When I say pro wrestling I of course mean Vince McMahon’s WWE, better known to us Gen Xers as the WWF. It is the only game in town, sure there was TNA for a minute but that company was doomed to failure as it tried to do right all the things the old WCW did so wrong…
A lot of people look down on wrestling.Sure, it is not a sport it is entertainment. It is a proven cable TV winner, and it is a part of the American culture. So let’s just accept that.
Maybe WWE doesn’t care that I don’t watch anymore. I am older than their key demographic…however I do have a son…A son that could be a WWE fan for years to come, but he will never pick up my love for pro wrestling because I don’t watch it anymore…the habit has been broken, and the reason that habit has been broken was the worst wrestling angle of all time. The WCW invasion of the then WWF. This story was handled so poorly, when it could have been the best angle ever giving the fans of wrestling as a whole the matchups we could have only dreamed of before Vince bought WCW in March of 2001. It was so convoluted, so rushed that it turned me off for pro wrestling for a long time. Only my hatred of all things John Cena kept me away for almost 15 years. I have no idea what the current product is, if it is any good, because I don’t watch…because I as a fan never got the payoff I expected from the merger of WWF and WCW.
Since nothing happens in a vacuum let’s look at the state of affairs for the WWF Universe in March of 2001.
The company had launched a football league to add revenue outside its core business. We could talk for days about how that venture was mismanaged, but the relevant fact here is this…by March of 2001 it was becoming very clear the XFL was a loser and it was going to be a pretty expensive loser.
In WCW land Vince Russo, Eric Bishoff and the powers that be had mismanaged WCW so much that its entire value had been diluted. The once proud lineage of the WCW World Heavyweight Title has been severely diminished. AOLTime Warner had no passion for wrestling and did not want to be in the wrestling business. Preferring to give up the proven ratings pro wrestling can generate for cheaper programming alternatives.
At the time WWF was producing 6 hours of original TV per week. The flagship program was Raw and it aired on TNN. Smackdown aired on UPN. The one hour Sunday Night heat aired on MTV. The Company produced Jakked/Metal as a syndicated show, and there was also a weekly one hour long recap show.
When the decsion was made to pull WCW off the air it reduced the value of WCW to virtually nothing. On the business side of things the library was worth more to WWF than anything else. They had the means to distribute DVD’s and books and memorabilia and that more than justified the reported 2.5 million cost of purchasing WCW. However, it afforded the company an opportunity to strengthen its core business and do business for years…by running WCW as a second wrestling brand.
All indications were that that was the master plan. However the WWF faced a number of challenges. Given their current TV deals giving one of their flagship weekly two hour prime time TV programs was not going to be a viable option. The WWF needed to find a way to rebuild the legitimacy of the WCW brand.
The biggest fear of the fans, and the performers of WCW, was that Vince McMahon’s ego would not allow him to build up WCW as a legit threat to his own creation. However this man now owned both companies and for the most part in his history he has done a good job of giving the fans what they want. The WWF handled the last Monday Night Nitro with a lot of class. Giving the fans of that company the proper send off that promotion deserved. The put the WCW title on Booker T and staged the final WCW match between Ric Flair and Sting. It was everything a fan of WCW could have wanted. However due to the contract status of many of the top stars of that company…none of them would be included in the Invasion angle.
What was WCW known for? The NWO comes to mind (and there were lessons there the WWF failed to learn), Ric Flair, Sting, and Goldberg of course. The high flying action of the Cruiserweight division, and of course a legacy of poor management and terrible angles. Unfortunately for the fans of pro wrestling as a whole that was the only WCW authentic thing that made it to WWF TV. For today we are dealing with the reality of what is going on…in the next part we will deal with the storyline of this angle.
In the beginning the company did a pretty good job of doing just that. Having WCW wrestlers run in and interfere with current WWF story lines and angles. Even having former ECW and WCW performer Mike Awesome win the WWF Hardcore Title. The WWF needed to find WCW a home on TV somewhere to begin rebuilding its legitimacy as the biggest threat ever.
Then the WWF made a very poor decision. It booked a match…a WCW themed match with WCW announcers as the headlining contest of their flagship Raw TV program. That match was Buff Bagwell versus Booker T for the WCW World title. It was so poorly received that Vince decided that night that this brand extension was simply not going to work, and the Invasion angle was going to dominate WWF TV until November. It seemed WWF fans as a whole would not accept WCW stars on their TV or at their events. For at least a year previous WCW had been unwatchable so a lot of wrestling fans did not buy that WCW talents were legit. Not having any of the real star power of the WCW brand involved hurt the legitimacy of this version of WCW as a whole.
On the heels of a huge loss for the publicly traded WWF with the XFL the cost of buying out expensive guaranteed contracts could not be justified. However, it seems that at least one of them should have been. I can think of two…Sting or Goldberg. Maybe Ric Flair as the storyline owner. Those were the big names of the brand and they would have given the fans the dream matchups we had been dying to see. How much profit could have been made between a Stone Cold Steve Austin Goldberg feud? How great would it have been to see Undertaker versus Sting? The two men who never jumped ship during the Monday Night Wars of the 1990’s. The so called franchise of both promotions.
I guess i should point out that all of these things eventually found their way to WWF TV, but the company rushed into the Invasion angle far too fast. They never took the long view of it, and had they taken their time in building it up, and had they had a stronger creative plan one of the bigger WCW wrestlers may have been convinced to give WWF a chance to handle them with respect. Sting has claimed many times since then that he did not trust how the WWF would use him.
Given the landscape of WWF TV at the time it seems like using Sunday Night Heat on MTV (along with the occasional run in on the flagship programs of WWF) to help rebuild the legitimacy of WCW would have been the best available option. There was a plan to do WCW themed House Shows and had they been booked where WCW was popular it would have gone a long way to rebuilding that brand. Given the financial loss WWF was about to incur from the XFL it very much seems like the company as a whole was in a panic to strengthen its core business. That seems to be the most likely reason WWF rushed headlong into the Invasion angle. However, with that being said had the company taken the long view and rebuilt WCW the landscape of pro wrestling would be very different today.