Revolutionaries who crossed the boss
Daniel Bryan has proven he can hang with any opponent in the ring, but in the boardroom? Well, that’s a different story. The submission master has certainly had less luck with WWE COO Triple H than he did with former WWE Champion John Cena, in any case. Since SummerSlam, Bryan has suffered the corporate wrath of The King of Kings at every turn while he attempts to reclaim the WWE Title that The Game helped Randy Orton snatch from Bryan’s hands moments after his defeat of Cena.
With Triple H seemingly taking cues from his father-in-law Mr. McMahon’s infamous actions in The Attitude Era and Bryan on the verge of “crossing the boss,” WWE.com takes a look back at several other revolutionaries who flew in the face of corporate culture … and their ultimate fates. We begin on a note that’s nothing if not ironic …
What a difference a few years and an expensive suit can make. While Triple H seems to have appointed himself the de facto head honcho of WWE in his current battle against Daniel Bryan, as recently as four years ago he was the petulant thorn in the side of his father-in-law. A rebel whose cause was chaos for much of his career, some of The Game’s most memorable moments came as part of the hooligan squad D-Generation X.
As the ringleader of his merry band of rebels, The King of Kings would torture various permutations of the McMahon family via means both juvenile and vicious in equal measure. For those who don’t believe us, this is a man who, when he really wanted to get under The Chairman’s skin, married into his family, thereby shackling himself to his enemy forever. Given how that turned out, though, it’s hard to fault The Game his logic.
Bret Hart was never one to verbally abuse anybody, but The Excellence of Execution found himself on The Chairman’s bad side for a decade and change when, in 1997, he succumbed to the wares of Ted Turner’s bottomless purse and jumped ship to WCW. The “Hit Man’s” impending defection provoked The Chairman to conspire with Shawn Michaels to initiate the infamous “Montreal Screwjob” that robbed Hart of his WWE Title.
After realizing he’d been had in his home country, Hart spit in the face of The Chairman at ringside before infamously punching him in the locker room after McMahon offered Hart a free shot as retribution. Despite the cold-cocking, though, the hatchet between the pair would go unburied until their match at WrestleMania XXVI in 2010. Time certainly heals all wounds … but a Sharpshooter and a steel chair tend to aid in the recovery as well.
Of all the two-word phrases firmly planted in the collective consciousness of the WWE Universe, we humbly present a lesser-known contribution to the list: “THE CONSORTIUM!!!!!” (WOOOO)
When WWE absorbed WCW and ECW, one of the most anticipated arrivals from the other side was that of “The Nature Boy” himself, Ric Flair. When Flair styled and profiled his way back into the McMahon empire after a lengthy stay Where the Big Boys Play, he did so as the surprise co-owner of WWE to whom Shane & Stephanie McMahon had sold their stock prior to purchasing WCW and ECW. With “The Nature Boy” assuming control of Raw and Mr. McMahon helming SmackDown, an ugly rivalry for control of the company ensued. Despite Flair’s defeat of The Chairman in a Street Fight at Royal Rumble 2002, “The Nature Boy” lost his foothold in the corporate structure when Brock Lesnar cost him a winner-take-all tilt against The Chairman on Raw.
"Stone Cold" Steve Austin
Now here’s a man whose rivalry with Mr. McMahon needs no introduction. Whenever the WWE Universe heard “Stone Cold's” signature intro of shattering glass, chaos was sure to follow, and Austin never disappointed in this regard.
Playlist: Austin vs. Authority
The one-man war between the irascible Texas Rattlesnake and WWE’s head honcho was the crux of the entire Attitude Era, and Austin’s years-long crusade to topple his employer made him the perfect anti-hero for a generation that was weaned on the very concept of rebellion, not to mention a WWE that was rife with post-Montreal cynicism towards its leadership and general, Monday Night War-time aggression. Austin’s schemes to unman his boss ran the gamut from prankish ( the infamous beer bath) to, well, not so prankish (“Bang! 3:16,” anyone?), but The Bionic Redneck was nothing if not the hero the WWE Universe both needed and deserved, and his influence reverberates to this day like the lingering clang of a bedpan on an immaculately-coiffed skull.
They don’t call him the mad scientist for nothing. For a man whose detractors like to slander as a walrus-esque sleazebag who made his name hyping up underrated performers, Paul Heyman and his various acolytes have been, arguably, some of the greatest nuisances and greatest assets Mr. McMahon has ever had. Apart from their well-documented personal issues in the ‘90s, Heyman’s less-than-friendly rivalry with The Chairman reached its apex when he corralled Shane and Stephanie McMahon into The Alliance, a collusion between WCW and ECW that nearly toppled the house that Mr. McMahon built.
Far from the fevered dream of an outmatched promoter and two jilted rich kids, the faction gained so much steam that “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Kurt Angle eventually defected to its ranks. The plan ultimately fell short and Heyman’s crusades began to taper off, but his return in 2012 with a smaller, more concentrated force of “Heyman Guys” at his back has brought nothing if not more headaches (plus a hip surgery) for The Chairman and his brood. Speaking of "Paul Heyman Guys" …
On paper, it would seem that CM Punk is the logical stopgap between “Stone Cold’s” Attitude Era disobedience and Daniel Bryan’s growing campaign against the corporate culture, but to merely call him thus would be a tremendous disservice. Punk’s sudden rise in sports-entertainment by now is legend; the 2011 “pipe bomb” that managed to expose the flaws in WWE’s corporate structure (something Austin never did) and elevate The Straight Edge Superstar’s status in one fell swoop (Bryan had already reached the top when his own crusade began) instantly made him public enemy No. 1 to The Chairman.
Punk's infamous WWE Title victory at Money in the Bank 2011 briefly left McMahon bereft of his company’s crown jewel when Punk absconded with the title in hand. Though The Second City Saint has settled for more personal rivalries of late, he has become a name synonymous with fight-the-power revolution, and the kind of Superstar who needs fewer weapons than a fully-charged microphone and a couple of things on his mind. Granted, he never did get those ice cream bars, but even Washington lost a skirmish or two.
If Mr. McMahon’s WWE was a kingdom in the ‘80s, then Hulk Hogan was undoubtedly its king, a white-knight Goliath who preached the gospel of vitamins and dairy, all while dispatching hordes of enemies with a battering-ram boot to the head and a 10-megaton leg drop. And then, like Bret Hart before him, Hogan left for WCW and everything changed. Though The Immortal One’s return to WWE in 2002 put plenty of proverbial butts in the seats (his WrestleMania match with The Rock ranks as a high point in The Show of Shows’ history), bad blood still lingered between the two.
Watch: Hogan runs wild on the mic
The Chairman’s resentment over Hogan’s defection finally bubbled to the surface a year later and the two eventually clashed at WrestleMania XIX, with Hogan prevailing. Though The Chairman attempted to force Hogan out of his contract, he returned as the masked “Mr. America” and thwarted all of Mr. McMahon’s attempts to expose him as the ousted Superstar (“I AM NOT HULK HOGAN, BROTHER!”). One ill-timed removal of Mr. America's star-spangled cowl was all The Chairman needed to finally hand The Hulkster his pink slip, forcing Hulkamania to run wild in pastures where the McMahons could not be touched.
Heavy lies the head that wears the crown, and Mr. McMahon has spent as much of his career deflecting would-be usurpers as he did pursuing the throne in the first place. But of all the adversaries who threatened his reign, none had to be more surprising than his own son, Shane.
Though the younger McMahon was an accomplished competitor in his own right by the time he made his power play against his father, he truly proved himself a proper heir to the McMahon lineage when Shane-O-Mac snatched his father’s crowning victory right from under his nose, preemptively purchasing WCW before the elder McMahon could. Shane even went so far as to appear on the final episode of Nitro (simulcast on Raw) to gloat his way through his father’s presumed victory celebration. Shane’s treachery led to The Alliance and more than a few battles against his father, but McMahon the elder ultimately prevailed in the family feud. Hopefully their Thanksgivings have recovered by now, but every revolution has its price.