infamous Paul Bearer turned his back on his own son, Kane, thus setting in motion the formation of a dark new manifestation in WWE.
At the October pay-per-view, Kane battled his brother, The Undertaker, for the vacant WWE Championship with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin serving as special guest referee. After The Big Red Machine floored The Phenom with a Chokeslam, Paul Bearer entered the fray, steel chair in hand and seemingly ready to strike at the black heart of The Undertaker. Instead of decking The Deadman, however, Bearer leveled The Big Red Monster with the chair, leading to the bout ending in a no contest and Austin declaring himself the winner. In response, an enraged Mr. McMahon ruled that the title would remain vacant.
The following night on Raw, The Undertaker emerged with his father once again by his side, making it clear that the betrayal of Kane was the first step in Paul Bearer’s journey “home.” The Phenom then delivered a chilling speech, alluding to the start of a dark new era in which a “plague” would be unleashed on WWE.
Calling it his Ministry of Darkness, The Deadman ominously warned that anyone who didn’t “relish the darkness” would feel the terrible repercussions.
As The Ministry of Darkness rose to grim prominence, Mr. McMahon was busy forming his own powerful alliances in an effort to fend off threats to his role at the top of WWE. The Corporation was first introduced to the WWE Universe on the Nov. 16, 1998, episode of Raw, and The Chairman and his son, Shane, were joined by members The Rock, Big Boss Man, Commissioner Slaughter, Pat Patterson and Gerald Brisco. Surrounded by such formidable allies, Mr. McMahon certainly felt that he was insulated from any and all threats to his power that might arise.
But The Chairman would prove to be sorely mistaken.
The Plague Spreads
It is a man’s own mind, not his enemy or foe, that lures him to evil ways. — Buddha
The Deadman initially turned the focus of his Ministry on striking back at “Stone Cold” Steve Austin for actions as special guest referee at Judgment Day. The Undertaker stalked Austin relentlessly in a horrific string of attacks. On the same night that The Corporation formed on Raw, The Phenom leveled “Stone Cold” with a shovel, costing Austin in his title match against then–WWE Champion The Rock, which resulted in an Austin win via disqualification and ensured that Rock retained the title.
The assaults escalated in the weeks that followed, with The Demon of Death Valley and Paul Bearer going so far as to attempt to embalm The Texas Rattlesnake alive. While that morbid plan was thwarted by Kane, The Deadman didn’t stop there — not by a long shot.
Leading up to their Buried Alive Match at WWE Rock Bottom, The Undertaker and his Ministry of Darkness made good on The Deadman’s promise to “sacrifice” “Stone Cold” on the Dec. 7, 1998, episode of Raw. That night, the WWE Universe bore witness to one of the most shocking events in squared circle history as The Ministry tied Austin to The Phenom’s symbol and hoisted his helpless adversary up in front of the TitanTron.
While certainly shocking to watch, the “sacrificing” of Austin served as a terrifying demonstration of just how dominant The Ministry of Darkness was becoming. Soon, the entire roster would became acutely aware of the level of pure evil that the faction was truly capable of when The Deadman found a way to penetrate the shell of Mr. McMahon’s seemingly rock solid Corporation.
Striking at the very heart of The Chairman — and knowing a thing or two about familial fracturing — The Undertaker perpetrated the kidnapping of Stephanie McMahon, who was completely innocent in the matter. With Mr. McMahon focused solely on the safety of his daughter, the door was left open for Shane to take the reins of The Corporation, throwing his father out and replacing Patterson and Brisco with The Mean Street Posse.
As The Chairman fought his bleak battle, however, it would soon be revealed that Shane had dark plans of his own.
The reason of my waking mind tells me that great evil has befallen and we stand at the end of days. — J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Return of the King”
With an unquenchable thirst for dominance, The Undertaker began to build up his sinister stable, recruiting the likes of The Acolytes, Viscera and The Brood to walk by his side. With his power growing and his influence spreading, The Deadman set his sights at the top, looking to overthrow the newly vulnerable Mr. McMahon and wrest away control of WWE. All the while, The Undertaker made claims to serving a mysterious and seemingly omnipotent “higher power,” who would guide The Deadman to achieving everything his black heart desired.
The Ministry of Darkness took their terrorizing of Mr. McMahon and his daughter, Stephanie, to new heights, kidnapping her twice and going so far as to attempt to “sacrifice” her, as they had done to “Stone Cold” just months before. But a timely save by Austin put an end to those plans.
Tensions continued to grow, and months of intrigue all built up to one fateful night: the pilot episode of SmackDown on April 29, 1999.
After The Rock was unceremoniously kicked out of The Corporation for failing to beat “Stone Cold” for the WWE Title at Backlash, Shane McMahon continued his power grab by pairing The Great One & The Texas Rattlesnake in the first-ever SmackDown tag team main event. Shane then asked around for opponents to take on that uneasy alliance of Austin & Rock. Triple H, who had turned “corporate sellout” at WrestleMania XV, obliged, but his would-be partner remained a momentary mystery.
Shane then pointedly asked if there were “any takers” to join Triple H. Just then, The Undertaker appeared on the TitanTron. Vowing revenge against Austin for his save of Stephanie just nights earlier, The Deadman promised to be The Rattlesnake’s “judge, jury, and executioner.”
Later in the night, with Austin and Rock standing side by side in the ring, Shane screamed at them from the ramp, saying, “My plan is getting bigger and better as we speak.” Shane’s “plan,” of course, would irrecoverably alter the playing field in WWE. Just then, the lights went out and The Undertaker’s haunting theme began to echo through the arena.
With the entire WWE Universe shrouded in the eerie purple hue of The Undertaker’s entrance lighting, The Deadman stood side-by-side with Shane and the “plan” was becoming all too clear: The Corporation and The Ministry of Darkness were about to merge, thus forming a new, seemingly unstoppable entity — The Corporate Ministry had officially introduced itself to the WWE Universe.
But the larger question still remained — what would Mr. McMahon do in response to these political machinations?
The Veil is Lifted
When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle. — Edmund Burke
In response to this unified threat, Mr. McMahon quickly aligned himself with a group of former Corporation members calling themselves The Union. The Chairman would utilize the likes of Mankind, Big Show and Ken Shamrock to combat The Corporate Ministry — and to deliver retribution to Shane — all in an attempt to hold tight the reigns of WWE.
The outrageous power struggle would rage on and on, claiming its biggest casualty when “Stone Cold” was overcome by The Undertaker, costing The Texas Rattlesnake the WWE Title — amid the dueling guest referees Mr. McMahon and Shane.
As the rivalry between the two factions continued to ramp up, The Undertaker began making more and more direct references to the heretofore mysterious “Higher Power.” Finally, on the June 7, 1999, episode of Raw, the “Higher Power” was revealed in one of the most memorable moments in Attitude Era history.
Only a story as sordid as that of The Corporate Ministry could end as this one did. On that night, the ultimate act of betrayal was played out for the entire WWE Universe to witness as a cloaked figure made his way to the ring. When his hood was thrown aside, the maniacal visage of Mr. McMahon growled, “It’s me, Austin! It was me all along, Austin!”
With one fell swoop, the culmination of a master plan came to terrible fruition and the WWE Universe became aware of just how powerful The Corporate Ministry was.