When wrestling fans talk about their early memories of wrestling, you may get answers like the territories of the 1970s, Mid-Atlantic Wrestling in the 80s or the Rock ‘n’ Wrestling era of the WWF. Others will say Monday Nitro and the Attitude Era of the 90s, mayhaps with a li’l E-C-Dubya sprinkled in there like one of those gas station donuts. Maybe even TNA and Ruthless Aggression WWE. But this list is getting too long.
One of the earliest memories I have of professional wrestling, that had little to do with my favorites Bret Hart, Sting, Vader, and Shawn Michaels, was a storyline where one character just didn’t seem to fit. That character is the Texas Rattlesnake, Stone Cold Steve Austin. This story? That of the Ministry of Darkness, and eventually, the Corporate Ministry.
It’s a silly story. A dumb story. It’s filled with cool moments and absurd moments. The type of crackhead energy where you can just turn your mind off and witness the absurdity and remember that life doesn’t have to be so serious.
In the morality play of wrestling, we can get breakneck matches filled with work-rate that fans will compare and analyse. This is not that. This is a morality play beyond what anyone could consider feasible, requiring suspension of disbelief and acceptance of the supernatural.
It starts with the story of a bald redneck and a capitalist monarch, your typical love story. Stone Cold Steve Austin and the Chairman Vince McMahon.
Steve Austin and Mr. McMahon were sworn, bitter enemies, each serving as a surrogate for the other and the moments that made them famous/infamous. To Austin, McMahon was the shadow of one Eric Bischoff, who had not seen anything in the former Hollywood Blonde, screwing him over until he left for ECW and then WWF. To McMahon, Austin was the silhouette of the recently departed (from the company, not from life) Bret Hart. McMahon leaned into the legit screw-job in Montreal, that saw the Hitman leave the company in 1997, and became one of the biggest villains in wrestling. And by villain, I mean asshole.
But there are a few more characters in this morbid tale. The Undertaker, at the time a righteous vigilante character (of sorts) on the side of good. During the late 1990s, the undead warlock would be separated from his maligned mortician manager, Paul Bearer. Bearer would join up with the next player in this saga, Mankind, a tortured soul with anger and pain, scars and burns, earned from his time in extreme promotions. Together, Bearer and Mankind had tricks up their sleeves, a burning scar from Undertaker’s past.
THAT’S GOTTA BE KANE!
The big red machine was on his way. A man that in two past lives served as a dentist and Kevin Nash as Diesel, Glenn Jacobs would create a legacy as a monster forged in flame.
Donning a mask, he would haunt the Undertaker, initially swearing vengeance for burning him and his family during their youth. Boys will be boys.
Though the Deadman made like the reggae artist known as Shaggy and declared it wasn’t him, the ghoulish trio of Bearer, Mankind, and Kane were simply not having it. They just weren’t. If you asked them if they were having it, they’d tell you that they were not.
Kane would torment his brother, even going so far as to set a casket with Undertaker still in it aflame during the 1998 Royal Rumble, and nobody called the authorities. Thankfully, Undertaker was somehow not in the casket that he was clearly in before. One thing Kane had not considered was the Phenom’s warp ability, evidently.
Times were simple back then – knives, guns, supernatural powers and deadly intentions – stuff just got handled.
MINISTRY OF DARKNESS
Soon, however, Kane and Undertaker would align as the Brothers of Destruction and would wreak havoc on the tag team division, including Steve Austin. Don’t worry, the inebriated Texan won’t be given a break from this anytime soon.
Despite their chemistry in working together, the pairing would turn out to mix like oil to water. Enter Autumn, Undertaker finally turned against his brother and realigned himself with former manager Paul Bearer. Believe it or not, this is the part where things get weird.
Undertaker returned his sights on the hell-raising redneck, going so far as to attempt kidnapping Austin and embalming him at a local mortuary. But, some scars never heal, for Kane brought hell and fury with him into this attempted murder, not to save Austin, but to open his own can of whoop-ass on his brother. And the cameraman just stood there as this situation unfurled. Things just happened in the late 90’s, didn’t they? Stuff just got “handled” back then.
As we all expected, this resulted in Undertaker committing Kane to a mental asylum, accompanied by druids. In one particular instance, Undertaker would naturally proceed to crucify Stone Cold Steve Austin on RAW, and the Rattlesnake responded in kind by cussing out the satanic cult leader as the procedure went on, as one does. See, the thing about Stone Cold Steve Austin is that he’s simply built differently.
Just think, this was all the build-up to their Buried Alive match at Rock Bottom: In Your House, where after all the trouble this sinister minister went through, Austin still won, burying the undead warlock alive. Realizing that he cannot do this on his own, Undertaker became a satanic cult leader and took orders from a “higher power”. Who was this higher power?
The recruitment process was odd, to say the least. The team of Acolytes (Bradshaw and Farooq) would simply be accepted into the Ministry of Darkness. I don’t think they had to undergo an initiation ritual, they were just in there. Maybe Undertaker was secretly scared of stiff shots?
Mabel was hypnotized following his elimination in the 1999 Royal Rumble, and would soon go under the name of Viscera. Phineas Godwinn was kidnapped and tortured; he was even cut open on the entrance ramp of RAW (unnecessary effort, if you ask me) in a ritual that was as horrifying as it was inane. Even revisiting this as an adult had me watching in awe, awe of how bizarre it was. As for the group of vampires known as the Brood, they were bullied into joining. They continued to be bullied well after joining, too. Not even the creatures of the night were safe, even under the cover of darkness.
Now, the drunk redneck had to contend with a Satanic cult! But at least he had Vince in his corner, and nothing bad could come of that, could it? I mean, McMahon even called a cop (finally), in the form of a returning Big Boss Man! And wouldn’t you know it, he was set to take on the Phenom in the confines of Hell in a Cell at WrestleMania XV.
This match sucked, the most memorable part, for better or worse, was the Brood descending from the heavens (actually, the ceiling), as a noose was tied around the Big Boss Man’s neck and the cage was lifted, hanging the officer.
This stable of evil men would wreak havoc on the WWF, going so far as to have Shane McMahon aligned with them, and kidnapping Stephanie McMahon in order to forcibly marry her in an eldritch ceremony – reluctantly, Austin was called into action to save her. This worked pretty easily. Almost as if this was a set-up to fool the Rattlesnake…
THE CORPORATE MINISTRY
The promise to finally unveil the long-hinted at Higher Power was to commence, as it was revealed to the world that under the hood was Vince McMahon! It was him, it was him all along, Austin! A moment recollected by fans ad nauseum for decades, it was also a moment that shocked fans and angered Jim Ross, who would exclaim “AW, SONUVABITCH!!”, as though he just went through his food he ordered from McDonald’s, when he specifically said LARGE fries, not medium! Aw, sonuvabitch!
Now, the Undertaker’s Ministry of Darkness and McMahon’s Corporation had undergone a merger. Business! Imagine turning the television on and seeing an evil cult aligned with businessmen in suits, and Shane McMahon’s school friends, the Mean Street Posse, a bunch of rich boys from Greenwich, Connecticut. That’s right, mother truckers – in a sea of black within the squared circle stands young men in brightly-colored sweater vests.
Meanwhile, Austin was champion again, after defeating The Rock at WrestleMania XV, thus proving stones were tougher than rocks. Once again, Undertaker would become a thorn in Stone Cold’s side, challenging for the title at Over the Edge in 1999 and actually winning it this time, but he lost it at King of the Ring of that same year. Easy come, easy go.
Both men would soon take time off at the end of 1999, and return in 2000. This storyline wouldn’t be revisited, but it is forever memorable for its equally fantastic and faulty moments.
Why supernatural beings relegated their time and effort into terrorizing a wrestling company and harassing a beer-drinking Texan is beyond me. Why a chairman of a big corporation would allow and facilitate this is also beyond me, but this particular chairman is notoriously known for odd, unpopular, and wrong choices, in his defence.
This storyline is still engraved into my memory, WWF melding Jerry Springer with Charles Manson. Young Corey had his mind blown by what was going on. To this day, this is still my favorite wrestling storyline for how ridiculous it is. Sure, many tales in the squared circle will be forever loved in my heart, some of the most beautiful wrestling stories are in my heart, but there’s something about this weird occult storyline that keeps me loving this industry.
It doesn’t have to be dramatic or work-rate related to always stick with you. Sometimes wrestling can be fun, stupid, outlandish, and hilarious. Sometimes it’s okay to just turn your mind off and absorb the insanity of life.
Let your guard down, and enjoy the absurdity of life and what it has to offer, and enjoy the cringe and the weird, for it could be worse!