Deep Dive - The Kliq
Adz takes a deep dive into the history of the most powerful backstage group to have ever existed - The Kliq
The Kliq. A backstage political powerhouse, that got what they wanted, when they wanted. They were a force to be reckoned with backstage and you would have been a fool to cross them. Crossing the Kliq was a sure-fire way to put your position on the card in jeopardy. Always wanted to job out to Max Moon? Then step on their toes and your dream is sorted. But who were The Kliq, were they really that big of a deal? They were responsible for some important progressions and one very infamous moment in wrestling’s storied history. Kick back, get comfortable and let’s take a trip down memory lane and have a look back on the most famous backstage group there was, let’s dive into it.
The Kliq was formed in 1994 and was created by Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, with Sean Waltman (X-Pac/1-2-3 Kid) tagging along and later joined by Hunter Hearst Helmsley (Triple H) in 1995 after departing WCW. Kevin Nash recruited Trips because he was a sober guy and they needed a bag carrier and designated driver when they were in no fit state after their excessive partying. Shawn, Kevin, and Scott were all top draws in the WWF, and with big drawing power comes backstage sway. The 3 founders formed the group to consolidate their backstage power to look out for themselves and only them. It was not appreciated by a lot of the guys in the locker room and they sparked a lot of controversy. There have been claims from other top stars of time that they were invited into the group as they were setting up shop, the biggest name being Bret Hart, in which he claimed in his auto-biography “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”, then going on to say he declined their offer.
They allegedly got their name from Lex Luger according to HBK, but Lex has always attributed the name to the British Bulldog because The Kliq were always “Clicking”. It’s a term that originates from the north west of England, specifically Lancashire, and is a slang way of describing people who are always talking.
As time went on, The Kliq gained considerable power backstage and this eventually led to the group having a heavy influence on the booking of the whole card. Imagine having the ability to dictate what is going to happen to Vince McMahon, the overlord of wrestling at the time. They essentially had the power to keep raising their own profile, whilst manipulating potential threats out of their way, and They did just that. The Kliq would place themselves in high profile matches and angles which usually involved each other. From the time of their creation to the infamous Curtain Call (we’ll get to that) at Maddison Square Garden, the group had frequently booked themselves in high profile feuds with each other, particularly Shawn and Nash over the WWF championship, and at one point even teaming as “Two Dudes with Attitudes” to win the WWF tag team championships. They booked themselves to the moon and beyond.
The Lower echelons in the locker room were not happy at all. They felt this was a blatant abuse of power which lead to an altercation between Michaels and Pierre Carl Oulette (then working under the name Jean-Pierre Lafitte, previously one half of the Quebecers and is currently working for Ring of Honor as PCO). The story goes that Oulette was scheduled to defeat Nash, but The Heartbreak Kid had other plans and wouldn’t allow it to happen. Oulette refused to lose to Nash in Canada so the match ended in a double count out.
According to an interview with Carl Oulette, he already had a little bit of friction with Shaw due to him telling HBK that he wasn’t comfortable doing the job (Shawn beating him) in Montreal after just coming back from time off to create the Lafitte character, and being promised by Vince that he was going to be huge in Canada. Shawn being Shawn had a few choice words (which I won't repeat here) for the former Quebecer. Oulette eventually relented and put Shawn over, but Shawn never let it drop.
As stated above, if you wanted your career to be hammered into the ground, just piss off The Kliq, and that is exactly what Jean-Pierre Lafitte did. After refusing to lose to Nash and the altercation with Shawn over it, The Kliq subsequently ended Lafitte's run in the World Wrestling Federation. Shawn stated in his own auto-biography quite simply “we buried him”. They booked him to lose regularly in low-profile matches, killing any lustre and intrigue he had coming back in as a new character. Such was the power of The Kliq. They could end your push, your run and even your career with the WWF just because you smiled at them wrong, or in this case, expressed how you felt.
There have been rumblings that the Undertaker’s backstage group, The Bone Street Krew, had heat with The Kliq, but Triple H has downplayed this saying in an interview that “There was no real animosity or anything there but like putting stickers on the locker room or whatever, we’d play it up in front of each other. If we were in Germany and everybody went to the bar at night, we’d put our crew on one side, they’d put their crew on the other side. We’d laugh about it and talk about it the next day and everything like that. By the end of the night, when things thinned out, we might all be together in the same place laughing and joking, but the majority of people saw us separated.”
Over time The Kliq attempted to grow. Hall took on a couple of new protégés in Peter Polaco (better known as Justin Credible) before his release 4 months later and Louis Mucciolo Jr (better known as Rad Radford in WWF and Louis Spicolli in WCW) until his untimely death after getting clean and then relapsing at the age of 27. Alas no expansion ever lasted.
So, let's address the elephant in the room, the previously alluded to Curtain Call. In April 1996 Hall and Nash signed with Vince McMahons biggest competition, the only legitimate threat he had ever faced, WCW. This was a time when WCW had the full backing of Ted Turner and the sly genius or Eric Bischoff, when the WWF and WCW were battling it out over ratings (the Monday Night Wars). At the time Shawn and Hall were working as babyfaces (good guys) and Nash and Hunter were heels (bad guys). In those days it was important to keep character (or kayfabe in wrestling terms) and babyfaces could not be seen to be friends with the heels. On May 19th 1996, Hall and Nash were having their last contracted matches with the WWF. HBK was wrestling Big Daddy Cool in a steel cage match in the main event. After the match ended Hall came out and hugged Michaels, the crowd would not have found this strange as both were babyface, so obviously they were friends. However, Triple H came out and hugged Hall, and then Nash followed suit. The four guys in the ring hugged it out for a few seconds and then stood centre stage, raising each other's arms. Now I know what you’re thinking, that this isn’t a big deal, but you would be wrong, this was the biggest deal ever. The rule was NEVER break character and these guys did in front of a packed Maddison Square Garden crowd. In 1996 the importance of keeping character was paramount. Wrestlers had to live their gimmick, they had to become who they portrayed on TV in front of regular people. The Kliq hugging and raising each other's arms in front of a live crowed, exposed things in the business that had never been seen before. A stark contrast to how wrestling does things now.
The backlash from this was felt solely but Triple H. They couldn’t touch Shawn, he was untouchable, the WWF’s top guy, he was the WWF champion. Hall and Nash had gone and Waltman was in rehab so couldn’t participate, after his stint in rehab he too was WCW bound. HHH had his push stopped, his planned king of the ring win taken away and given to “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Hunter had to eat dirt and say thank you. This did, inadvertently give us some of the biggest moments in wrestling history. It gave us the “Austin 3:16” promo sky rocketing Steve Austin's career. It gave us The Outsiders angle in WCW, an angle that had never been seen before, leading the Hogan heel turn and the formation of the NWO (for more on that see my article on Hogan) and possibly the most popular WWF faction, D-Generation X. It gave us what is widely regarded as the greatest era of professional wrestling.
The Kliq does not end there though, rumours have circulated for years about why Nash and Hall left, I personally subscribe to fact that they were offered huge money contracts from WCW and that’s why they left, plain and simple, the money drew them. Others subscribe to different theories, the most popular being the ‘Wrestling Takeover’ theory. The story goes that Hall and Nash left the WWF so The Kliq could rule wrestling from all sides of the fence, controlling the biggest wrestling companies in the world. Shawn and Hunter running the WWF, Hall and Nash running WCW, or so it goes. It didn’t quite end up that way though. The real-life arrogance that Shawn had gained from his backstage antics and living his gimmick was adapted for live audience's and TV with Triple H at his side and made for TV gold, putting lots of asses in seats with DX gaining huge momentum. This rubbed the wrestling purists, in particular Bret Hart the wrong way. He hated the raunchier, more adult orientated direction the product was going in. Bret left for WCW over contract issues and this led to the Montreal Screwjob with, you guessed it, Shawn and his Kliq mate Triple H smack bang in the middle of the who thing, but that’s another story for another time.
Shawn was not having the best of times in the WWF and was having difficulty with addiction, mental health issues and had back injury problems, he eventually left to get the help he needed after Wrestlemania 14.
On the other side of the fence Hall and Nash had changed the landscape of WCW with the NWO and later the NWO Wolfpac. Nash eventually worked his way into an actual bookers position as well as having complete creative control over his on-screen character, so there could be some truth to the takeover theory after all. Hall on the other hand struggled with his demons and was in and out of rehab and never really managed to make it to the heights the his other Kliq mates did. To further lend credit to the theory, The Wolfpac adopted the “Too Sweet” hand gesture (also known as the ‘Turkish Wolf’) often used by The Kliq on TV as their sign. The ironic thing is Triple H is now one of the most powerful men in wrestling and is poised to inherit the largest wrestling company in the world. Maybe this theory was right on the money?
Thankfully both Shawn and Hall managed to get the help they needed (albeit the latter took a bit longer and had some well documented bumps in the road) and both are now Hall of Famers along with Nash, Hunter and Waltman, as the NWO and DX respectively. Shawn eventually came back after to the WWE in 2002 after his time away getting clean and healthy and finding God. He was inserted straight into a feud with his buddy Triple H, who was now the top heel on RAW, and then went on to win the World Heavyweight Championship in the first ever Elimination Chamber. Shawn has also had some of the greatest Wrestlemania matches of all time including his matches with Bret, Austin, Cena. And who can forget the unbelievably emotional Ric Flair retirement match and the back to back classics with The Undertaker, rightfully earning him the name ‘Mr. Wrestlemania.’
As hated as they were, it could be said that the Kliq was the catalyst for what is remembered as wrestling's greatest era, spawning some of the most iconic factions, creating some of the most infamous moments and making wrestling history. Whatever your feelings are toward The Kliq, you have to admit that they changed the landscape of wrestling forever. And if you’re not down with that, I got two words for ya...