|Image Source: Amazon|
Written By: Mark Armstrong
Running Time: 397 Minutes
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: September 7 2015
If you were following the WWF in the mid-1990s, or if you have studied the history of the company at the time, chances are that you’ll have heard of The Kliq.
On-screen, it was a nickname given to Shawn Michaels’ fan base. Off-screen, however, the Kliq was something far greater. A backstage group consisting of Shawn, Kevin “Diesel” Nash, Scott “Razor Ramon” Hall, Sean “123-Kid” Waltman and Paul Levesque (whose WWF tenure began as Hunter Hearst Helmsley before later having his name shortened to Triple H), the Kliq caused a great amount of trouble and terror within the locker room, whilst allegedly using their considerable influence on Vince McMahon to succeed in key main event spots. How great their control was has been debated over the years, from Kliq members suggesting their influence was minimal to former WWF stars outright stating that the Kliq ruined their careers. The power of the Kliq and their impact on sports entertainment is explored in this DVD set.
Truth be told, I was wondering what the point of this DVD was. A one-hour documentary on the group sounded intriguing, but it surely would have served better as an exclusive feature on the WWE Network; did we really need a full DVD set to discuss the off-screen faction? And is there really an audience for the backstage mechanisms of the pre-Attitude Era WWF/WWE in modern times? Well, that’s what we got with this release, and whilst I still feel this would have been better as Network-only content, I enjoyed the DVD more than I thought I would.
The documentary provides brief introductions to the players involved before quickly exploring how the group formed and how their power increased over time. Shawn and Razor knew each other from their AWA days. Diesel was brought in at Shawn’s request to become his bodyguard, leading Nash to be grateful for an opportunity to revive a then-dying career. Razor considered Kid his protégé after his unforgettable debut match (more on that later). And HHH says, after being advised by Terry Taylor, that he went out of his way to befriend Shawn and company when he first appeared backstage at WrestleMania XI. Although the seeds for their various friendships had been planted in the early 1990s, 1995 is often considered the “peak” year of the Kliq, on-screen and off.
All five members discuss their friendship and how strong their bond was. Of greater note are the comments from their co-workers at the time, including Bret Hart, The Undertaker, Aldo Montoya (later Justin Credible, who was considered a minor Kliq member), Shane “Dean” Douglas, Kama/The Godfather, Lex Luger and others. Vince McMahon is also on hand to provide his thoughts on the backstage powerhouse. Some of these are quite critical or, at least, they are of the belief that the Kliq occasionally abused their power. It is interesting to see Kama discuss another backstage faction known as the “BSK”, or Bone Street Krew, which included Kama, Undertaker, Yokozuna, The Godwinns and Savio Vega. It is stated that this crew formed to ensure that the Kliq couldn’t completely dominate the locker room, especially with the respected Undertaker at the helm.
During 1995, the key Kliq moment was a famous story whereby several Kliq members met up with Vince McMahon prior to a house show in Indianapolis, Indiana to essentially express their grievances at business and at certain members of the locker room. Although it is stated that nothing directly changed as a result and that nobody was told to start walking following the Kliq criticisms, the mere thought of Michaels, Nash etc having a private meeting with the boss to discuss business and who should/who shouldn’t be on the “team” was a frightening one for the lesser-pushed members of the roster. Although it isn’t acknowledged here, certain wrestlers such as Bam Bam Bigelow, Dean Douglas, Body Donna Skip and others firmly believed that the Kliq at best had a detrimental effect of their careers, and at worst were entirely responsible for their WWF tenures ending. Matters weren’t helped by the Kliq’s crazy off-screen lifestyles, which allegedly included plenty of drinking and a certain amount of substance use (in some cases, anyway).
It’s easy to understand why the Kliq received such resentment and fear. Diesel was WWF Champion from November 1994 to November 1995. Shawn, Razor and Diesel dominated the Intercontinental Title scene from the summer of 1993 to January 1995, with Shawn and Razor enjoying further reigns thereafter. Shawn and Diesel held the Tag Team Titles in 1994. Meanwhile, even when they weren’t holding titles, the Kliq members were pushed heavier than anybody else, with the exception of Bret Hart and The Undertaker. Bret Hart in his autobiography Hitman recalls asking Vince when the WWF became “the Diesel and Shawn show”. Kid and Hunter were further down the card, but they were promoted as the stars of the future (which they were, but it added further weight to the belief that the Kliq were running the show).
Ironically, the most famous Kliq incident came as the faction was about to dissolve. This section is the longest of the documentary, and rightfully so. To sum it up, Diesel and Razor were leaving the WWF for WCW, and their last night was a house show at Madison Square Garden on May 19 1996 (my eighth birthday!). Shawn beat Diesel in a Steel Cage, and earlier on Hunter had pinned Razor. After the Cage match, all four celebrated together in the ring and made Kliq symbols in front of what remained of the crowd, since this was after the last match. Why was this such a noteworthy moment? Because this involved babyfaces and heels essentially admitting that they were really all friends and that their apparent hatred of one another was all part of the show. Consider that this was 1996, when kayfabe (the concept that professional wrestling was to be portrayed as real to the fans) still ruled, so this was seen as a major and disrespectful slap to the face of all those who worked in the WWF, and in the industry really, and those who came before. Only Hunter could be punished, since by now Shawn was WWF Champion and Nash and Hall were heading to WCW (Kid was injured, otherwise he would have been at MSG too) and he was given an extended losing streak to ensure that the locker room wouldn’t take action to the point of possibly walking out in protest at the Kliq’s self-serving actions.
The documentary looks at how the Kliq supposedly divided and conquered, since they would soon be in control of the main event scenes in the WWF and WCW, with Shawn and Hunter, as DX, dominating Raw and Nash and Hall tearing it up within the nWo on Nitro. During this period, the former 123-Kid worked for both parties, being on Nitro as Syxx and, after a controversial firing, resurfacing on Raw as X-Pac. The Kliq would occasionally make references to their friends via promo one-liners or quick messages into the camera. This aspect of the Kliq’s history is exaggerated because everyone knows that Steve Austin was the star of the show from 1997 onwards in the WWF; yes, DX were crucial, but they were not and never were more important than Austin. Nash and Hall were a massive boost to WCW alongside the heel Hulk Hogan, to be fair, but their presence was turning into a key reason for WCW’s downfall from 1998 up until 2001.
The Kliq members nearly all had setbacks, some of which were mentioned here: Shawn had a seemingly career-ending back injury in 1998. Hall began suffering from years of heavy drinking. Waltman had a number of close calls due to his personal problems. Nash’s problems were less serious, although his career would never reach the heights of 1994-1998 again. Only HHH avoided the pitfalls that befell his Kliq compadres, with his future secured once he began dating and eventually married Stephanie McMahon. Through Shawn’s 2002 comeback, various Hall Of Fame inductions and the Sting-HHH match which involved all five Kliq players in some way, the group has had a number of memorable reunions in recent years, and with all five (including Hall) being able to put their issues behind them, their current goal is simply to reminisce and enjoy life going forward.
Included on the DVD are many bonus matches with various combinations of the five Kliq members. We see Kid’s Raw debut from May 1993 where, cast as a typical jobber, he scored a major upset win over Razor. We also get their rematch, which has an interesting story to it (as told on this DVD), as well as Diesel vs. Razor and Shawn vs. Kid (a gem of a bout) from Raw in the same year. A tag bout against The Quebecers for Razor and Kid is presumably here as part of the build for the Razor vs. Shawn WrestleMania X Ladder match, which is a very familiar bout, but it remains a classic and is a justifiable inclusion. A Razor-Diesel match for the IC gold is decent and a tag bout pitting Shawn and Diesel against Razor and Kid from 1994 is excellent. A Survivor Series elimination match involving all four Kliq members besides Hunter is watchable and plays a big role in Diesel’s development (the big man would win the WWF Title from Bob Backlund just three days later).
The year 1995 is strangely not represented, an odd decision since this year saw all five Kliq members in the thick of things on WWF television in some form. Razor vs. Hunter and Shawn vs. Hunter from 1996 are two interesting bouts to view from this point in their careers (the Razor-Kid “Crybaby” bout from In Your House 6, less so), and the Shawn-Diesel No Holds Barred bout from In Your House 7 was one of the best matches of the year, and the first true hint as to what the Attitude Era would eventually provide. We see The Outsiders team against The Steiners on Nitro during WCW’s boom period, but Nash vs. Hall from Halloween Havoc 1998 is less enjoyable given its focus on Hall’s real-life alcoholism. HHH vs. X-Pac from Backlash 1999 is alright but a bit dull, partly because a straight wrestling match wasn’t what the WWF fans of 1999 really wanted to see. A six-man bout from a 2002 edition of SmackDown is a glimpse at the short-lived nWo reunion on WWF television, and HHH vs. Nash from Judgment Day 2003 is okay, but it happened during what is now referred to as Triple H’s reign of terror as World Heavyweight Champion. DX vs. JeriShow from TLC 2009 is a weird bout to include (even if it does showcase HBK and HHH as a team), and whilst undoubtedly entertaining, it is highly overrated in my opinion. The Blu-ray version has a few more bouts including the Sting-HHH spectacle from Mania 31, which is very enjoyable but has a very frustrating finale (you know, where HHH unnecessarily pinned The Stinger in his WWE debut).
This DVD is an unusual one because of its random feel, but it does have its moments. The documentary is a little on the short side, and does ignore some noted criticisms of the faction, but it also provides refreshing honesty and is about as in-depth a look at this backstage supergroup as WWE would allow. The Kliq is a fascinating topic because, yes they did appear to have considerable influence over Vince and company, and they did dominate the WWF during their “prime”. However, besides Bret and Undertaker, there was nobody else who the WWF fans truly wanted to see; the talent pool was at its lowest ebb, as was business. There were other stars like Owen Hart, Yokozuna and The British Bulldog, but ask any fan of the era who the top names from the WWF at that time were, and they’ll probably say several Kliq members. Shawn seemed to be the heartbeat of the Kliq, for the group’s heavy influence only really faded in the WWF when he suffered his back injury; without HBK, the main event scene was Kliq-less in Stamford until HHH rose up the ranks – which, based on his performances, he did appear to merit by this point – in late 1999. Of course, he later married Stephanie and became a target for backstage criticism himself, but that’s for another time.
And the Kliq didn’t always have things their way. The booking of Shawn Michaels over the weekend of WrestleMania XI was rather questionable. Kid was never given a true opportunity to reach the main event level. And even Razor, who is often considered to have had a great WWF tenure, had a pretty rotten 1995, all things considered; in fact, once he lost the IC Title to Jeff Jarrett at Royal Rumble 1995, his only notable contribution before leaving was the Ladder rematch with Shawn as his later title reigns and feuds (against the likes of Mabel and Mo, Dean Douglas and Goldust) weren’t exactly classic material. Diesel was on a losing streak even before he declared his intentions to jump ship. And we’ve already covered how Hunter took the rap for the MSG incident, which would become known as the Curtain Call (incidentally, this incident is shown in full on fan cam as a DVD extra).
The Kliq was also a sign of the times, because the WWF was struggling, and it lacked a major veteran like Hogan or Randy Savage. Yes, Bret and Taker were there, but Bret was the CM Punk of the 1990s, the obvious best wrestler in the company but someone who was never 100% accepted by the promotion as the guy; and Undertaker only had the top title for five days in his first six years with the WWF (and even Taker was in the BSK). Had Hogan still been in the WWF, the Kliq wouldn’t have exerted the power that they had, nor would they have done if it were 1998 and Steve Austin was on a one-way trip to wrestling immortality; Stone Cold certainly wouldn’t have been pushed around by Michaels or Nash or Hall at this point. And in the modern WWE, we rarely hear of true backstage politicians, even if HHH and John Cena are occasionally accused of political manoeuvrings, because times have changed and in the performance-driven WWE of today, fewer wrestlers are truly battling to earn or keep “their spot”. It’s no longer about one man or one feud, evidenced by how WWE’s on-screen product succeeds in spite of the fact that fans completely resent the chosen one Roman Reigns.
The Kliq Rules will be appealing to fans of the mid-1990s WWF and those who have a keen interest in the behind-the-scenes aspect of wrestling. Newer fans will be less inclined to watch this DVD, and may even be confused by much of what is being discussed. That being said, the documentary is adequate, and many of the bonus matches are worth watching, if a little familiar. I would say, therefore, that this is a fairly good DVD set which, while revealing little in the way of new information, does recap the highs and lows, and of course the influence over the WWF (and the fear caused to the locker room) by the most infamous backstage unit in wrestling history. But you do have to be interested in either mid-1990s WWF wrestling or you have to be interested in how wrestling works, because otherwise this DVD won’t be for you.
Overall Rating: 7/10 – Respectable