By Todd Matthy
1997 was a compelling year for the WWE. On TV it was one of the most exciting times with the USA vs. Canada feud, the rise of Steve Austin, the birth of the Rock, the formation of Degeneration X, the coming of Kane, and Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart were on a collision course both inside and outside the ring which would culminate in one of the most controversial moments in wrestling history. Behind the scenes it was a nightmare. WWE was being slaughtered by WCW in the ratings and PPV buys thanks to the amazing (but beaten to death) NWO storyline. Despite these set backs everything was in place for the company to do the best business in its history. All they needed was a spark. In Kayfabe Commentaries “Timeline (the History of WWE) 1997 with Jim Cornette” the legendary manager/writer/booker takes us on a journey to the moment where the spark was found and ignited what would become known as “the Attitude Era.”
With his notebook from production meetings, Jim Cornette gives us a concise, detailed, tour behind the scenes of the WWE in 1997. We learn how a poorly produced show drew the lowest rating ever. We learn what Vince Russo’s role really was. We learn how everyone felt when Steve Austin broke his neck. Oh yeah…and some incident in Montreal. Corny is so concise that it’s slow (especially in the beginning). But once he hits the moments we want to see, the Jim Cornette we know and love emerges. You see the glee in his eyes when he picked up a lock of Shawn Michaels’ hair ripped out by Bret Hart in a backstage brawl. You feel his anger when he made Kevin Dunn cry. His feeling of accomplishment from creating the background story and first appearance of the Kane character. And you feel his frustration figuring out the finish to Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels’ last match at “Survivor Series.” Then there’s his sworn enemy Vince Russo.
If you’re looking for a heated tirade against Vince Russo you won’t find it here. Well…a little bit. Cornette doesn’t get into his differences with Vince Russo until they talk about the incident where the Nation of Domination’s (a militant stable of African American wrestlers) locker room was vandalized with racial epithets. Here we learn how Russo became Head Writer and what his philosophy on writing wrestling was. According to Jim, Russo thought the show should be about characters and the matches should only be highlights, a stark contrast to Cornette (and to an extent Vince’s) booking philosophy. Corny really gets going when he mentions how Russo nearly killed the Undertaker/Kane angle.
Finally, there is Montreal and how it was the spark that ignited the Attitude Era. Cornette details the meetings they had trying to find a finish that would please Bret and Shawn due to their refusal to lose to one another. He says he nearly lost his mind. To Jim, McMahon stopping the match prematurely and awarding the belt to Shawn Michaels was to many wrestling fans the final straw. There were many wrestling fans that hated Vince McMahon. They hated him for putting other leagues out of business, for making wrestling look like a cartoon rather then a sport, for exposing the business in court, for his obsession with talentless steroid induced freaks. Now he embarrassed and humiliated one of his biggest stars on his last night with the company. With that list it was very simple for Vince to become the Mr. McMahon character, because he really was and people believed it.
While a bit slow in the beginning, “Timeline 1997 with Jim Cornette” is a fascinating look behind the scenes at one of the most interesting years in wrestling history. It’s definitely worth checking out.