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As the next year of the podcast rolls on, we will get to why Diesel's run as WWF Champion didn't take off quite how the company had hoped in 1995, but in this current moment, viewing the time in the immediate aftermath of Diesel first defeating Bob Backlund for the title at a Madison Square Garden house show in under ten seconds, it's hard to say up to that stage the WWF had done much wrong.
Diesel joined the company mid 1993 following a run in WCW as Vinnie Vegas. He was immediately paired with Shawn Michaels, as his bodyguard, in a pairing that would continue up until the split that occurred three days before Diesel's title reign began at Survivor Series, including a reign as WWF Tag Team Champions.
Diesel's push in 1994 was a strange one. Not that they did a bad job of it, I don't believe they did, more that they seemed to do such an inconsistent job of it. Diesel's breakout moment actually came in January at the Royal Rumble, where he would eliminate seven wrestlers as he totally dominated the first half of the match, a performance so strong it would even generate Diesel chants from the crowd, Shawn Michaels was involved in his elimination, although this didn't accelarate the break-up of the pair.
Turn to Wrestlemania, Diesel's big push after his big Royal Rumble showing was to be in Shawn Michaels' corner for his Mania ladder match with Razor Ramon. The match was one for the ages, but Diesel was ejected from the match early on. It was probably more a sign of the times than it was a sign of them having a major reason for not following up on things, things seemed to ebb and flow a lot more. That being said, drawing a modern day comparison with Roman Reigns (who had a great Royal Rumble performance too), he was limited to a three minute match at Wrestlemania this year anyway.
READ OUR REVIEW OF WWF SURVIVOR SERIES 1994
Diesel's partnership with Michaels was a valuable one in 1994, as they both helped each other out a lot. Michaels took some time out of regular in ring action after Mania, but the pairing with Diesel gave him a regular role on TV and a new role as a mouthpiece. Diesel was getting over as a crowd favourite, consistently one of the more popular acts at live events, as a foil for Michaels. The pairing worked wonderfully.
It was April that Diesel would win his first singles gold, winning the Intercontinental Title off Razor Ramon at a time when the secondary title meant a lot. it was a somewhat bizarre move, given that Razor won the title about five weeks before in that Mania war with Michaels, and that the match (and Diesel's status as number one contender) received little fanfare.
Not for the last time in 1994, Diesel would then be thrust into a WWF Title match with relatively little explanation. While the WWF had all but given up on Lex Luger and Yokozuna (the two men who competed in the first WWF Title match at Mania X), it was somewhat perplexing that Bret Hart's first title defence didn't come against Yokozuna at least - Bret promised him a rematch!
But instead King of the Ring would feature Bret vs Diesel, the WWF Champion vs the WWF Intercontinental Champion (for Bret's title only). The perfect match to honour and headline the new WWF "New Generation" tag... well expect the match appeared in the middle of the card to make way for Jerry Lawler vs Roddy Piper in the main event.
Still though, last on the show or not, Bret and Diesel put on what by Diesel standards can be considered an excellent match lasting over 20 minutes. It's testimony, too, to the company's thoughts of Diesel at the time that the match would end with Diesel on the cusp of victory, hitting his Jacknife Powerbomb on Hart before Jim Neidhart interfered, allowing the company to switch direction towards Bret vs his brother Owen at Summerslam. But for Diesel at this stage the question was all about when, rather than if, he would win the title. In 20 years ago mode this is the kind of thing that still might've taken a year or 18 months, but Diesel's reign as champion would have its day.
READ MORE: Comparing Diesel with Roman Reigns
Diesel would have two bizarre and possibly unique traits in 1994. Firstly, he would hold the tag team, Intercontinental and WWF Title in 1994 without winning any of the titles on Raw on pay per view (his Intercontinental Title win was on Superstars, a show with a fair amount of equity and relevance at this stage), but the other two title victories were both on house shows. The second, probably as good an illustration as any that they were behind the idea of pushing him without always having a plan, was that Diesel won his next belt before he lost the one he had.
This trend would start at Summerslam, well, the day before it. Diesel and Michaels won the tag titles off the Headshrinkers at a house show the night before. Diesel was now the WWF Tag Team and Intercontinental Champion at the same time; what better way to continue the his push than have him hold ALL the titles... except Diesel lost the Intercontinental Title in a pretty decent match with Razor Ramon helped in spades by the presence at ringside of not only Michaels but of “Sweetness” Walter Payton in Razor's corner. The slow burn split of Michaels and Diesel continued here with Michaels clocking Diesel with the sweet chin music as Razor ducked.
August became November, as it could in this era of the WWF, without much of note happening with Diesel in between, but he was at least lined up for a match at Survivor Series, on “The Teamsters” along with Michaels, Jim Neidhart, Owen Hart and Jeff Jarrett against “The Bad Guys” of Razor Ramon, The British Bulldog, The 123 Kid and The Headshrinkers.
While his team lost, thanks to an improbably 5 man count out as the heels had a 5 on 1 advantage over Ramon, Diesel was the star of the match. Ten minutes even steven action preceeded Diesel tagging in and immeadietly eliminating Fatu, The 123 Kid and Sione in under 90 seconds. Diesel looked like a bonafide star here, and his breakup with Michaels accelarated here, as Michaels refused to tag himself in only until Razor had been levelled by a Jacknife (Bulldog had been counted out at this stage).
Once again, Michaels would strike Diesel with the sweet chin music while Razor ducked. This caused a team wide argument that would see the entire team storm off (the count out). Michaels would leg it, briefly saying he was “through” with him before jumping in a speeding car. They had done a great job that night of making Diesel look like a brute. How would they follow up with it? A big babyface turn? A Royal Rumble victory?
Try winning the WWF Title three days later at a house show at Madison Square Garden. Not for the first time, Diesel would find himself in a title match that perhaps he hadn't fully earned (logically, Razor, being the sole survivor would be a more viable candidate). Replacing the “injured” Bret Hart, Diesel was placed in a WWF Title match that was no count out, no DQ and no submission – which, when you think about it, seems a trifle unfair for the current Champion. The match was brief. The bell rang, Diesel kicked Backlund, powerbombed him and got the three count to a big pop in the building.
So far, the WWF had barely put a foot wrong with Diesel... I might revisit this article in twelve months time!