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The Beginning: Diesel's title victory just a few days after Survivor Series 1994 was incredibly effective. Diesel defeated Bob Backlund at a Madison Square Garden house show in just eight seconds. To this day it remains the last non-televised WWE Title change (a record that will probably last forever). Backlund perhaps deserved more than the three day reign – not to mention the match length – but it was the perfect start for Big Daddy Cool.
It didn't take us long, however, to reach probably the first fork in the road. You see, Diesel as a heel bodyguard alongside Shawn Michaels spoke very little – his actions usually did the bulk of the talking. But as a face, the traditional company directive required him to cut much longer, more happy going babyface promos. It didn't work, and while he got better at promos as the run (and his career) went on, it seriously devalued his run.
The Royal Rumble: Diesel never had a rematch with Bob Backlund. While the plan always asked for Diesel vs Bret Hart at the show anyway, Diesel had been facing Bob Backlund on house shows in December while Bret was away. The matches were so bad they took Backlund out of them and replaced him with Jeff Jarrett. In hindsight, while facing Backlund at The Rumble would've at least given Diesel a traditional heel to work with – if it's not fit for house shows then it definitely aint fit for pay per view.
Diesel vs Bret Hart was an unavoidable, if less than ideal scenario. Diesel needed a strong start as a babyface champion, and Bret was certainly capable of providing that in ring. But as we saw with Lex Luger a year prior – Bret had a strong ability to be a lighting rod for popularity. As it was they made the best of a bad situation, Bret worked the match as a heel and it ended with interference. Meanwhile, Shawn Michaels (as a heel – just) was winning the Royal Rumble.
So far, so good.
Wrestlemania: Shawn again was another tricky one. He was a heel, but he was making varying degrees of effort to try and work that role. A bit like Bret, he was a guy who could work rings around Diesel and, if he didn't fight it, could also draw popularity away from the new champion. That being said, given their history together, the match at Mania really had to happen. At this stage there wasn't really anyone else that could've filled the spot in a semi-main behind Bam Bam Bigelow and Lawrence Taylor.
READ MORE: Wrestlemania XI Review
What I would have done differently was the way the program was presented. They had over a year of Diesel and Shawn as a backstory, this should've been played on heavily. Tease stories of Diesel being held back in Shawn's shadow, have Shawn say (which he did, to a point) that without him Diesel would be a nobody. They needed to make this feud a personal one, they failed to do that sufficiently enough.
Into Your House: With Shawn becoming a babyface with an almost inevitable inertia, Diesel needed a new opponent for the first In Your House. Given how the land lay with their feud, Diesel shifting into a program with Shawn's bodyguard Sid made a lot of sense, particularly once Sid attacked Michaels after he blamed him for his loss at Wrestlemania XI. But while the transition made sense, the matches in the main events just didn't. Neither could carry a main event program on the mic, and their chemistry together wasn't good.
Where could you have gone instead? Shawn was turning, not that he was trying to stop that but even if he was someone of his size, his looks, his charisma and his wrestling ability wasn't going to stay heel for that long. Instead – go with Bam Bam Bigelow. Bigelow may have lost to Lawrence Taylor in the main event of Wrestlemania, but he was a hot act. Hell, as we saw on Raw in April – he and Diesel had decent chemistry.
Enter, The King: Of course, in the minutes that followed Bam Bam facing Diesel on Raw in April, they turned him face. Diesel vs Sid would end up spanning three pay per views due to Diesel being injured by Sid in their first encounter at In Your House. In the mean time, Vince was loading the gun for his next crusader – Mabel. And just like King Bret Hart in 1993, and King Owen Hart in 1994 – the winner of the King Of The Ring was going to get a title shot. It was worse than you can imagine.
King of the Ring was an absolute mess – I could write a 2,000 word piece rebooking the whole thing. Put it simply – King Mabel was a big mistake. Who could've won the tournament in his place? We're pushing into fantasy booker territory here, but any number of guys could've been chosen instead. Seems easy in hindsight, but Razor Ramon was crying out for a heel turn by this stage. A proper wild card? Shane Douglas?
READ MORE: King Mabel - WWF's Biggest Mistake In 1995?
Beginning Of The End: Come September the biggest concern wasn't necessarily what had come before but more what could be coming next. The British Bulldog had turned, which was a positive move but Bulldog and Diesel didn't feel like a great fit. Diesel was firstly required to team up with Shawn Michaels in the Main Event of In Your House 3 against Yokozuna and Owen Hart in a match with all titles on the line. If Diesel was pinned, he would lose his WWF Title.
This gimmick angle, in a weird way, felt a little before its time. This seems like the sort of angle that from 1998 onwards would be a great way for a shock title change. You can read about the schmoz that came from Diesel pinning Owen (who wasn't in the match), but could they have changed things up here? Yokozuna was a fun act but one that had been seriously downplayed in 1995 and wasn't in the shape to carry things. Owen, once he'd blown out his feud with Bret – wasn't seen as main event material, probably quite rightly so. The more logical move, in this match at least, would've been Owen pinning Shawn to win his Intercontinental Title.
As for October against Bulldog – this match, even with a low bar, was very dissapointing. Bulldog isn't great but he's no slouch, this match should've at least been a proper slug fest. Instead we got a load of action on the floor and a screwy ending when Diesel and Bret Hart (preposterously, only on commentary on a pay per view in Winnipeg) got into an altercation. The angle did a lot for Bret's impending title victory, and did an angle that setup Bulldog facing the title winner in December – but did very little for Diesel.
The End: Once it got to Survivor Series the writing was on the wall. In a weird way, once the ending was inevitable things actually got interesting again. Bret and Diesel, both as babyfaces but with a growing beef with one another, had a highly entertaining exchange on the Raw before the Pay Per View. Once Diesel had lost the title he quickly pivoted back to the Diesel character of old. Big Daddy Cool was cool again, it only took a year for them to work it out.