“Titan Screwed” is the third book of the Titan trilogy, a series by James Dixon where he recaps and analyzes the WWF in 1995, 1996, and for the purposes of this review, 1997. You can read the reviews of book 1 and book 2. The aim of these books is to detail how the WWF went from their worst year creatively and financially to one of their best periods by 1997. Basically, what decisions were made by the WWF to usher in the Attitude era, one of their most popular periods and one you have probably heard from ad naseum. Dixon is joined by Justin Henry in what is the best book of the trilogy.
1997 is probably one of the most important years in pro wrestling history. We have WWF getting into the groove that would bring them to their most popular period and WCW running on all cylinders. This is the year where even newer fans have seen a lot from. Here are some of the highlights: the beginning of the Austin dominance, Shawn Michaels last year in the 90’s as an active competitor, the first Hell in a Cell, the emergence of the Kane and Undertaker drama (I think it sucks, but some remember it fondly), the emergence of The Rock we fans started to love, D-Generation-X, Chyna as a badass female bodyguard of Triple H, the Hart Foundation being loved in Canada and hated in the U.S., and all of the Michaels/Hart drama that ended up at the Montreal Screwjob, which in turned helped create the Mr. McMahon character.
One of the goals of this book, besides a history lesson on how the WWF became what it did in the late ‘90s, is to set the record straight. When the WWF went into 1997, it was not in the dire straits that the WWE documentaries try to pass it off as. With numbers and quotes, you can see how television, house show attendance, and PPVs were doing quite well. It was just that with the added ignition of reality-based storylines, it got even more popular than ever.
Part of the success was trying new things and having an open mind. Vince McMahon was not above bringing real feuds into the ring or relying on sex and cheap heat. In 1997, we see a Vince that was more capable of improvising and making decisions based on crowd reactions. With a mix of accident and luck, Vince got what he wanted, which was starting to beat the competition. It also helped that WCW was starting to run the NWO storyline dry and the creative failure of the Starrcade 1997 event, including the horrible Hogan vs Sting match, was one of the catalysts that made WCW fans stop trusting that company and made some of them switch to the WWF.
A running theme running through my mind while reading the Titan trilogy was: is Vince really a creative genius? In 1995 his genius was a bust, just relying on outdated ideas and refusing to listen to the crowd. In 1996 he was hesitant to start making changes, like having real characters and storylines, and giving opportunities to those that deserve it. In 1997, he was more apt to improvise, give opportunities, and fully embraced a new attitude (pun not intended).
He let Stone Cold be Stone Cold. He let Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels off their leash and let their rivalry play out backstage and in the ring. Mick Foley started showing his personality in interviews. Women started being used as both eye candy and kicking ass. Even the celebrities changed, having Gennifer Flowers, Pete Rose, and Mike Tyson in the show instead of the more wholesome celebrities of the past. Blood started being allowed and slowly but surely weapons were added to hardcore matches. There was even the horrible spectacle of Vince having Pillman’s grieving widow live on the show. Vince stopped giving a fuck and was willing to try anything.
Obviously, there is the Montreal Screwjob, the most discussed topic in pro wrestling documentaries and podcasts and the prove that Vince was on board to do anything. This is a topic I’m so bored with and have seen so much about it that I even skipped the Dark Side of the Ring episode on it and newer podcasts on the subject. If you know the story, you already know who you believe and support. The incident is one of the main portions of the book, and I think that both Dixon and Henry did a good job covering it from both sides. This was the incident that led to the creation of the Mr. McMahon character. Vince did an interview on the air where he thought he was going to clear up his name from the Montreal incident, but he just inflamed fans even more. Yeah, Vince became Mr. McMahon by mistake.
While I would not say that Vince McMahon is a wrestling genius, I would say that this year proved that when he listens to people and is more apt to let performers do what they are good at, his product is so much more enjoyable and objectively better. Real characters that people can relate to with real situations, grittier matches, and unscripted promos proved to be a winning formula. This is a lesson that modern WWE should learn from 1997 WWF: they should really trust their performers and the fans. Most importantly, they should take advantage of genuine opportunities and crowd reactions instead of trying to fight it. Modern WWE have lost a lot of opportunities with performers for not following up on their popularity or even giving them a chance. Also, they should still plan out at least six months in advance, but that’s a given, or at least you assume they should already know that having plans helps. Instead of a creative genius, I would say Vince is a brilliant businessman that had some good instincts but should trusts others on the creative side.
Even if you already know the information, it is not a chore to read. It is better organized than the first two books and a great guide to the 1997 WWF. While the previous two books seemed to meander a lot, “Titan Screwed” stays on topic. While it has trips to ECW and WCW history, they make sense since those stories are crucial for 1997 WWF, like the ECW “invasion” and their secret deal with WWF. And just like the other books, this is an awesome document for new fans that want to understand how the WWF became so big and what made them successful in the ’90s. Honestly, don’t read WWE’s own account of the events and just watch their documentaries to see the footage, not to get the history lesson.
Whether you are watching the events of this book on Peacock or the WWE Network, this book will clear up what happened backstage and give you the dirty details on what happened between Hart and Michaels and other wrestlers, the why of the creative decisions taken on this period, and how the WWF TV programs and booking changed. This is a great way to end the trilogy, one that started with some complaints from my part but ended up with a great sequel.