Daily Visual 22.02.16: Shane McMahon Returns to WWE

Professional wrestling today can often seem short on surprises. In the middle of the 1990s when competition between WWE and WCW had business at its peak, wrestlers would jump between promotions on an almost weekly basis, their varying production schedules in rare cases even causing bewildering overlaps, as in November 1997 when Rick Rude appeared on Raw and Nitro on the very same night. Nowadays wrestlers usually progress more gradually onto the main WWE roster, spending time in NXT before making the leap, and as WWE is the only major promotion in North America, they already house most of the talent with the sort of recognition liable to bring audiences to their feet.

Then there is the trouble of booking in the face of the internet. A busy internet wrestling community already thrived certainly by the time of the Attitude Era, but it remains the case that WWE struggles to understand and come to terms with the world online: punishing some superstars for making plain entirely harmless, unavoidable, and oftentimes endearing personal information, reacting to idle speculation or to the wishes of fans with spiteful last-minute switches, but proving unable to spread the sort of misinformation which might cast just enough doubt to at least allow the fans to suspend their disbelief.

But after a tumultuous final hour spoiled Sunday’s Fastlane PPV, the usually tedious opening segment to Monday night’s Raw brought not surprise but shock, not a frisson of excitement but jaw-dropping, springing-out-of-one’s-seat, double-arm-pumping, Yes!-screaming delight. Shane McMahon returned to WWE television for the first time in almost seven years to confront his father Vince and his sister Stephanie, interrupting the presentation of the Vincent J. McMahon Legacy of Excellence Award to demand control of Raw.

Shane’s argument regarding the sorry state of the current product – and its impact on everything from the WWE share price, to the television ratings, to the number of injuries suffered by the talent in recent months – played into the audience’s innermost feelings, and while there were some peculiar details that might need explaining, or explaining away, over the coming weeks – the notion that Shane possesses a ‘lock box’ full of Vince’s dirtiest secrets, and the imposition of a Hell in a Cell match setting The Undertaker against Shane at WrestleMania 31 – generally Shane didn’t miss a beat, skipping, shadow boxing, and beating his chest as he made his way to the ring to a rousing reception, and maintaining the same level of energy on the microphone as Vince looked suitably uncomfortable and Stephanie proved the epitome of a grating heel.

Shane McMahon featured on WWE television on and off for more than a decade after becoming a regular player in the bloody conflict between Stone Cold Steve Austin and Shane’s father, and WWE owner, Vince McMahon. A return in 2006 saw him feud with Shawn Michaels and a reunited D-Generation X, and the following year he struggled to retain the upper hand across a series of handicap matches against Bobby Lashley, before his final effort at Backlash in April 2009 saw The Legacy, the group led by Randy Orton and comprising Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase, defeat the trio of Shane, Triple H, and Batista. Soon afterwards Shane suffered a broken leg in the storyline with The Legacy, which explained his absence from our screens. And in life outside of the ring, that October Shane resigned his position with WWE, going on to serve as the chief executive of a range of broadband, video on demand, and pay-per-view services in China.

But Shane remains best remembered for his first run in WWE, which saw him transition from a corporate copy with his own posse of hangers-on to the owner of WCW in firm opposition to Vince. In the process he became known as one of the most fearless performers in WWE history, with an unforgettable leap of faith in the form of a 50-foot elbow drop down onto Big Show at Backlash, and a glass shattering 26-minute street fight with Kurt Angle at King of the Ring, both in 2001. As a result there is a mainline between Shane and the WWE audience of a sort which exists for few other Attitude Era wrestlers, perhaps only Austin, The Rock, and Mick Foley. It is hard to imagine a more potent and entertaining comeback than the one witnessed Monday night.