If you're looking for a stylishly-written analysis of a key period in professional wrestling, look no further than Titan Screwed. Titan Screwed
is a well-written sequel in the Titan
series, building on the first two books but more than capable of being read by itself. Astute fans will know by the title that the year being reviewed this time around is 1997, the year of the Montreal Screwjob and arguably the turning point in the Monday Night War. Like the previous books in the series, it examines the happenings in World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) in addition to the World Wrestling Federation (WWF). Titan Screwed
shows the industry's progression through the year in terms of on-screen storylines as well as the always tantalizing backstage stories.
Most fans have heard the story of the Monday Night War so many times that they think they have a good understanding of it. However, like any field of study, there's a general knowledge and then there's a deeper knowledge that comes with exploring the subject closely. Just as there are casual fans who know their favorite stars in a promotion and their finishing moves, there are more knowledgeable fans who can tell you a wrestler's entire history, the names of various moves being used, and the meaning and application of terms like psychology and heat. Likewise, with a discussion of the Monday Night War. One may understand the basics of what happened, but a book like Titan Screwed
offers a chance to add depth and breadth to one's knowledge.
Take this for instance. Conventional wisdom has it that WCW was killing the WWF in terms of TV ratings, house show attendance, and pay-per-views. Dixon and Henry paint a different picture, pointing out how 1997's pay-per-view buyrates were only negligible in difference. In terms of house shows, they argue that the WWF was selling more tickets than WCW and that the WWF was crushing WCW when it came to licensing and merchandising. Of course in terms of TV ratings, WCW was ahead, and Dixon and Henry point out how this drove a competitive Vince McMahon crazy to try a radical approach to changing his product.
showed the beginnings of McMahon's attempt to increase ratings by presenting an edgier product in 1996. By 1997, this was in full force but McMahon was still unsure of how to emulate the success of ECW. Titan Screwed
takes a look at the WWF's late-night Shotgun Saturday Night
program with Dixon and Henry pointing out how it was an "ECW Lite" that failed to catch on with more hardcore fans.
The book continues the look at the escalating tensions between Vince McMahon and two of his biggest draws, Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart. Both Michaels and Hart were tremendous wrestlers but clashes in personality and lifestyle were making things harder for them to work together and creating incredible headaches for Vince McMahon, who had to deal with them. On one hand, McMahon had to deal with Michaels, the man he envisioned as carrying the WWF standard. Michaels' charisma and undeniable skills in the ring made him a good candidate to be world champion. Behind the scenes, he was difficult to deal with. When it came time to do jobs, he seemed to conveniently suffer injuries. Backstage, he and his friends in the Kliq (Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, and Hunter Hearst Helmsley) made life difficult for anyone they didn't like. By 1997, Michaels' friends Hall and Nash were in WCW, leaving him to fend for himself. He was still playing games with other wrestlers, but he had no one to protect him.
Bret Hart too was a fantastic performer (although not as charismatic) and beloved by WWF fans. Unlike Michaels, Hart was a loyal company man and he didn't play the backstage games as Michaels and his friends were notorious for (as Dixon has detailed in other books, Hart was asked to join the Kliq but refused, not wanting to deal with their party lifestyle or backstage antics). In Hart's case, he was loyal to a company that wasn't necessarily loyal to him.
After WWF lost Hall and Nash, Vince McMahon was careful not to lose any more top stars. It's likely he felt he just couldn't afford to. McMahon decided to make sure Bret Hart stayed with the WWF so he signed him to an incredible twenty-year deal. Hart would be paid well, end his career with the WWF, and carry on as a good-will representative.
Over time, McMahon seemed to regret his decision. For years, the story has been that McMahon couldn't afford the contract and told Bret to consider finding employment with WCW. Hart did sign, and as we shall see later, his departure was handled poorly, resulting in the Montreal Screwjob. Again, Dixon paints a different picture. He argues that McMahon wasn't hurting for money as he told Hart and could have kept Hart under contract. He even argues that Hart made last minute attempts to stay with the WWF as long as he'd be used right, only for McMahon to dismiss his overtures.
Why then, did McMahon encourage Hart to leave? One possibility is the amazing rise of "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. In hindsight, it's incredible how Austin transformed from the career-killing "Ringmaster" character to the "Stone Cold" character that helped the WWF become a billion-dollar company. While there were other people involved in the WWF's rise to supremacy, the "Stone Cold" persona played a large part. Did McMahon feel that he no longer needed Hart? You'll have to decide for yourself. Towards the end of the book, Dixon and Henry suggest that McMahon was more than happy to replace Shawn Michaels with "Stone Cold" after Michaels' career-ending (or so was thought) injury that shelved him after WrestleMania XIV.