Something about the “official” myth of HHH being dramatically punished for the sins of the Kliq has never sat right with me for a number of reasons. First, however WWE felt about him, the 1996 he was having so far didn't point towards a guy with big momentum. He's trading wins with Duke the Dumpster, he gets buried by the Ultimate Warrior at Wrestlemania; the last PPV before the MSG Incident was In Your House 7 and he was wrestling a dark match. Then the Curtain Call happens and at the very next PPV he gets – a 16-minute opening match with Marc Mero? This doesn't sound like punishment, but maybe that particular card was already in place by then.
Things definitely cool off for King of the Ring where he's on another dark match; but are we really certain he was scheduled to win that or was he just a possibility, like Adam Bomb claiming he was promised the IC Belt? And sure, Hunter's not on the card for In Your House 9, but not being associated with some of the lamest PPVs in company history doesn't seem anywhere approaching the humiliation other wrestlers have gone through.
Plus, while it doesn't feel that way in retrospect given their respective paths, at the time, putting Hunter over Marc Mero for the IC belt was a huge bet on him. Through spring/summer '96, Mero was over as hell and it felt like Vince was treating him like Macho Man 2.0 – the new tights, the top-rope Merosault finisher reminiscent of the flying elbow, that brief angle they flirted with of Mankind becoming obsessed with Sable in an echo of George “The Animal” Steele pursuing Miss Elizabeth. To take all that momentum and use it to give HHH the rub – WITH Mr. Perfect helping build the angle for weeks? That's not just a return from punishment, that's rocketing him up several levels over where he was before and that was just five months after MSG? Take out the month-ish of the Perfect angle where they've obviously decided to start building him up again and we're now at…four months at most of “punishment?” It's not like he was taking banana peel losses every RAW or getting a farting gimmick.
Help me understand why this should be considered such an important chapter in the HHH mythos when it feels like there are plenty of wrestlers who went through much worse for years just because Vince had an idea he thought was funny. Maybe there are also backstage receipts that were happening that I don't know about, and maybe there's some reason they so abruptly pulled the plug on Mero; but looking at the record…I know it's a shocking and unsettling thing to consider but…MAYBE Mr. Helmsley is over-dramatizing his so-called doghouse a bit?
Huge if true.