“The Curtain Call,” a.k.a, the Madison Square Garden incident

The world of professional wrestling is full of — and is often synonymous with — rumors, speculation, misinformation and half-truths. However, which of those description fits with one of pro wrestling’s most notorious incidents, known as “The Curtain Call?” This incident took place when World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) was known as the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), and were in the beginnings of a talent war with World Championship Wrestling (WCW). The WWF was transitioning out of the “Family Friendly” phase and entering into “The Attitude Era.” and the incident in question involved four of wrestling’s most popular superstars of all time: Shawn Michaels, Triple H, Kevin Nash (i.e., Diesel) and Scott Hall (i.e., Razor Ramon).

At a WWE House Show in the famed Madison Square Garden, May 19, 1996, Nash & Hall  (Diesel & Razor) were appearing in their final matches as WWE Superstars, as Razor wrestled Hunter Hearst Helmsley, and Diesel wrestled WWE Champion Shawn Michaels in the main event. After the Diesel-Michaels match, wrestling fans were not shocked when Razor entered the ring and hugged Shawn Michaels, as the two were “babyfaces”, or good-guys, but the shock came when Helmsley entered the ring and he hugged both Michaels and Ramon, with Diesel joining in later — both Helmsley and Diesel were “heels”, or villains –, and the then the four turned to the crowd, with their arms raised together. The reaction from the audience became a mix of ecstatic and confused.

This incident forever changed the face of the professional wrestling, as traditionally, the images of “babyfaces” and “heels” were always protected inside and outside of the ring. However, these four superstars destroyed that illusion for many wrestling fans. WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon was left with few options in the punishment phase after fan footage of the incident surfaced, as Hall and Nash were on their way to WCW (later leading to beat WWF in the Monday Night ratings war), Michaels was the champion and couldn’t be touched, leaving only Helmsley to become the target of McMahon’s wrath. He was scheduled to win the 1996 King of the Ring tournament and wrestle the company’s top talent, but instead, he was demoted to mid-to-lower card purgatory to wrestle forgettable characters in some awful matches. See below.

Triple H Pig Pen
Part of HHH’s punishment: an Arkansas Hog Pen match vs. Henry Godwin at “WWF Seasons Beatings: In Your House”

Helmsley did not win a title until five months later, when he won the Intercontinental Championship. It only turned out to be a minor setback for him, but it did not stop Helmsley (now known as Triple H) from becoming a huge player in the company. He, along with Shawn Michaels gave the WWE a much needed facelift to combat World Championship Wrestling’s edgier story-lines, by upping the ante with the racy antics of the quite possibly the most, controversial wrestling stables of all time, D-Generation X, using the same fan footage from “The Curtain Call” to get under the skin of McMahon.

At the end of the day, the events that took place on that night in the hallowed halls of the “World’s Most Famous Arena” will always be remembered by wrestling fans as a reminder that sometimes the line between reality and fiction can become very, VERY thin. The incident constantly reminds us that this same line can be crossed at any time…

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