I. “I really didn’t want to have to do it”
On October 19th, 1998, The Undertaker and Paul Bearer announced the creation of a Ministry of Darkness that would serve Taker’s evil purposes, whatever those may have been.
For the next four months, The Undertaker would grow his Ministry until it was powerful enough to take on Vince McMahon’s own faction, the Corporation. He might not have been able to rent a decent space for his secret lair…
…apparently setting up his throne behind some boxes backstage, and he may have spent most of his screen time ranting about the “Purity of Evil” like he was General Jack Ripper, but believe me, he and the Ministry were powerful.
Taker later revealed that he served a power even greater and more evil than himself (which could have been a Federation euphemism for Satan, the same way “a different and more omnipotent drummer” was a euphemism for Jesus). The Dead Man declared that he would soon seize the whole company in the name of this Greater Power, then launched a very personal campaign against the Federation’s owner. This culminated in the kidnapping of Vince’s beloved daughter Stephanie.
Threatening to “sacrifice” her if Vince did not hand over control of the company, Undertaker insisted that Steve Austin, Vince’s long-time nemesis, be the one to hand over the documents. Since Austin predictably refused, Taker attempted to marry Stephanie in a ceremony of dubious legality, only to be thwarted by Stone Cold after all.
Shortly thereafter, Shane McMahon merged his Corporation with The Undertaker’s Ministry of Darkness to form the Corporate Ministry. Vince’s son had colluded with the Ministry as a means to take over the WWF from his father and had orchestrated his sister’s abduction to trick Vince into handing over control of his company as ransom.
It was brilliant, except that Vince never did end up relinquishing his shares, but somehow or another Shane declared that he was in charge anyway, so he got to make all the matches and call all the shots. It turns out, Shane was the Greater Power the whole time!
Except he wasn’t. Instead, all the talk of a Greater Power persisted for another month as the WWF sought one final, monumental twist. And that twist was:
The Undertaker had seized power from Vince on behalf of Shane… on behalf of Vince.
This convoluted plan, which Vince McMahon had executed at great expense to his roster, his family, and himself, was carried out for the sole purpose of showing Steve Austin who was boss, fooling him and the audience.
The Greater Power is wrestling’s textbook example of why you shouldn’t write an angle without a conclusion in mind; Vince McMahon clearly wasn’t supposed to be the Greater Power, and the storyline had played out accordingly, but when the time came to deliver a shocking conclusion, Vince was the WWF’s only choice left.
Had there been such a thing as the Gooker Award or WrestleCrap.com back in 1999, this angle would have won in a landslide. But to fully explain the stupidity of it all would take more text and pictures than computers were capable of handling in 1999, which may be why it is only now being inducted onto the hallowed pages of this site.
II. “There is no price I will not pay!”
When you look back at all the events that occurred between the formation of the Ministry of Darkness and Vince’s revelation that he was behind it all along, very little of it benefited The Undertaker or Vince McMahon.
We don’t know exactly how long Vince and Undertaker had supposedly been scheming together; perhaps it was was from day one, when Vince was held captive by a disgruntled Steve Austin, while The Undertaker announced his Ministry but didn’t lift a finger to save his boss’s life.
Perhaps they had been colluding since December, but then again, that was the month that Vince booked The Undertaker into a Buried Alive match with Steve Austin, which Taker lost after being – get this – buried alive with several tons of dirt. Fortunately, Taker survived the ordeal for reasons that (like most of the Greater Power storyline) were never even attempted to be explained.
But by February (after the Greater Power had first been mentioned), there was in retrospect no doubt that one conspirator was willing to get the other one killed simply to make their cover story more believable. When, after months of inactivity in the ring, Taker vowed to take over the company, Vince booked him into an Inferno Match against Kane, whom Vince demanded kill The Undertaker by setting him fire.
Fortunately, Kane made an error when trying to execute a big boot and caught his leg on fire. Otherwise, Taker might have been too badly burned or deceased to reap the rewards of his and Vince’s master plan. Those rewards, principally, consisted of fooling Steve Austin.
Taker’s long layoff from the ring while he gathered members for his ministry meant that he didn’t participate in the Royal Rumble, thus forgoing a title shot at Wrestlemania and Vince’s $100,000 bounty on Austin’s elimination. While the likes of The Blue Meanie, Tiger Ali Singh, and Gillberg vied to throw Austin over the top rope, The Undertaker, Mideon, and the Acolytes had a more important mission (possibly from Vince himself): to pull the 500-pound Mabel out of the Rumble before he could, say, eliminate Stone Cold and keep him away from the WWF title.
At Wrestlemania, Vince gave Taker the important task of murdering the Big Bossman, but when all of Vince’s known associates were banned from ringside for Steve Austin’s main event title match, McMahon gave his secret associate the night off, allowing his arch nemesis to win the title.
Still, it was necessary for The Undertaker to be locked out of the title picture for months. This way, he could focus on more important things for his career, such as appearing to torment Vince McMahon by burning his daughter’s favorite childhood toy and then abducting and terrorizing her. Again, Vince McMahon and The Undertaker were the ones who thought up this plan.
They also thought it a good idea for Vince to call the cops on Taker two weeks in a row, one week having him arrested, and the next week telling a police officer to draw his gun on The Undertaker while The Ministry lurked around Vince’s Greenwich home.
Vince also okayed the idea for the Ministry to burn a cross – I mean, symbol – on his lawn, which could not have pleased the community association.
And of course, Vince okayed the (second) kidnapping, imprisonment, and “sacrifice” of his own daughter to the Greater Power (after paying ten armed guards ostensibly to protect her and prevent this from happening).
He even booked himself to grovel and beg for Stone Cold to help him get his daughter back…
…pleas which Steve Austin rebuffed rather strongly.
I don’t imagine Vince actually wanted Stephanie to become The Undertaker’s bride and sex slave, so I can only assume that he instead wanted Stone Cold to rush the ring, beat up the Ministry, free Steph, and look like a big hero. And then later he could *fool* him.
Shane soon revealed that he was in cahoots with The Undertaker the whole time, that he was the one behind aspiring actress Stephanie’s kidnapping, and that he had even picked out her black wedding dress (which, in the interest of full disclosure, was the bomb). Vince, in response, pretended to be as disgusted as the rest of his family at such vile, duplicitous behavior.
Tormenting a family member in an elaborate ruse to gain ownership of a company? Unforgivable.
Tormenting a family member in an exponentially more elaborate ruse to mess with Steve Austin’s head? Nah, I’m sure she’ll understand.
Other brilliant parts of Vince McMahon’s master plan were the chokeslams…
…and unprotected chair shots from the Undertaker that he suffered along the way, just to “prove” that The Undertaker hated him.
To earn the fans’ trust, Vince aligned himself with The Union (like that would ever happen in real life) and started wearing a dress shirt with no jacket, no tie, and the sleeves rolled up.
But if Vince McMahon were to fool Steve Austin, he would first have to earn his trust, too. He finally started attempting to do this at Backlash. Ultimately, for Vince to screw Austin, he’d have to squander several much *better* opportunities to screw Steve Austin along the way.
That night, with Shane McMahon as the crooked referee determined to cost Steve Austin his WWF title, Vince McMahon stepped in at the last moment, knocked Shane out with the belt, and sent in a real referee.
Thus, Austin pinned The Rock to retain the title that, before Vince intervened, he had been all but guaranteed to lose. Shane then kicked Rock out of the Corporation for losing.
The following month at Over The Edge, Shane McMahon had booked himself again to referee Steve Austin’s title match, where he would defend against The Undertaker. Shawn Michaels (the forgotten other authority figure in the company) added Vince as a second referee just to even the odds.
So Vince screwed Austin out of the title at Over The Edge by being just as biased as Shane, right? No, because before Austin arrived at the arena, Shane booked him against Mideon in a match where, if Austin didn’t show up, he’d be immediately stripped of the title.
So Vince let Shane strip Austin of the title? No, instead Vince subbed for Austin and got beaten up by the Corporate Ministry, who appeared to break his ankle and take him out of the main event.
So Vince let Shane be the sole referee to screw Austin out of the title? No, instead he sent down Pat Patterson and later Gerald Brisco as replacement officials, neither of whom were aware of Vince’s conspiracy, but both of whom got demolished by The Undertaker on arrival.
Vince himself eventually hobbled down to the ring to make the count for Austin, only to be thwarted by Shane…
…who made a quick count against Stone Cold. The younger McMahon awarded the match and the title to The Undertaker, who at last had something to show for three to seven months of conspiracies.
Perhaps Vince’s biggest wasted opportunity was when he agreed to wrestle The Undertaker on Raw with special stipulations. If Vince won, Steve Austin would wrestle Taker for the WWF title later that night. If The Undertaker won, Steve Austin would never be able to challenge for the WWF Title ever again.
Rather than take a dive and solve his Austin problem once and for all, Vince gave it his all against the Undertaker. Rather than finish off his co-conspirator quickly and neatly, Taker blatantly shoved the referee twice, drawing a disqualification, thus giving Vince the win and granting Stone Cold a title shot that night.
(Two months later, Vince McMahon would pit The Undertaker against Steve Austin with the exact same “no more title shots for Austin, ever” stipulation that they threw away on this night.
Austin would win that match and force Vince off TV “forever”.)
But on this night, a run-in by the Corporate Ministry prevented Austin from winning the title.
The Ministry then tied up Austin, who sat helpless as The Greater Power finally emerged and showed his face to Austin (and only to Austin, as it doesn’t appear that Creative had figured out who the Greater Power would be yet).
See Austin’s face? He looks pretty mad, right? It turns out that this reaction GIF was the end game of the entire Corporate Ministry plot.
III. “I say the evil, demonic SOB show his face to the world now!”
The announcers were sure it was Shane McMahon under the hood and cloak: he had already admitted to being behind the conspiracy of the Ministry of Darkness, he had the motive, and he wasn’t present when the Greater Power showed up shrouded in robes.
The next week on Heat, though, those same announcers were suddenly (and retroactively) convinced it wasn’t Shane, thanks to some extra sound bites thrown into the replay of Raw’s events.
One man who knew for sure was Steve Austin, who showed up and beat up nearly everyone he saw. The WWF left it up to intrepid reporter Lucas Swineford to get the biggest scoop of the year, but Stone Cole wouldn’t tell him who the Greater Power was. All he’d say was that the Greater Power wasn’t in the arena that night.
So that ruled out Lucas Swineford. But who was the Greater Power? That would have to wait until the following night.
On WCW Nitro, the announcers gave away the big surprise before it aired, just as they had done with Mick Foley’s title win months earlier. The only difference was that Raw was live that week; the announcers didn’t know for sure that Vince was the one under the hood, but they figured that a twist that stupid just had to happen in the WWF. Of course, they would soon hire WWF’s head writers so they could air their own stupid plot twists.
Raw kicked off that night at 9 PM EST with Vince McMahon speculating about whom the Greater Power might be and rattling off a list of names – one of which the most logical choice, Shane McMahon, but all of which were better than Vince McMahon.
(Not mentioned was Vince Russo’s original pick, Christopher Daniels…
…whom McMahon medically disqualified when an informal exam revealed that he was 5’11”)
He and Shane, who denied being the Greater Power, agreed to a winner-take-all, no-holds-barred match that night where each man would put up his 50% stake in the company.
Suspiciously, Shane then told him to go backstage while he brought out the Corporate Ministry and the Greater Power.
Sure enough, after the commercial break, the Ministry of Darkness gathered in the ring and welcomed the arrival of their Higher Power (or, as The Undertaker once called him, their Hower Power). The mysterious cloaked figure then grabbed the microphone and spoke in Shane McMahon’s voice!
But no, they were just jerking the audience around, because Shane then came down to the ring while cutting a promo on another mic. Now that Shane was there, he could goad his dad into coming to the ring and unveiling the Greater Power himself.
Vince quickly appeared on the Titantron and refused to come to ringside. Well, at least the fans knew it wouldn’t be Vince. Except that this was another ploy designed to fool… well, not Austin, since he already knew who the Greater Power was, but it did fool all the fans who couldn’t tell this was a pre-taped promo.
The Greater Power then removed his hood to show the world exactly who he was and to inspire something called a “meme” over a decade later. It turned out, Eric Bischoff guessed correctly.
What makes JR’s reaction so memorable and relatable is that he didn’t even act shocked. Instead, he acted very annoyed. Of course it was Vince. It had to be Vince, even if it made no sense in the plot.
Maybe JR remembered the time the previous fall when the McMahons had pulled off nearly the exact same thing, where Shane McMahon pretended to break away from his dad and try to run the show himself, only to “reunite” with Vince to screw over Steve Austin.
After pulling off the hood, Vince bragged about how everyone bought into the ruse, including his own family (his immediate family!). Who else bought the ruse? Apparently everyone but him, Shane, The Undertaker, and Paul Bearer (and Eric Bischoff).
IV. “Every damn one of you were made fools of!”
I mean, who else could have been in on Vince and Undertaker’s master plan?
Certainly not Ryan Shamrock, who was abducted and “sacrificed” by Taker in place of a heavily guarded Stephanie McMahon, whom Vince had made unavailable for abduction that night. Ryan remained in captivity for an entire week before being rescued by her brother, the Corporate member Ken Shamrock, who was likewise oblivious to Vince and Taker’s plot. Both Shamrocks suffered far more than Vince’s intended target, Steve Austin, with the Ministry suspending Ryan on their symbol…
…and then also attempting to hang up Ken on the cross…
— Art O’Donnell (@Art0Donnell) September 22, 2017
…excuse me, symbol. They tried to crucify him on a symbol.
Ken would war against the newly-formed Corporate Ministry but wouldn’t say a word to anyone about Vince being the Greater Power.
The same goes for Test, The Big Show, Kane, and The Rock, who all left the Corporation without spilling the beans about Vince and Taker’s conspiracy.
Bossman probably didn’t know any better, either, given that he wrestled Undertaker in a brutal (but boring) Hell in a Cell match that concluded with his own hanging. (And let’s not forget that Hell in a Cell was so dangerous that one could get a finger caught in there.)
Also not wised up to the big plan were The Brood, who left the Ministry but didn’t go blab to the rest of the locker room about Vince being Undertaker’s “Greater Power”. Instead, they used their first interview as a group to cut one of the worst promos in history.
And if The Brood hadn’t been informed of the real purpose of The Ministry of Darkness, it stands to reason that none of Undertaker’s other underlings were in on it either, including Mideon & Viscera, who both retained their demonic personas long after The Ministry’s satanic mission was revealed to be a ruse.
I can’t see Mideon, for instance, volunteering to be brutalized by the Corporation inside a steel cage just to reinforce the notion that the two factions – which were scheduled to merge anyway the following month – didn’t like each other.
That means that Undertaker and the Acolytes abducted Mabel for a night, and Dennis Knight for two weeks, in order to brainwash them both into a phony cult – a cult whose only real purpose was to fool Steve Austin, might I remind you.
I can only assume that the 9-1-1 emergency services were not in on the plan, either, which meant that Vince McMahon wasted taxpayer money and precious man-hours with numerous fraudulent calls to the police…
…and with ambulance rides for what turned out to be phony injuries suffered at the hands of the Ministry.
But all of it was worth it so he could teach Austin a lesson, which was that Vince didn’t care to what lengths he had to go, or whom he had to manipulate, just to piss him off slightly.
I repeat, it was worth it.
V. “It’s just business.”
Since the Greater Power’s first appearance on camera was at a Tuesday Raw taping, thirteen days would pass before he’d have to reveal his identity on the next episode. The best that Creative could cobble together in that time was to say that it was Vince, even if it meant ignoring months and months of plot developments that contradicted this. To make it up to the fans, and to prevent them from thinking for more than a few seconds about how little sense the swerve made, the WWF immediately booked another shocking swerve. And by immediately, I mean in the same damn segment.
Out came the other McMahons, Linda and Stephanie, who were disappointed in Vince and Shane.
The McMahon men were shocked – shocked – that Linda and Stephanie weren’t happy about Steph’s kidnapping now that it was masterminded by Vince, too, and not just Shane.
Linda then reminded Vince and Shane that they didn’t own 50% of the company each, but that each McMahon owned 25%. That was kind of a large rounding error by Vince.
Linda revealed that she had called an emergency meeting of the board of directors – why a private company with only four shareholders would have a board of directors, I don’t know – and appointed Steve Austin as the new CEO.
Austin, having already known Vince was the Greater Power, and having been introduced after the second major swerve of the night, got to completely no-sell Vince’s big reveal, the payoff of months of storylines. I guess the only alternative would have been for him to cut a promo on how stupid the whole thing had been.
After all, Vince had suffered far more from his plot than Austin, who, after beating Taker in December, didn’t even interact with the Ministry until late April.
In fact, Austin’s fortunes during the Vince-Ministry conspiracy were so phenomenal that Vince accused him of colluding with Undertaker to divert the boss’s attention and wrath away from him.
And Austin never bought into Vince’s confidence scheme enough to actually trust Mr. McMahon, shake his hand, or share a beer with him…
…as he would do with Linda and Stephanie.
During Austin’s first promo as CEO of the company, we learned that he now owned a 50% stake in the company. It seems that, in an ironic twist, in retaliation for Vince and Shane putting Linda and Stephanie through hell just to teach Steve Austin a lesson, the McMahon women had simply handed over their multi-million-dollar shares to Steve Austin just to teach Vince and Shane a lesson.
And that lesson was that the entire McMahon family was unbelievably stupid.
Follow Art on Twitter @Art0Donnell.