Historical Perspective: The Who Ran Over Austin? Angle

Was this angle in the fall of 2000 a contributing factor to the early decline of the Attitude Era and mainstream popularity of wrestling? A lot of people use the Invasion as the main catalyst for the decline in popularity, but in my opinion it came several months before during this angle and time period.

The WWF was red hot in early 2000 frequently drawing 6 and sometimes even hitting 7’s in the ratings. By the end of the year, they were regularly drawing in the 5’s and even went as low as the high 4’s a few times in October. The August 21, 2000 edition of Raw drew a 6.2 and less than 2 months later on October 16, 2000 (the go home show for No Mercy, where one of the featured matches was Austin vs. Rikishi) they drew a 4.8.

I’m not saying that the WWF wasn’t still very popular at the end of the year 2000, but the decline in viewership and loss of casual fans had seemingly begun during this time.

My aunt and cousin also jumped on the wrestling boom bandwagon in mid-1999 and rode the wave ordering monthly PPV’s up until Unforgiven 2000 when they stopped. They soon stopped watching Raw altogether not long after as well.

Heel Rikishi came out of no where and was one of the lamest payoffs to a long term angle in wrestling history.

Come to think of it, fall 2000 WWF was pretty lame in general with a love triangle angle with Kurt, Steph and Triple H that did not have the best of payoffs. Mick Foley as face commissioner also seemed to be getting stale.

Do you agree or disagree in that this angle and fall of 2000 era gets understated in the decline of the mainstream popularity of wrestling and the end of the Attitude Era?

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And yet I keep hearing how 2000 was the apex in creative and financial zenith which was lead by Chris Kreski…because…because…someone learned his name a few years ago.

Anyways, Rock and Triple H were holding it down and heel rikishi came out in the last quarter of 2000, hardly anyway to point the fall on something like that.

I don’t want it to sound like I’m defending that horrible angle, but I do disagree.

The McMahon/Austin saga (up to Austin/Taker 1st Blood) was so good that whatever followed it was most likely going to be a failure in comparison.

Wrestling fatigue: WCW was also on a decline at this point, because the boom was a result of being a fad and had just about run its course.

WrestleMania X-Seven ticket sales show the bottom hadn’t fallen out yet.

Steve Austin didn’t wrestle from early November of 1999 to October of 2000 (source). I don’t think it would have mattered what the storyline reason was for his time off from the ring, they were bound to lose some business with him on the shelf, no matter how many backstage segments and special referee gigs they gave him.

I like the OP a lot. Nice recap and data @efuds

The Rikishi reveal came out of nowhere for sure but it did lead to a very memorable and quotable line: “I DID IT FOR THE ROCK”. (I’m very excited for this to be used again in NXT)

Looking back on this, maybe a lesson can be learned. Just because a character with a fun little gimmick is incredibly over does not mean he should be a main player in the main event program. Something fans today seem to have forgot.

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I wouldn’t agree with this, the Rumble in 01 and No Way Out the month after both did a pretty good number and Mania 17 was the first to break a million buys. The Invasion PPV also did a huge number. I don’t personally see the run over angle as the beginning of the decline, it was the invasion in my eyes as that was a bigger let down. Heel Rikishi was bad but it was quickly moved on to Hunter being the focus.

Maybe I was quick to jump to the conclusion that the beginning of the end of the success of the Attitude Era was the “Who Ran Over?” Austin angle, as Wrestlemania X-7 did do some huge business. Perhaps though some of that business was WCW’s fanbase jumping over to the WWF, as they no longer had a product to follow and pre-Invasion optimism/curiosity with what the WWF was going to do with WCW was still there.

It does seem like a significant number of casual viewers that hopped on the wrestling bandwagon were starting to dip out by late 2000. To go from ratings in the 7s to the 4s is a pretty big viewership decline over just a few months.

2000 Week by Week Raw Ratings Are Listed at this link: https://www.twnpnews.com/information/wweraw2000.shtml

I forgot how temporary Rikishi’s main event run was. It didn’t seem like they tried much with him. They kept him in his thong attire and had Austin destroy him at No Mercy. How is he supposed to look intimidating in that?

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WWF and WCW overlap audience was smaller than most thought. There was a reason why it never drew as much eyeballs weekly since the apex.

Another lesson learned. Pushing a top mid-card act that is very over with a cute gimmick only to job him out to a main eventer like Austin buries the mid-card act upon returning to the mid-card.

The best mid-card guys are the ones you truly think can get to the main event and contend. For me, that is why the IC title in its heyday was so great. It elevated mid-carders.

With Rikishi, he looked so stupid getting stomped by Austin that it exposed him as a joke of a contender and therefore worse off on his return to the mid-card.

(this to me is what ruined Dolph Ziggler…incredibly over, hot mid-card talent who could work, pushed to main event scene, fizzled out as a joke, and then couldn’t re-establish credibility in the mid-card where he belonged all along. I’m sure there are other reasons he’s fizzled. This is also going to ruin Balor every time he gets a shot at the main event and is jobbed out).

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I think pro wrestling in general might underestimate the turnover rate of television viewers. Most people who I talk to about wrestling tend to say that they used to watch for a few years. I wear wrestling shirts to work now and again and when the topic comes up, from eras ranging from Sheik at the Maple Leaf Gardens, to Hogan, to Austin/Rock and it seems most people who enjoyed wrestling will only watch for a few years. A small percent become life-long fans, a larger chunk long term, but most people will kind of lose interest. If you’re not able to constantly get new fans the business will dry up.

Austin’s absence, followed by a screwed up return, followed by a screwed up invasion (heck of a PPV poster, though, what with the two people who looked similar being spliced together) are just fumble after fumble that wasn’t able to capture the imaginations of a high enough number of new viewers to sustain the people who, for one reason or another, are going to be moving on from pro wrestling. Once fans become emotionally invested in the characters/personalities/whatever we might forgive something stupid if it’s moved on from quickly, so that you can get back to the good stuff. But if you don’t care about them yet and you see something like that, you might think this show isn’t worth your time any more.

Generally speaking, Rikishi gets rightfully shit on any time the car reveal is discussed. I’ve never heard anyone say, “You people are wrong, I thought it was great.” The angle had a lot of ripples; lovable Rikishi is now a jerk (What?), oh but HHH is the real jerk (What?), oh but look now Austin and HHH are friends in the 2 Man Power Trip(What?!?). You spend time learning the continuity and rules of how things work in this world, only for that to be disrupted in an unsatisfying way. Pro wrestling does this constantly, and people only have so many notches on their belts before they find a new one.

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Seems more like WM 17 marked the end of the Austin/McMahon fued officially and ended most children of its era their hook that kept them coming back week after week…there’s a reason why most people in entertainment say it’s a cyclical business.

There’s a reason why fandom outside of father’s rewatching with their kids are so niche. And there’s a reason why WWE doesn’t care what people our age think.

We’re not the target audience, but you’ll bet your ass they’ll take your money. Just like Disney will take your money for watching kids programming.


I totally agree with you on this. Billy Gunn would be another example when The Rock verbally buried him on the mic. Balor and Dolph are great modern day examples. Dolph to me seems past the point of return of repair. I think there’s still a little hope with Balor.

@Tom_R Well articulated post. A good chunk of wrestling’s fan base does seem to be temporary. A lot of the temporary fans I’ve come across watched as a kid and teenager and then grew out of it. Maybe some of the kids/teens watching when the boom was on the rise in 1998/1999 grew out of the business by 2002-2003.

However, it feels like a few of the fans that stopped watching wrestling in the Ruthless Aggression Era came back either during the Summer of Punk or Daniel Bryan’s ascent to the main event.

The Two Man Power Trip also had a really underwhelming and boring post-Wrestlemania program with the Brothers of Destruction. I just remember neither Undertaker or Kane feeling like much of a threat to Austin or Triple H, and The Rock’s absence really leaving a void in the product at that time too. After that program, I thought things started to get interesting when they put Jericho and Benoit in a main event program but that didn’t last long with the invasion side tracking things.

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Unrelated to Rikishi, but in the vein of fans fleeing in droves from wrestling;

WCW fans didn’t like McMahon’s post Nitro portrayal of the company, and at the same time WWF fans were trying to figure out why a group of guys who had been talked down for years were now on their show. Not even the A-listers. During the Wars, when a WCW guy was brought in a considerable effort and alloted time was put in to making them a WWF guy, which made them palatable. Jericho had his debut verbal jousting session with The Rock but had his first match against Road Dogg and he went from mid-card to main event slowly. Similar with Benoit/Eddie. Any time a WCW guy came in they had to prove themselves as WWF before they got over, and would have their past accomplishments ignored or severely downplayed because the only thing that mattered in the world of sports entertainment was what happened in the WWF. After the invasion, over time, more and more of the WCW names made it over and by the time the F got out, RAW was just a version of Nitro that no self-respecting WCW fan could enjoy.

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People who sat through 99-01 Nitros beg to differ.

When you look into some of those cross over numbers though there was no guarantee that just because WWF or WCW wasn’t on that the fan base would watch the other. I remember the guys talking about that point on one of their podcasts ages ago. There were times when one show would go unopposed from the other and the numbers they drew were not drastically different because.
I also don’t think there’s much of a base for the Mania number being helped by WCW because when you look at it the buy out only happened the Monday before and played little build in the overall program. You have to remember that they were promoting a match between their 2 legit biggest stars at the time and a well stacked undercard. I’m not saying that the WCW influence didn’t help at all but I think that show was likely to do over a million with or without the WCW allure.

Great point, and to me this is exactly what keeps wrestling from ever dying. Especially WWE post attitude. Sure, older fans may grow sick of bad story telling and having their knowledge insulted but you know who doesn’t know a damn difference? Like @Deezy said - kids! It’s a replenishing well. And for every few adult fans who walk away, those who stay add up. I think we are seeing that with network growth numbers and why I am long WWE .

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