By Nick Perkins, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@WesternRebel)
Are you ready? That question is one that’s been asked by a group of degenerates for the past 20 years. In 1997, two men formed an on-screen alliance based on their real-life friendship.
Shawn Michaels and Triple H, as well as an Amazonian-like warrior named Chyna, joined forces in the fall of 1997 to make life miserable for The Hart Foundation, Steve Austin, The Undertaker, and especially Vince McMahon. They called themselves Degeneration-X, which was a play on a random insult hurled on the trio by one Bret Hart.
DX was the WWF’s answer to the NWO and it delivered, arguably, even more entertaining moments than the WCW faction. For all its talk arguing the contrary, the NWO was, in fact, still a storyline. But DX? They weren’t trying to take over a company. They were just a bunch of a-holes who didn’t care about anything or anyone but themselves.
Whether they were “breaking kayfabe” by showing highlights of taking part in the infamous “curtain call” segment with Kevin Nash and Scott Hall before they left to form the NWO, or continuously telling innocent bystanders to “suck it”, DX was everything that Vince McMahon’s newly-christened “Attitude Era” was all about. These guys (and girl) had attitude aplenty, and they made sure everyone around them knew it.
Degeneration-X launched the career of Triple H and it solidified Shawn Michaels as one of the greatest performers in the history of the WWF. It also turned Chyna into a megastar, which would eventually lead to her becoming the first (and so far only) female Intercontinental Champion.
From the fall of 1997 to the spring of 1998, DX was a rebel heel faction designed to keep the WWF Championship on Shawn Michaels and the coveted European Championship around the waist of Triple H. After narrowly escaping with the title after a bloody feud with The Undertaker, Shawn Michaels was on a collision course with the WWF’s rising star at the time, Steve Austin.
The rise of Austin and DX paralleled each other and they were, arguably, what turned the tide back in the direction of the WWF. But there was only room for one megastar, and his name was Steve Austin.
After suffering a severe back injury in his Royal Rumble match against The Undertaker, Michaels was far from 100 percent when he put his world championship on the line against Austin at WrestleMania 14. Though he seemingly had Mike Tyson in his corner (not to mention Triple H and Chyna), Michaels was running on fumes. In addition to his back injury, the man behind the character of Shawn Michaels was also hurting. But that hurt came from the inside. Michaels was battling addiction issues and personal problems by the time he came face to face with Stone Cold and it was time, at least for a little while, for the Heartbreak Kid to go work on his own. Shawn Michaels lost the championship to Steve Austin, who would go on to be the megastar he was always destined to be.
But the departure of Michaels did not signify the end of Degeneration-X. In fact, it ushered in a new beginning.
On the March 30, 1998 edition of Monday Night Raw, Triple H came out to the ring, sans Shawn Michaels. He told the crowd that Michaels had dropped the ball, but he would be the one to pick it up. He called that night the “Genesis of Degeneration-X,” and that’s exactly what it was. It was time to build an army, Triple H said. But he knew he could not be an army of one (that would happen in 2002). He needed backup.
That backup came in the form of X-Pac, a recent defection from rival WCW, where he performed under the name of Syxx. Syxx was an integral part of the early NWO and, now, he would be just as important in DX. Pac and Triple H were longtime friends, so the pairing made sense. It also made sense when, at the end of the show, Triple and X-Pac helped the New Age Outlaws regain their Tag Team Championships from Cactus Jack and Chainsaw Charlie.
Billy Gunn and Road Dogg, collectively known as The New Age Outlaws, were a tag team that displayed the same type of attitude that DX exhibited. They were rude, irreverent and entertaining as hell. Simply put, they were exactly what the new DX needed.
DX now consisted of Triple H, Chyna, X-Pac, Billy Gunn and Road Dogg and they would run roughshod over the WWF for the next year.
Though they were originally portrayed as villains, it wouldn’t take long for fans to put on that trademark black t-shirt and start telling friends, relatives, parents, and teachers to “suck it.” (personal note: the first time I ever got sent to the principal in elementary school was because I told Mrs. Wrasper to ‘suck it…’ totally worth it)
DX became fan favorites thanks to their irreverent, hilarious attitudes about most everything. They feuded and mocked with the Nation of Domination, which would be the first chapter in the storied rivalry between The Rock and Triple H. They ‘invaded’ WCW, which was the first real time that the WWF acknowledged their competition. Though the actual ‘invasion’ only consisted of DX standing outside of a WCW show and getting fans to say ‘suck it,’ it was still seen as a groundbreaking moment in the proverbial Monday Night War.
Their antics often overshadowed their in-ring work, but make no mistake; these guys were no slouches. X-Pac, at one point, was among the greatest in-ring technicians in WWF. He would go on to hold the European Championship twice, the Tag Team Championship four times, the Light Heavyweight Championship and the Cruiserweight Championship. The New Age Outlaws, collectively, would hold the company’s Tag Team Championship six times. Individually, both held the Intercontinental Championship.
Triple H’s record speaks for itself. He’s held the European Championship, the Intercontinental Championship, the Tag Team Championship and he would go on to hold some version of the World Heavyweight Championship 14 times.
Degeneration X, in their original incarnations, only lasted 2 years. Triple H would eventually turn on his DX mates to embark on a legendary singles career. X-Pac and the Outlaws would find various degrees of their own success. The group would eventually reunite after Triple H became the World Champion for the first time, but it just wasn’t the same.
Likewise, it wasn’t the same when Shawn Michaels returned to active competition. Though Michaels and Triple H initially shared a blood feud with each other, they would reunite as Degeneration X a handful of times throughout the years. The two were funny at times, but the original magic was replaced by a series of dad jokes and dick humor.
Despite that, however, Degeneration-X has to be considered one of the greatest factions in the history of professional wrestling. They belong in the same category as the 4 Horsemen, the NWO, and the Bullet Club as one of the best groups ever.
They never intended it to be that way, though. When Michaels and Triple H were forced to team up together against Mankind and The Undertaker in the fall of 1997, it changed everything. Michaels was already regarded as a great in-ring performer, but his antics as a degenerate put him over the top. Triple H owes much of his career to his time in the green and black of DX. X-Pac, Chyna and The New Age Outlaws became superstars because of DX.
But DX wouldn’t have worked with just anybody. It had to be Shawn Michaels and Triple H. Later, it had to be X-Pac and the Outlaws. It couldn’t have been anybody other than Chyna. Each member brought something unique and entertaining to the group, which is why we’re still talking about them 20 years later. It’s why they’re being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. It’s why fans will still ‘pop’ when somebody gives a crotch chop.
It’s why I still tell people I don’t like to ‘suck it.’
Degeneration-X changed the landscape of professional wrestling. Steve Austin is credited as the driving force behind the WWF’s popularity in the late-90’s, and deservedly so. But DX was right there with them, the whole time. They made us laugh, roll our eyes, and shake our fists. They taught us that being a rebel is cool. More than anything, they showed us that if you want something, it’s up to you to get it. Nobody is owed anything in this life. You have to fight for it. They showed us that nothing is given, you have to take it. And they showed us that, when faced with doubters, it’s okay to say that you’ve got two words for ‘em.
Not bad for a bunch of Degenerates.
Check below for the new Pro Wrestling Boom Podcast with Jason Powell and guest John Thorne, who discusses promoting the AIW Slumber Party Massacre from the Thursday of WrestleMania weekend (available via VOD on FITE TV), being a small fish in the big WrestleMania weekend pond, his long history with Johnny Gargano, and much more.