When hardcore wrestling fans were introduced to the concept of Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Sean Waltman, and Triple H having consolidated their power in the WWF as “The Kliq,” it was not in the most flattering of terms.
Editor’s note: The Kliq was initially spelled “The Clique,” until WWE embraced the alternate spelling. The original spelling has been maintained as used by primary sources.
“Poor house show attendance and record low buyrates have caused ever shrinking paychecks for WWF wrestlers, which has led to low morale and in-fighting,” wrote Wade Keller in the cover story of the November 18, 1995 edition of his Pro Wrestling Torch newsletter. “The problems peaked twice, once when a group of main eventers known not-so-affectionately as ‘The Clique’ (Shawn Michaels, Razor Ramon, Diesel, 1-2-3 Kid, and Hunter Hearst Helmsley) essentially threatened to strike, and again when a good portion of the rest of the WWF crew threatened to walkout, upset with the preferential treatment they perceived The Clique was receiving and concerned with their shrinking paychecks and anemic schedule of bookings.”
The Kliq Protects Its Own
The idea of the five wrestlers forming a collective bargaining unit wasn’t the issue, so much as how they were perceived to be out for themselves, and only themselves. Especially knowing that Vince McMahon was more likely to listen to them. Bret Hart, in his memoir, echoed those feelings in telling the story of Hall and Nash pitching him on the idea during a September 1994 tour of Germany. “The thing I remember most about that tour was Shawn, Razor and Nash talking to me in Hamburg about the idea of forming a clique of top guys who strictly took care of their own,” he wrote. “This was what Buddy Rogers did in the 1950s, working only with his selected clique to get him over, so they could monopolize the cash flow.”
More Professional Wrestling
- Scott Hall, Wrestling’s Bad Guy, Was Eternally Cool
- The Fever Dream That Was the First Six Nights of WWF Shotgun Saturday Night
- Reexamining Shawn Michaels Losing His Smile, 25 Years Later
“To some[,] The Clique is a harmless group of buddies who travel together,” Keller continued in his cover story. “To others, it is an arrogant, exclusive, selfish group of power-grabbers who all but run the WWF to their advantage. Some wrestlers are open about their feelings, while others pretend not to be bothered but feel the same nonetheless. The rap this past week by various WWF wrestlers is that, ‘When the Clique complains, Vince comes running.’ That was perceived to be the case when McMahon showed up for the Columbus house show after spending the better part of that day with The Clique addressing their grievances.” (That main grievance was an entirely legitimate one: not being paid for promotional appearances, an issue they had brought up in the past.)
Over the next 25-plus years, the legacy of The Kliq grew and grew, especially once supplanted by tales of Triple H maneuvering to the top of the business, as well as Hall, Nash, and Waltman’s time in a particularly political WCW. Various wrestlers who worked with them took shots at the surface version of The Kliq, and, at times, deservedly so. Hell, it was just last month that Dax Harwood told the world about how, in the locker room during the Raw 25 special, Michaels reverted to his younger self and made light of Dax’s anxiety issues as a way of trying to be the “alpha” in front of his buddies. It’s not as if there aren’t many truthful, outright negative stories about The Kliq, but it shouldn’t necessarily be what defines them.
At times, particularly during their heyday is a singular group in the WWF locker room, the bond between The Kliq’s members was visible in the ridiculous chemistry that they all had with each other in the ring. Hall and Nash had consistently good singles matches with each other throughout their feud over the Intercontinental Championship in 1994, the first time that Nash had consistently good singles matches with anyone. Triple H’s first real standout match was a title shot against Michaels on Raw in 1996 where Michaels gave him a lot more than he normally would give a mid-card heel. Waltman and Hall made each other much bigger stars by way of how well they complimented each other during the storyline that brought Waltman into the WWF and made him a star with the “job guy who gets a shocking upset win” gimmick. And of course you have Michaels and Hall.
Michaels often gets the lion’s share of the credit for his legendary pair of pay-per-view ladder matches with Hall at WrestleMania X and SummerSlam ’95. This is understandable, with Michaels being the one who does the bulk of the spectacular moves involving the ladder in both matches, but it’s also incorrect and unfair to Hall. It’s much more obvious in the rematch, where he played a subtle heel, but closer viewing shows just how important he was as the glue to both ladder matchers. It’s a far cry from what Ric Flair and others have sometimes described as “the night that Shawn Michaels wrestled a ladder.” But if you need to further erase any doubt, their match on the August 1, 1994 edition of Monday Night Raw is the one to watch, an absolute roller coaster of a 20 minute match where you really how how each man’s style brought out the best in the other.
But you can’t talk about The Kliq’s in-ring chemistry without bringing up the famous match where what was then the entire group did battle on the second episode of WWF Action Zone in October 1994: Michaels and Nash defending their tag titles against Hall and Waltman. A longtime hardcore fan favorite that, curiously, has only ever been officially released once (on 2015’s The Kliq Rules DVD/Blu-Ray set), it’s clearly one of those nights where everything clicked. Easily the best tag team match of that era of WWF wrestling, it features all four man firing on all cylinders while playing to their strengths, with Michaels particularly shining after “accidentally knocking out” Nash with a superkick.
It’s the kind of great match that’s so reliant on chemistry that it’s hard to even describe why it works so well. Yes, Hall was the perfect foil for the “bump and feed” style of WWF heel work that Michaels mastered, but this goes beyond that. How often do you see a tag team match where one of the heel champions has to fight back against adversity for a large chunk of the match and yet not only does it work, but it works better than any other tag team bout in the promotion for at least five years on either side of the match? And yet that’s exactly what happens here; it’s a key part of the match despite the psychology of a huge part of the match being the opposite of the tried and true tag team formula.
Nobody’s perfect. But what’s the worst that we can say about The Kliq as a group during the less than two years they were an actual presence in the WWF locker room? (If you start with Triple H joining them, it’s even less.) That they were locker room politicians at a time when hardcore fans were trained to treat locker room lawyering as one of the most evil threats to the good name of professional wrestling? That most of them had substance abuse issues, something that reads much differently in 2022?
Having such a tight bond that they were willing to go on strike over worker treatment issues in Vince McMahon’s WWF, much less the wrestling business in general is a much more important legacy. That’s a lot more meaningful than them not being nice to Shane Douglas, to say nothing of the artistic legacy they left by making magic almost every time they wrestled each other.