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  • Writer's pictureHunter Howe Cates

Famous angles pro wrestling fans love to rebook

Originally published on Wrestling, Inc., December 4, 2022

Rebooking famous angles is the fan fiction of pro wrestling. What pro wrestling fan doesn't love to play the booker, and get inside the heads of Vince McMahon, Eric Bischoff, Paul Heyman, or Vince Russo? Okay, putting it like that sounds terrifying. Truth is, we don't want to get inside their heads, because we're convinced we're better bookers.

To be fair, pro wrestling is a pressure cooker of massive egos and intense working conditions that we don't have to deal with. We fans have the benefits of hindsight and the fact we're not dealing with 6'3" 280-pound neurotic narcissists operating on three hours of sleep who could bend us into pretzels. Even so, some famous booking decisions still leave us wondering: What were they thinking? We've scoured the internet to find the famous angles pro wrestling fans love to debate about the most and detail how fans would have done things differently. Are fans' booking ideas better than the pros or are we being completely unrealistic?

Stone Cold's heel turn at WrestleMania X-7

"Stone Cold" Steve Austin's act was a little stale in 2001. Or at least he thought so; fans still went nuts every time the glass shattered. So Austin turned heel at WrestleMania X-7 in Houston, just over two hours from Austin's hometown of Victoria, by aligning with his archenemy, Vince McMahon. It was a bold creative decision that reinvigorated The Texas Rattlesnake and launched one of his greatest runs. It also killed the Attitude Era, the WWF's most profitable period ever. What happened?

Austin turned heel at the same time The Rock left to film "The Scorpion King," leaving a vacuum "The American Badass" Undertaker couldn't fill. Some fans suggest that if Triple H turned face, Austin's turn would've worked. Maybe. Triple H leading a new DX against Austin as McMahon's corporate champion might've kept business from dropping. But there's still the main issue: Fans simply didn't want to boo Austin. In a 2014 appearance of Chris Jericho's "Talk Is Jericho" podcast, Austin indicated he regretted the WrestleMania heel turn, saying: "It was like everybody loved John Wayne for what he stood for and so he did not ever have to be a bad guy in his movies ... People didn't want to hate me." While fans try to rebook his heel turn, it was never going to stick.

Lex Luger's run for the WWF Championship

Vince McMahon made Bret Hart his champion five times but was always looking for the next Hulk Hogan. When these performers failed, McMahon went back to Bret. The first next Hogan was former WCW star Lex Luger, who being jacked and blond seemed like the perfect fit. Shortly after Hogan bailed for Hollywood, McMahon slapped star-spangled shorts on Luger and sent him cross country on the Lex Express.

The highlight of Lex's push was body slamming the evil foreigner (one of Vince's favorite villain tropes), WWF Champion Yokozuna, aboard the USS Intrepid on July 4. But the logical follow up — Luger beating Yokozuna at SummerSlam — never happened. Instead, Yokozuna got counted out, keeping his title, while Luger celebrated like an idiot. Mr. USA was DOA, but McMahon kept trying before giving the belt back to his safety blanket, Bret Hart, at WrestleMania X. Fans usually rebook Luger to win the belt at SummerSlam. The problem is, The Real American act was beyond stale (even Hogan dumped it in 1996), and Luger was better as a prima-donna heel, hence his moniker The Narcissist. McMahon's vision was a 1983 rehash in 1993. The fanbase moved on; McMahon hadn't.

The end of Goldberg's streak and the Fingerpoke of Doom

The Streak was one of the hottest angles during pro wrestling's biggest boom, leading the undefeated Goldberg to capture the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. So naturally, WCW screwed it up. Why? Because WCW. What happened? Goldberg defended his title at Starrcade 1998 against Kevin Nash, leader of the NWO Wolfpac faction and arguably WCW's second-biggest babyface. Nash won the match, but only after Scott Hall electrocuted Goldberg with a cattle prod. Then, Nash lost the title on "Monday Nitro" one week later to a returning Hulk Hogan in the infamous Fingerpoke of Doom match. From there, Hogan lost the title to Ric Flair in a double-turn match in the main event of Uncensored 1999, a pay-per-view Goldberg wasn't even on.

What went wrong? Everything. Fans usually rebook Goldberg to beat Nash, which makes sense, as Big Bill was still WCW's biggest draw and The Streak was over huge. Yes, Nash's victory popped the crowd, but there's a difference between getting pops (Nash) and drawing money (Goldberg). Fans also suggest Goldberg's streak ending might've worked if the follow-up was Goldberg mowing through the NWO on his way to reclaiming the title. But really, any rebooking of this disastrous, months-long angle would've been better than what we got. WCW inadvertently ceded the Monday Night Wars by sacrificing their hottest act (Goldberg) for their stalest (NWO). Why? Because WCW.

Vince McMahon is revealed as The Higher Power

"Stone Cold" Steve Austin versus Vince McMahon was the biggest feud of all time. But following Austin's first WrestleMania (XV) victory over The Rock during their iconic rivalry, Stone Cold and McMahon formed a tenuous alliance against a shared threat, The Undertaker, who had evolved from zombie cowboy to a satanic cult leader. Austin even rescued Stephanie McMahon from an unholy marriage to the leader of The Ministry. Through it all, Undertaker said he was taking orders from a Higher Power. The problem was, the WWF hadn't figured out who The Higher Power was.

According to former WWF writer Vince Russo, "The Fallen Angel" Christopher Daniels was the original choice, but McMahon was underwhelmed by the skinny indie star. Other rumored names were Jake Roberts and Mick Foley, before the WWF finally revealed the true Higher Power was McMahon himself! Fans were underwhelmed and to this day love to rebook this storyline (some ideas realistic, many not). But McMahon being The Higher Power had staying power none of the other choices would've had. Plus, it resulted in one of the greatest quotes ever — "It was me, Austin!"

Triple H's Reign of Terror

Late 2002 to early 2004 is dubbed the Reign of Terror. Triple H lorded over "Monday Night Raw" as World Heavyweight Champion, spewing yawn-inducing, 20-minute promos, vanquishing challengers, and killing ratings. Even when he lost (in matches against Shawn Michaels and Goldberg), The Game soon won back the belt. Yes, the Reign of Terror was brutal at the time, and we'll never defend the racist Booker T feud leading to WrestleMania XIX. However, most fan-rebooking scenarios ignore that Triple H was the only guy WWE could trust to carry the belt.

Michaels was uninterested, Goldberg was unreliable, and the former WCW guys weren't over at that level. When new stars emerged (Chris Benoit, Batista, and John Cena), Triple H put each of them over at three consecutive WrestleMania events. Would Batista beating Triple H have been the same if The Game had lost to RVD? Would Triple H tapping to Cena have been as momentous if he tapped to Steiner? Yes, if Triple H was as talented as his hero, Ric Flair, he could've gotten all of his opponents over. Sure, if Triple H was as gifted as his peer, The Rock, he wouldn't have been so boring. Alas, he was not. Absent better alternatives, Triple H's Reign of Terror was a necessary evil — a rebuilding period to prep the next generation.

Goldberg's first run in WWE

Booking Bill Goldberg is the easiest thing in the world, right? Just have him mow down jobbers in two minutes. The challenge is when he gets to the main event and fans expect more than squash matches. WWE seemed to solve that conundrum in 2016-2017, with Goldberg beating Brock in 85 seconds at Survivor Series, then losing to Lesnar in a fast-paced, less than five-minute brawl at WrestleMania 33. The success of this run left fans asking: Why didn't WWE book Goldberg like this in 2003? Good question.

During his 2016-2017 run, Goldberg was a special attraction. In 2003, he was a headline act. WWE just didn't have a deep enough bench to let Goldberg be Goldberg, nor could he work long matches nor cut lengthy promos. Hence, he was exposed in feuds against more talented foes like The Rock and Chris Jericho. Some fans argue WWE should've just booked Goldberg in dream matches. However, in 2003 Goldberg was adamant about never losing, and there was no way McMahon would put a WCW guy over WWE mainstays. You can dismiss McMahon's stubbornness, but let's be honest, why would he book a loyal, long-termer to lose to an unhappy guy who was going to leave anyway? It was a lose-lose situation.

The Summer of Punk

Timing is everything and the Summer of Punk was a victim of bad timing (and, you know, bad booking). Art imitated life, with WWE booking CM Punk as the No. 1 contender at the same time his contract was up in real life. The lines between fiction and reality blurred during Punk's infamous Pipe-Bomb promo where he laid out his issues with WWE, which a lot of the fanbase shared. It was the hottest angle in years, made even better because Punk's opponent was WWE's golden boy, John Cena. The problem was that golden boy was already booked to wrestle The Rock at WrestleMania XXVIII.

While the Summer of Punk made Punk a top guy, he didn't become The Guy. Some fans think he could've been. While we're skeptical the Summer of Punk could've turned into the next Attitude Era (this was corporate PG WWE, after all), it's absurd the angle evolved into a Triple H versus Kevin Nash, Sledgehammer Ladder Match. We're still scratching our heads over that one. Fans typically rebook Punk to take more time off after winning the belt at Money In The Bank before returning at SummerSlam, and we agree. Also, shoe-horning Triple H (whose rematch with The Undertaker was also set in stone for WrestleMania) into the angle led nowhere. Borrowing from the Austin playbook, we side with fans who argue CM Punk should've chased the title against a corporate champ (like Chris Jericho or Alberto Del Rio), winning the Royal Rumble, and recapturing the title at WrestleMania XXVIII.

Daniel Bryan's main event run

Following a career-threatening neck injury, Steve Austin adjusted his style and led the WWF's hottest period ever. Why are we talking about Austin in a Daniel Bryan slide? Because they bear remarkable similarities. Buoyed by his super-catchy "Yes!" chant, Bryan's battle against The Authority led to a WrestleMania XXX main event and championship run. Bryan was the fans' guy because Vince McMahon didn't see him as The Guy. McMahon's rationale was partly due to Bryan's size ("He's too small, pal!"), but also because of his neck issues, which forced him to relinquish the belt after six weeks to give his body the chance to recover for eight months.

When he returned, fans demanded Bryan get another WrestleMania main event, but McMahon doubled down on Roman Reigns instead, resulting in the Philly fans hijacking Royal Rumble 2015, even booing The Rock. The Rock! Fans wanted Bryan. McMahon wanted Reigns. It got ugly. Truthfully, Bryan wasn't a long-term solution, given his neck issues and his refusal to adjust his style (he was forced to retire in 2016). But the booking was flawed. In 2015, Reigns wasn't ready to be The Guy, while Bryan was the biggest star in the world, so we side with the fans, who argue Bryan should've had a strong, if short, main event run. Hey, it worked for Austin, right?

Hollywood Hulk Hogan versus Sting at Starrcade 1997

For 83 weeks between 1996-1998, WCW obliterated the WWF in the ratings thanks to the red-hot NWO, with Hulk Hogan abandoning his red-and-yellow Real American act for a black-and-white Hollywood heel persona. However, even in a heel territory like WCW, the villain eventually has to lose. Hogan's defeat was destined for Starrcade 1997 against Sting, who had gone from a bleach-blond surfer into a black-haired, rafter-dwelling Crow character. The outcome was obvious: Sting defeats Hogan. Hogan had other ideas. When Sting showed up out of shape, uninspired, and, worst of all, "without a tan, brother," Hogan had the perfect excuse (in his mind) to not put him over like a million bucks.

More than 700,000 fans bought Starrcade 1997 to watch Sting stomp Hogan. Instead, they saw Hogan apparently pin Sting, only for it to be declared a fast count (it wasn't). Sting won, but it was a screwy finish to what should've been a straightforward victory. He vacated the title due to the controversy and beat Hogan in the rematch, but the damage was done. Starrcade 1997 drew WCW's biggest buyrate ever, but it spelled the beginning of the end of the company's dominance, as the WWF overtook them in the ratings a few months later. If fans could rebook this match, Sting (unmotivated or not) would've beat Hogan soundly. How did the No. 1 pro wrestling company screw up something so idiot-proof? Because WCW.

Roman Reigns failed babyface push

McMahon land has been a babyface territory since the Bruno Sammartino era and we'd say it's worked pretty well. So when John Cena's decade of dominance was concluding in the mid-2010s, McMahon shifted to Cena's heir apparent: Roman Reigns. Despite having all the tools of superstardom, Reigns' babyface run was screwed up from the start. Strike one was pushing Reigns down fans' throats in 2015 when they wanted Daniel Bryan. Next was booking Reigns to be a two-time title loser, before finally beating Triple H for the belt when fans no longer cared in a snoozer of a main event at WrestleMania 32. After that was booking Reigns to retire beloved icon The Undertaker, who came back the next year anyway, at WrestleMania 33. And so much more.

Despite multiple WrestleMania main events, Reigns' babyface run failed because he wasn't being himself, but some contrived amalgamation of Steve Austin, John Cena, The Rock, and Daniel Bryan. All along, fans said he should turn heel and organically become a face (which worked out well for Steve Austin and The Rock). WWE finally relented in 2020, switching Reigns from The Big Dog to The Tribal Chief. Yes, Reigns is a heel, and at long last, he's become what WWE wanted him to be all along: pro wrestling's biggest star.

John Cena never turning heel, no matter what

Pro wrestling fans give Vince McMahon's storytelling prowess a lot of flak and some of it is deserved. But the poster child for the idea that the fans aren't always right is John Cena. If it were up to fans, Cena would've turned heel at least 10,000 times (give or take) between 2006 and 2013. Each one would've been a bad idea. There are several key events in the history of the Cena-should-turn-heel era. There was the WrestleMania XXII main event, when the Chicago crowd brutalized Cena in a historic match with Triple H. Seven years later, fans were convinced Cena would finally turn heel to defeat The Rock at WrestleMania XXIX, only for him to continue his Hustle, Loyalty, and Respect ways. In between were numerous opportunities to turn Cena heel.

While Wrestling Promotion 101 says "listen to the fans," we fans are fickle. We booed Cena because it was fun and rebellious, even while we bought tickets to see him. Meanwhile, Cena was a hero to children, raking in millions selling merch in the process. Why would WWE (or Cena) give that money up? Besides, Cena is a Make-A-Wish record holder; you can't possibly turn that guy heel. Sure, Cena turning heel would've been awesome creatively, but it would have been disastrous commercially. McMahon learned his lesson with Austin's 2001 heel turn. Even though fans may not have liked it, keeping Cena a babyface was the right move.

The Montreal Screwjob

The Montreal Screwjob was basically a talent-relations fiasco that spiraled completely out of control and then became an angle. The Cliffs Notes version is WWF Champion Bret Hart was leaving for WCW, but he didn't want to lose to Shawn Michaels or in Canada. McMahon specifically wanted Hart to lose to Michaels in Canada. So yeah, there was a stalemate. What happened? McMahon screwed Bret out of the title at Survivor Series 1997. Or "Bret screwed Bret," if you side with McMahon.

We won't weigh in on whether The Montreal Screwjob was ethical from an HR perspective, but we'll discuss how fans would've done it differently. Fans who side with Hart argue that McMahon should've honored The Hitman's wishes and let him surrender the title after making a goodbye speech, or they suggest that he could lose to numerous others not named Shawn Michaels. The problem is, no Montreal Screwjob, no Steve Austin versus Vince McMahon, as that real-life event inspired the WWF's most successful angle ever. We're not arguing the ends justify the means. Rather, we're just offering perspective. All we can say for sure is that fans will continue to rebook the Montreal Screwjob for as long as the internet exists.

The Invasion

The WWF versus WCW invasion angle was the biggest booking blunder in pro wrestling history. Or so fans argue. If given the opportunity to rebook the invasion, most fans say the WWF should've paid WCW's biggest stars to come in for the epic WWF versus WCW feud we'd dreamed about for years. But is that realistic? WCW's biggest stars were still under contract to Time Warner. Given they were paid millions to not work, McMahon would've had to pay them millions more to work. Plus, if you're going to pay several WCW guys millions in guaranteed money, Steve Austin, The Rock, The Undertaker, and Triple H, among others, would've expected (and deserved) raises too. So now you're exponentially increasing your biggest expense — your talent payroll — for the sake of a single angle.

Sure, the North American pro wrestling audience was huge, but we doubt it would've expanded enough to justify that expense, especially since the WWF didn't need to spend that money, as Invasion drew one of the best buyrates ever without WCW's biggest stars. So fans' rebooking doesn't make sense from a commercial perspective. What about creatively? Maybe. The challenge would be heel-face alignment. Would WCW faces like Goldberg and Sting be bad guys? Would WWF heels like Triple H and Kurt Angle be faces? Sure, we're disappointed we never got Austin versus Goldberg or Sting versus Undertaker (though even those pro wrestling dream matches might've underwhelmed), but rebooking the invasion isn't as cut and dry as fans may think.

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