What if…the InVasion Hadn’t Failed?

0 Submitted by on Thu, 27 December 2012, 16:17
Text By Jed Shafer

What if…the InVasion Hadn’t Failed?

Our story begins on Raw, the night after Judgement Day. Despite Steve Austin’s successful defense against The Undertaker, Vince has little to celebrate: his Two-Man Power Trip is in jeopardy of coming apart, and the threat of Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho as the #1 Tag Title contenders looms large. But Benoit & Jericho aren’t the only problems Vince has to worry about …

Raw: May 21st

The first Raw after Judgment Day opens with Stone Cold Steve Austin, proclaiming his superiority and will over the WWF locker room, until Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit come out to remind him of their status as #1 contenders to his and Triple H’s Tag Titles. The wild brawl that ensues results in the match being signed for later on in the night instead of at the King Of The Ring. So exhilarating is it for the crowd and Jim Ross that no one notices the simplest of changes to the surroundings: two men stride through the crowd and take seats in the front row. One black man, one white, dressed in street clothes, but much bigger then the average fan; both are donning sunglasses, and watch the show with a cool detachment.

The two strangers keep their composure, and somehow manage to fly under the radar of both security and WWE staff for almost an hour, when Shane McMahon interrupts Kurt Angles self-aggrandizing on. Kurt glares at Shane as he paces around the ring, obviously trying to choke back his rage. “Kurt, sorry for the interruption, but I was in the area so I figured that I’d stop by. Now Kurt, you said that time is precious here in the World Wrestling Federation and that is true, so let me get right down to it. Now Kurt, you have your three I’s but I also have three letters. And those letters are WCW. And Kurt, a lot of rumors have been going on about WCW, so me and the boys …’ Shane points toward the two strangers, none other then Booker T and Diamond Dallas Page, who stand up and wave back. ‘Hey guys, whassup? So anyway, basically what I wanted to do is come out here to tell everyone that WCW is starting very soon, sooner than everyone thinks.”

Kurt gets right in Shane’s face. “So what? The WCW’s starting soon? Nobody cares! What people care about is my awards ceremony! So do you mind?”

“Actually, Kurt, I was finished,’ says Shane, ‘but, since you don’t seem to understand, why don’t we take this time and let’s get into what WCW means. Let’s take the first letter. The first letter, W, meaning world. Now Kurt, we live in a great big world. A world where companies like IBM and Apple, and Sony and Panasonic stand side by side. Kinda makes you think, doesn’t it? Then we have the letter C. C stands for championship, which obviously you do not have any currently at the moment. Championships are titles, pinnacles that mean someone has achieved a level of excellence above all else. When one entity stands victorious over another, such as WCW once did over the WWF years ago, it could be said it was the champion of the wrestling industry. Lastly, we have another W, which stands for wrestling, something you’re obviously very good at that. Wrestling is something that WCW was built on, for almost a hundred years.’ Shane looks at Kurt, and starts to ascend the triple-raised platform Kurt has had erected in the center of the ring. ‘But W also stands for, I don’t know … water, whatever … and, in some cases,’ Shane says, wiping a fake tear from his eye, ‘wussy.’

Kurt comes up behind Shane and hits an Angle Slam off the platform, leaving Shane laying in a pile of confetti. Booker and DDP immediately make to jump the guard rail, but security restrains them from crossing the border. DDP shoves the security guard, thus instigating an all-out melee between DDP, Booker and the guards. Angle fades back when DDP and Booker try to get a handful of him through the wall of guards, but this prompts the locker room to unload, with Albert, Kane, the Dudleys, the Hardys, and The Undertaker all standing side by side as back-up for the security force. Vince McMahon comes down to witness the guards ejecting the WCW wrestlers. When Booker and DDP disappear into the sea of humanity, Vince gets in the ring and tosses his son out to the arena floor, to be ejected with his employees.

Smackdown: May 24th

Smackdown opens with Vince in the ring, looking particularly perturbed. ‘Tonight,’ he says, ‘I promise you … no, I’m not gonna promise you; tonight, I guaranteeyou a historic night for the World Wrestling Federation! And you might say that history was already made last Monday, because, well, let’s face it: we all witnessed the first miracle in WWF history when Benoit and Jericho defeated Stone Cold Steve Austin and Triple H to become the Tag Team Champions. And speaking of Triple H, due to the intensity of that match, unfortunately, Triple H suffered a severe leg injury. Triple H’s quadriceps was just about sliced in two. Triple H is gonna be out of action for some four to six months!’ The crowd explodes at the announcement of Triple H’s long-term hiatus. ‘You people are repulsive, cheering for another man’s agony! Barbarians! So now, I’m not a vindictive man; however, I would suggest to you that Benoit and Jericho’s reign as Tag Champions is likely to be somewhat abbreviated. Because tonight, right here in that very ring, there will be a tag team championship defense; but just not an ordinary tag team title match, no! For the first time ever on broadcast television, there will be a TLC Tag Team Title match! You’ll see the Dudley Boys, The Hardys, Edge & Christian and Benoit & Jericho! For the first time in World Wrestling Federation history, there will be four teams in a TLC matchup. My only hope is that all of you enjoy this TLC tag team title match as much as I will, Stone Cold will, and Triple H will.” Vince’s smile, big enough to cut his head in half, melts away, his brow furrowing and his eyes set ablaze. ‘Now, there is another piece of business I have to deal with, something that so disgusts me, I feel dirty in even having to mention it.’ Vince makes a show of sighing, his head hanging as if he has been shamed. ‘I feel compelled to address an incident that occurred on Raw involving Kurt Angle … and my prodigal son, Shane McMahon. Shane McMahon and those two thugs from WCW invaded … no, they soiled … no, they violated Raw. They violated my show, my arena, my company! Do you know how it feels that my son, the very person who stole my ultimate victory over Ted Turner by buying WCW out from underneath me, the very person who … who kicked me in the face with a trash can … do you know how it feels to have him set foot in my company, a company he abandoned and sold his stock in, with those pathetic excuses for wrestlers he smuggled into the building, and have him rape my sense of security? Him and that WCW trash belong in the unemployment line, which is where they’d be if Shane McMahon hadn’t pulled such an underhanded – ‘

Vince’s words are drowned out by Shane McMahon’s theme song coming through the PA. Vince immediately starts trying to yell over it; ‘Who’s running his music? So help me God, if I find out who you are, I’ll fire your ass myself!’ Shane slides into the ring, microphone (with a WCW cube on it) in hand. He offers a hand to Vince, who looks down on it as if Shane is holding out an open vial of Ebola.

‘Don’t worry, Dad,’ Shane says, ‘if you fire him, I’ll just hire him!’

‘Shane, this isn’t the time – ‘

‘No, Dad, it’s exactly the time. It’s the perfect time, because I got a couple things on my mind that I need to talk to you about. You see, Dad, you’ve been called a visionary and a genius … but three months ago, your genius was clouded by your desire for revenge. You couldn’t see the value of WCW or any of its superstars in the wrestling industry anymore, and that’s when I stepped in and corrected that mistake before it happened.’

‘And just like I crushed WCW before, Shane, I swear to God I will obliterate you and WCW once again!’

‘Dad, I’m not here to put scare you or challenge you, except maybe to challenge you to do the right thing. When WCW was beating our ass for two years, it pushed you to change the company from the ground up. There’s nothing wrong with a little healthy competition, Dad. That’s what I’m here to tell you; I’m not looking to run you out of the industry. I wanna do what you did, 15 years ago: I wanna build an empire. I sold my shares in the WWF to a consortium so I could try and do what you did, but to an even larger degree: I’m not just gonna build a company. I’m gonna rebuild the glory and the prestige that was WCW and the 100 year legacy it so proudly once carried.’ Shane pauses, looking his father dead in the eyes. ‘And I need your help.’

Vince’s eyes go as wide as pizza pans. ‘You’re asking for my help? What makes you think I would ever give you any help ever again? As far as I’m concerned, you and your group of losers can burn in hell!’

‘Can’t you set aside our differences for a minute? Look at this as a businessman? Think of the history you’ll be making by allowing WCW superstars to wrestle on a WWF program! Think about the ratings you’ll get!’

Vince’s eyes now narrow to slits. ‘You want me to let your company operate onmy television time? Are you out of your mind? Not in a million years! You and your WCW losers can go ‘rassle’ in high school gyms and bars, because it’ll be a cold day in hell before I ever do a damned thing for you! Now get the hell out of my building before I have you arrested for trespassing! Cut off his microphone! I’m done with this!’

Vince walks out on Shane, disappearing into the back. Shane ends up leaving the way he came in. But, as he walks through the back to his limo, he passes by Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho and the Big Show conversing. Shane gives everyone a hearty clap on the shoulder and shakes hands, and, as he hands out business cards, says; ‘I know all you guys have had problems with Vince, especially you, Benoit, and you, Jericho. If you ever feel inclined to explore some new options … don’t hesitate to call.’ Shane gives a wink and a point to the group and leaves for his limo as the three regard the business cards in silent surprise.

Raw: May 28th

The actions of Shane McMahon cause speculation and conspiracy theories to run rampant through the WWF. Is Shane attempting a talent raid? Will disgruntled WWF superstars jump to Shane’s re-launching WCW voluntarily? Is Shane using WCW to stage a palace coup?

Once again, in the audience is a contingent of WCW superstars: Booker T and DDP, accompanied by Lance Storm, Stacy Keibler, Mike Sanders, Sean O’Haire and Chuck Palumbo. This time, they do not go unnoticed, and security immediately surrounds them; they all show their purchased tickets, thus forcing security to back off … but not too far so they can’t get any funny ideas about becoming part of the show.

But the presence of guards doesn’t prevent them from making their presence felt. Vince’s announcement of Benoit and Jericho having to compete to impress him for a World Title shot is undermined with lots of sideways glances to his left and the imposing presence of the WCW stars. And when it comes time for their respective matches (Benoit against Rhyno and Jericho against The Big Show), Booker leads his WCW cohorts in applause. Benoit gives a couple high-fives to his former WCW friends before taking down Rhyno, while Jericho stops to shake hands with the WCW stars, and kisses Stacy’s hand, before taking on, and defeating The Big Show (although Rhyno uses the 24/7 rule to defeat Jericho for the title seconds after winning it). More good tidings are exchanged between the WCW contingent and other former WCW stars as they make their way down to ringside; X-Pac, Dean Malenko and Molly Holly are all intrigued by the presence of old friends, and show it with hugs and handshakes.

But the goodwill ends when Steve Austin, prior to his World Title defense against Chris Jericho, grabs a microphone. ‘Last I checked, this here, this is the WWF, right?’ he says, pacing and dragging the belt behind him. ‘And, last time I checked, WWF superstars wrestle here, right? Then what the hell are these pieces of trash doing here, in my building, watching my match?’ Austin leans over the ropes and points at Booker. ‘You got yourself some little toy belt and you call yourself a champion? Son, my name is Stone Cold Steve Austin, and Iam the only World Champion in this business. You’re nothing but some chump who got lucky and became champ cause everyone else around you sucked even worse then you do. You and your mealy-mouth buddies just keep your asses in their seats right now, before I come and slap the taste out your mouth, you got me, son? Now you just sit there and watch a real champion show you how to wrestle.’

The match is an intense, hard-hitting technical tour de force that has the Canadian crowd on the edge of their seats, believing and hoping that Jericho will pull off the miracle and unseat the paranoid, psychotic Austin as champion. But Austin’s paranoia has him looking over his shoulder, both for Benoit and at the front row. Eventually, while brawling outside the ring with Jericho, Austin snaps, leans over the railing and clocks Booker in the jaw. The women check on Booker while the rest of the WCW stars try to leap over the boundary, and are only stopped by the massive throng of security and WWF officials forming a blockade. Austin uses the distraction to waffle Jericho with a chair and cheat his way to a successful defense, much to the consternation of the fans, and the infuriation of the WCW group. Austin makes sure to give the WCW wrestlers plenty of attitude in the form of fingers and curses as he backs up the ramp, clutching his belt to his chest.

Smackdown: May 31st

WWF Commissioner William Regal opens up Smackdown, with his attachŽ Tajiri in tow, looking down his nose at the Canadian crowd, chanting ‘asshole’. ‘You thuggish brutes can chant all you like, but just remember that not so long ago, you were the subjects to the crown of England and, if you had any bloody sense, would still be!’ The booing continues, but Regal pays it no mind. ‘If you savages would close your gaping maws, we could get on with the show – ‘

But before he can get any further, Shane McMahon appears on the stage (sans music). Tajiri tugs on Regal’s sleeve to get his attention, interrupting him and pointing Regal towards the stage. ‘Security! Stop this interloper from perverting Mr. McMahon’s precious company!’

Security swarms out from the back and from the sides of the ramp, blocking Shane from getting to the bottom. Shane grins and turns to the curtain and waves; through the curtains steps Booker T, carrying both the WCW World and United States Championships on his shoulders, and sporting a black eye from the sucker punch delivered by Austin. Together, they approach the throng of guards, who stand firm. ‘If he tries anything,’ Regal shouts, ‘arrest him!’ Shane and Booker stop within arms reach of the guards and smile, staring them down. Then, Shane suddenly produces a document from his jacket. He presents it to one of the guards, who reads it for a moment, then turns around to look at Regal, then reads a bit more of it. Finally, he folds it back up and hands it back to Shane, then steps aside. The rest of the guards hesitate until the lead guard tells them to follow suit, and Shane and Booker, much to the protests of Regal, walk past, to and into the ring. Shane offers a hand to Regal, who rebuffs it with a look of disgust (although Tajiri gladly takes the handshake, much to Regal’s disdain). Shane produces a microphone from his jacket and starts speaking. ‘So should I assume my father’s in the back, too busy to address the fans of the World Wrestling Federation?’

‘And why would he owe this riff-raff a bit of his precious time?’

‘Well,’ Shane says, walking back and forth, ‘he could address how he has a champion on the brink of a nervous breakdown, doing whatever he can to hold onto his belt save for actually wrestling. Or, he could address how he’s shafted the Canadian fans time and again throughout his career, and apologize to them. Or, he could address me.’ Shane reaches into his jacket again and pulls out the document he had shown to the guard. ‘Me, and this.’

‘And what’s that, sunshine? Did you make a drawing for your Pop? I don’t think Mr. McMahon wants anything to do with you, and I don’t know how you managed to get past security, but I assure you, you’ll be leaving on your ass if you don’t set your feet to walking right now.’

‘I think you need to read this then, Commissioner Regal, because this concerns you, too.’ Shane shoves it into Regal’s chest, forcing him to take hold of the document. Regal unfolds it and starts to read, while Shane goes into the contents. ‘You see, my father could <I>also</I> come out and address the fact that Stone Cold Steve Austin, while involved in a sanctioned WWF World Title match, attacked, without provocation, a paying ticket-holder in the audience. That man, WCW World Champion Booker T, sustained only a black eye, but the fact remains that my father has in his employ a loose cannon who not only has a history of violence against his fellow wrestlers, but against women, WWF officials, law enforcement and now, fans. People, I ask of you, is this the champion you’re looking for?’ The crowd boos heavily. ‘Is this the kind of man you want your children looking up to?’ Again, the crowd responds with a rousing negative. ‘And, most of all, since this champion is most obviously favored by the WWF Chairman, is this the kind of company you want to invest your time and money in? Do you know that, since my purchasing WCW, my father has succeeding in using his contacts to blackball me with television networks? Did you know that he’s contacted every major live event venue in the country and threatened to pull out of their booked events if they book WCW at any time? Since he couldn’t succeed in buying WCW, he’s dedicated to crushing us before we can get so much as a fair start.’ Shane points at the document Regal is looking at (with naked shock on his face). ‘Well, if greed and hatred are the languages Vince McMahon speaks, I’ll have to speak it to get my message across. Is your boss here tonight, William?’

Regal shakes his head, too dumbfounded to form full words. ‘Um … uh … er …’

‘I’ll take that as a ‘no’. Do me a favor, William. When you see your boss, make sure he gets that. And make sure his lawyers get copies. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a business to run.’

Regal spends the evening trying to get hold of Vince any way he can. Finally, towards the end of the show, he reaches Vince. ‘Mr. McMahon,’ he says, his voice quivering, ‘your son – ‘

‘What about Shane? Did he show up again? Did he ruin Smackdown?’

‘Sir … I don’t know how to tell you this …’

‘Say it, Regal! Just say it, dammit!’

Regal pauses, exhales deeply and closes his eyes, preparing for the inevitable explosion. ‘Sir, your son presented me some documents tonight. He’s … he’s suing us, Mr. McMahon. You, me, Stone Cold … the entire WWF.’

Raw: June 6th

Raw opens up with both Vince and Linda McMahon in the ring; Linda, as usual, looks stoic and calm, while Vince, writhing his hands together, is obviously not composed. ‘Last week, on Smackdown,’ Linda begins, addressing the crowd, ‘Shane McMahon, owner of WCW, served papers declaring he had filed two lawsuits against the WWF. One of the lawsuits names Vince McMahon, William Regal, Steve Austin and the World Wrestling Federation as defendants, stemming from incidents on last week’s Monday Night Raw. The other, naming Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation, stems from business matters. We are not permitted to discuss the nature of these lawsuits’ – this elicits a massive tidal wave of jeers and hissing – ‘but tonight, we are looking to take steps to head these off at the pass. And, with that in mind, I would like to invite WCW owner Shane McMahon to join us in the ring right here, right now.’

Shane’s theme music hits and comes through the curtain, flanked by Booker, Lance Storm, DDP, Hugh Morrus, O’Haire and Palumbo. Vince tears the microphone out of Linda’s hands and starts to bellow. ‘No way! No way am I letting those … those rejects, those wannabes in my WWF ring! No way will I allow them to pervert and poison – ‘

‘Oh, should we just leave then, Dad?’ Shane asks. ‘Cause, I have a proposition for you.’

Linda, having been provided with a microphone of her own, speaks up. ‘And we have a proposition for you, Shane. The board of directors is prepared to offer you a settlement in the amount of the sum that you purchased WCW for, plus 10% in voting-class stock in the WWF.’

‘Is that so? Did Dad sign off on this? Are you cool with this, Dad?’

‘I will do anything to protect this company, the company that I built! If it takes blood money to get you to go away, so be it! Anything to have you out of our lives for good!’

‘Well, you see, Dad, Mom, it isn’t that simple. You may not want to talk about the lawsuits, but I think the public deserves to know. They deserve to know that I have named you, your commissioner, your company and your champion as defendants due to the flagrant, unmitigated attack on Booker T, who had purchased a ticket and was seated as a member of the audience. Your commissioner, William Regal, failed to exert his authority to keep that psychopath Steve Austin in line; your company continues to employ Austin, and you yourself endorse him and his behavior. And, of course, there’s Austin himself, who is a ticking time bomb.’ Shane points up at the TitanTron. ‘Is this the kind of employee any of you would want to have at your company?’ Footage rolls on the TitanTron, showing Austin hitting, abusing and giving Stunners to Vince, Jim Ross, various WWF officials and referees, women, and unprovoked attacks on several wrestlers. ‘And, let’s not forget how he stalked the late Brian Pillman and broke into his house!’

‘Shane – ‘

‘I’m not done, Dad, because there’s that other lawsuit. The one where you’re being accused of violating anti-trust laws and trying to exert monopolistic pressure on the industry by blackmailing sporting venues, pay-per-view distributors and television networks not to carry WCW product for fear of pulling yours. The one that intends to reveal how you have systematically wiped out tens, if not hundreds, of small wrestling promotions over the years as you built a global conglomerate that could suffocate or strip clean anyone that tried to compete. That’s the real important one.’ Vince tries to rebut, but Shane holds up a hand. ‘Please, Dad, spare me your crap. I didn’t come out here to listen to you try and defend you being a soulless, heartless shark. I told you before, and I’ll say it again; it’s not my intention to run you out of business. This world is big enough for more then one wrestling company, and I intend to make that a reality again. And that’s where my offer comes in. I am prepared to drop both lawsuits … in exchange for airtime.’

Vince’s eyes go wide. He barely even hears his wife say; ‘Go on.’

‘You grant WCW airtime on Raw and Smackdown, for the sole purpose of putting on WCW-sanctioned matches, and we will drop both lawsuits.’

‘How long would this arrangement continue?’

‘Well, it’d be preferable for me to have a few months to showcase WCW to the various networks.’

Vince jumps in, almost hysterical. ‘You’re out of your mind! There’s no way – !’

‘Vince,’ says Linda, ‘you got us into this, so you stay out of this.’

‘No, there is no way in hell I would ever allow him and his group of misfits to run their dog and pony show on my programming! I will never turn Raw and Smackdown over to that hyena! He’s blackmailing us, Linda!’

‘Like you did with the arenas and pay-per-view distributors fifteen years ago?’ Linda counters. When Vince can’t form a reply, Linda turns to Shane again. ‘I will take your offer before our lawyers and the board of directors and present an answer this Thursday on Smackdown.’

Smackdown: June 9th

Smackdown opens with footage, explained by Michael Cole, of events that spawned from the settlement proposal by Shane McMahon; the footage shows people counting votes. It is explained that, after presenting the settlement to the board of directors, repeat votes by the board ended in ties, and the only acceptable solution to everyone was to put it to a vote of all shareholders of voting-class stock. Vince spends the entire show locked in his office, refusing to see anyone, even Austin or Regal, waiting word from the impartial arbitrators monitoring the voting. Even camera crews can’t get a glimpse of the temperamental chairman, who sequesters himself in the office until he is notified of the results of the voting. Nevertheless, he remains hidden in his hole until just before the final segment of the show, when word comes back that Shane has arrived.

Vince rushes down to ringside and, as the show comes back from commercial, he begins his tirade. ‘Last Monday on Raw, I was raped by WCW. Shane McMahon perpetrated a rape of me and the WWF with his baseless accusations and frivolous lawsuits.’ Vince sighs, then says; ‘I know you’re in the building, Shane, and I want you to get your ass out here so we can get this over with.’ Shane comes out, staying on the stage, watching his father carefully, not saying a word. ‘Shane, I want you to know that, from the bottom of my heart, I despiseyou, and I despise your mother for having you. Your conception was a mistake, and you’ve done nothing but make mistake after mistake all throughout your life, the biggest of which was buying WCW out from underneath me. As long as I live, Shane, you will never be welcome in the McMahon household for the torment you’ve dragged me through.’

‘Get to the point, Dad. Do we have a deal or not?’

Vince sighs, looking as if he has just swallowed sour milk. ‘I want you to know that, when your offer was presented to the board of directors, I fought tooth and nail to show them that your lawsuits were nothing more then garbage, and that we’d crush you like a cockroach under our heel. I went to the mat showing how you couldn’t afford the long, protracted legal fight this would turn out to be, and you’d bleed WCW dry before you could even start running the company.’ Vince pauses, gnashing his teeth so hard, his jaw is an iron rod. ‘And your mother, curse her rotten, wretched heart, gummed up the board of directors and forced it to a vote of the shareholders! And you know what? Until the final batch of voting came in, it was tied … until the block you sold to this group, this … EHBH Holdings Limited …’ Vince’s face is so red, he almost looks like he is choking. When he speaks again, it is through a jaw clinched so tight, air can barely pass through his teeth. ‘You’re getting your damned TV time!’ The crowd erupts into cheers. Vince turns and snaps at all of them. ‘Shaddup! You people make me sick! You realize what this means?’ He stabs a finger in Shane’s direction. ‘That … that swine will be spreading his WCW plague all over the WWF! This Monday on Raw, that vulture will invade the WWF and put on one of his WCW ‘rasslin’ matches! Do you know what this will do to the WWF? How this will kill this company?’

‘You’ve … well, your company has made a wise decision, Dad. I hope someday, you’ll be able to look back on this and realize how much this meant for the business.’

Vince’s eyes narrow to slits, his face flushes. ‘Business? You wanna talk about business?’ A sick, savage smile spreads over Vince’s face. ‘I’ll tell you what, Shane. I’ll give you a free lesson in business. This is something the suits at the universities don’t teach; the most valuable lesson there is when it comes to business.’

Suddenly, Angle explodes from the back, swinging a chair into Shane’s back. Shane crumbles while Vince laughs maniacally. Vince watches with delight as Angle hauls Shane over to the edge of the stage, positions Shane, and hits an Angle Slam that sends Shane off the stage and through tables set up below. Vince’s crazy laughter echoes off the arena walls as he walks up to inspect the carnage. ‘That lesson is,’ he yells down to Shane, lying prone in a heap of broken wood and bent metal, ‘never trust the competition!’

Raw: June 11th

The acquisition of TV time for WCW is a bittersweet victory for the WCW superstars in attendance at Raw; on one side, their goal of rebuilding their beloved company is finally taking concrete steps. But their boss, Shane, is absent, lying in a hospital bed, recovering from injuries sustained by Kurt Angle’s reckless assault, and unable to witness in person the first time a WCW match will occur on WWF programming.

To accommodate the presence of the entire WCW roster being on hand to witness the event, WCW is given their own locker room and facilities for preparation. Throughout the night, building to the two WCW matches that will take place, former WCW stars come by and visit with old friends. But the tolerance does not extend to everyone under WWF’s employ; Molly Holly, while visiting with Torrie and Stacy, is dragged out of the locker room by her cousin, Hardcore Holly, infuriated at her associating with ‘those cheap, bottle-blonde tramps for dubbya-see-dubbya’. Similar arguments break out between X-Pac and his partner in X-Factor, Justin Credible, when X-Pac stops by to say hi to Chavo Guerrero Jr. And a simple handshake in the halls between Chris Jericho and Billy Kidman turns into an ugly fistfight when Steve Austin comes around the corner and, upon seeing the two talking like old friends, attacks both men with a chair.

Nevertheless, WCW is undaunted, and, for the first match of the evening at the top of the second hour, Scott Hudson and Mike Tenay are introduced. Tenay takes a seat at an empty announcing table, while Hudson stays in the ring with a microphone. ‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ he says with as much grandiosity as he can muster, ‘welcome to WCW!‘ The crowd explodes with applause and cheering; Hudson encourages everyone to settle down, then announces; ‘Before we begin, I’d like to introduce someone very special. He is a legendary brawler, and a legitimate tough-guy. He has wrestled with and alongside some of the greats in this business, from Dusty Rhodes to Tully Blanchard to Lex Luger to Ric Flair, and he has also been the mentor for a whole new generation of no-nonsense wrestlers who do their talking with their fists. He was never World Champion, but he’s held his share of ’em … but the most important title he ever held was Enforcer of the 4 Horsemen.’ (The crowd goes into hysterics upon hearing this, knowing what is coming next.) ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the Commissioner of World Championship Wrestling … Arn Anderson!

Through the curtain steps Double-A to a thunderous reception. He steps into the ring, shakes hands with Hudson (who descends to the announce table thereafter), and takes the microphone to address the crowd. ‘You all know I am a man of few words, so I’ll make this brief. I have two issues to address; the first is Kurt Angle. Mr. Angle has brutally attacked and hospitalized my boss, Shane McMahon. Now, Shane’s in a hospital right now, but he’s gonna recuperate, and Kurt … Shane’s coming back, and he wants a piece of you at the King Of The Ring.’ The crowd loves the idea, but Arn urges them to keep their cool. ‘Now, onto our second piece of business, and that is tonight’s matches. Booker T, the reigning WCW World and US Champion, has graciously forfeited the United States Championship, and tonight, we shall begin an eight man tournament, to conclude next week on Smackdown, to crown a new United States Champion.’

The first match goes off without a hitch, with Chris Kanyon scoring a tainted victory over Diamond Dallas Page to advance to the second round. The crowd follows the back-and-forth action and, much to the chagrin of Vince watching on monitors in back, reacts just as loudly as they do for his product. As the match comes to a close, Vince yells at someone off-screen (‘Go! Now!’). Kanyon celebrates as if he’s won the Super Bowl as he backs up the ramp. He doesn’t see the APA emerge from the back; Kanyon backs into them, then turns around and stares in abject shock at the two cigar-chomping roughnecks. Faarooq and Bradshaw laugh at Kanyon; when Kanyon tries to go around them, they step in the same direction. Bradshaw holds up the beer he’s been drinking from and dumps it on Kanyon. The APA stand aside and gesture for Kanyon to proceed; Kanyon takes a step, but is startled when Bradshaw fakes a punch and turns it into a tussling of Kanyon’s hair. The cameras pick up Bradshaw telling Kanyon to ‘get on outta here, kid.’

The second match of the evening, which sees Billy Kidman score an impressive victory over Mike Sanders, is also spoiled at its conclusion, when Arn comes into the ring to congratulate Kidman. Benoit joins, congratulating Kidman and, for the first time in over a year and a half, gets to shake the hand of his old mentor from the Horsemen. Arn grabs a microphone and announces to the crowd that they’re looking at the next WWF Champion when Austin comes from the back like a bullet from a gun and beats on both Kidman and Benoit with a steel chair. Arn pries Austin off and the two stand at the ready to square off, teammates long ago but adversaries now. Authorities and referees from both companies come out and keep both men from tearing each other apart while Benoit and Kidman are taken to the back by trainers and EMTs.

Vince watches all this from the comfort of his office and goes to the garage to see Kidman, who took a blast to the back of the head, loaded into the ambulance. ‘Too bad,’ Vince says to Arn in a horrible attempt to feign sympathy. ‘I’d think your dubbya-see-dubbya rasslers would be tougher then this. Guess WCW ain’t where the big boys play anymore. Looks more like where kids play dress-up in Daddy’s wrestling gear.’ He leaves, laughing with smug superiority. As the ambulance pulls out, several WWF wrestlers stand at the ramp that leads to the street, jeering and throwing debris at the ambulance.

Smackdown: June 14th

The second two opening round matches for WCW’s US Title proceed under heavy (and private) security. Hugh Morrus beats Mike Awesome, and Lance Storm defeats Shannon Moore to advance to the semi-finals, scheduled to take place on the next Raw.

But the extra security during the matches doesn’t stop the WWF superstars who resent the presence of WCW’s roster to vent their frustrations. Cars belonging to DDP and Booker T are vandalized, their windows smashed, the tires slashed and, in an echo to WCW’s war with the New World Order, messages are spray-painted on the cars: LOSERS GO HOME and DIE WCW DIE and, done in a vertical line so the initials of WCW are highlighted, WORLD’S CRAPPIEST WRESTLING. Arn Anderson vows that, come Monday Night Raw, when Shane returns, he will confront his father to deal with the hazing.

But the hazing doesn’t stop with WCW’s ‘invading’ superstars. The Undertaker makes it a point to confront Chris Benoit for his in-ring congratulating of Billy Kidman and reunion with Arn Anderson. Undertaker makes his point perfectly clear, not even trying to veil the threat in his words that turncoats and sympathizers would not be tolerated in the WWF. Benoit reminds Undertaker of how he left WCW in the first place, but it cuts little mustard with Undertaker, who leaves Benoit with a warning of a visit to a hospital if he keeps continuing to fraternize with WCW. Likewise, X-Pac and Big Show dig themselves into a public relations hole when they are seen talking with old friends, leading to a confrontation with the APA that ends in a fight that security has to break up.

Raw: June 18th

Raw opens with Vince in the ring, along with Austin, the APA, The Undertaker, Regal, Kane and Kurt Angle. ‘Do you see these men?’ Vince yells. ‘Take a good look at them! These are the men who embody everything that the WWF stands for! The toughest, most dedicated, most entertaining wrestlers the world has ever seen, and they all work for me, Vincent Kennedy McMahon. Champions, every one of them; four of these men have been World Champion. They are some of the best this industry has to offer, and they’re all mine. But you know who you don’t see in here? DDP. Booker T. Lance Storm. Mike Awesome. Shane Helms. Chris Kanyon. You know why you don’t see any of them in here? Because none of them are worthy to shine my shoes, let alone step into a pair of wrestling boots and get in the ring with the best the world has to offer. Shane McMahon’s WCW has had a week to showcase their abilities and their skills, and I ask of you … has even a single one of you been impressed with what you’ve seen so far?’ The crowds’ explosive cheering confounds the assembly in the ring. ‘Well, that just goes to show you idiots down here in Tampa have been in the sun too damn long!’ This incites the crowd to chant ‘asshole’, which Vince lets them get out of their system. ‘We here in the World Wrestling Federation are thoroughly disgusted that we have to sit and watch these no-talent hacks try and fumble around the mat like a bunch of drunken children!’

Suddenly, Shane’s music hits; the owner of WCW comes through the curtain, hobbling a little, with a bandage around his forehead, but still looking in good spirits. ‘Ya know, Vince, I watched Raw last week, and I watched Smackdown, and I saw how your superstars acted. You have it in your head, and you’ve convinced your employees, that we’re out to get you, Vince, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. All we want is to rebuild the company and get on with wrestling, but you don’t, or won’t, or maybe even can’t let that happen, can you?’

‘You’re right, Shane. I can’t let that happen. I’ve fought back against everyone from Jim Crockett to the pay-per-view industry to the federal government and Ted Turner. I’ve fended off every last challenge to come my way, and I’veearned the right to be protective of my spot at the top. I’ve crushed my competition with an iron fist, and I’ll be damned if I let some snot-nosed punk, even if it is my own flesh and blood, to come along and try to revive WCW!’

‘Need I remind you, Father, of the anti-trust lawsuit I filed? Your actions over the past few days make me wonder if withdrawing those charges was worth it.’

Vince’s eyes bug out; his Adam’s apple bobs up and down like a fishing lure. ‘Wha-what – ‘

‘I told you I wanted to coexist peacefully, and I’ve tried to do that. And, in the future, I intend to do that. But you keep getting in the way, Vince. And the television time isn’t enough. WCW needs to showcase itself on pay-per-view. This Sunday, perhaps, at the King Of The Ring.’

‘You expect me to just give you part of my pay-per-view over to your half-assed troglodytes? You actually think – ‘ Regal taps Vince on the shoulder and whispers something in his ear. A smile slowly spreads across Vince’s lips, small, then big, then exceedingly, and devilishly, big. ‘Alright, Shane! Tell you what!’ he says with a bounce in his voice. ‘You seem to think your dubbya-see-dubbya rasslers are just as good as my WWF superstars? Why don’t we find out, right here, tonight?’ The crowd explodes with excitement. ‘You pick your best, and I’ll pick mine, and since we know your wrestler won’t beat mine, we’ll say if he can hang with my representative for 10 minutes, your US Title finals will be held at King Of The Ring.’

The deal is accepted, and Shane retreats to his office to discuss with Arn who should be sent into battle. Vince, meanwhile, assembles his troops and decides that, whomever Shane sends out, can be handled by even the lowliest of his roster, and goes about picking which of his roster deserves the honor of mopping the floor with Shane’s WCW wrestler.

In the interim, the semi-finals are held, with Lance Storm upending Hugh Morrus and Kidman getting by Kanyon. Like before, the matches are warmly received by the crowd, much to the chagrin of Vince, who watches it all on monitors from his office.

Finally, the main event rolls around; Vince strides down the ramp as cocky as ever, wresting the microphone from Tony Chimel before he can get in a syllable. ‘Take a seat, Chimel, I’ll handle this.’ Vince clears his throat. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, I have given this a great deal of thought, and I came to the realization that no matter who Shane sends out, none of his WCW performers have what it takes to go toe-to-toe with even the lowliest of my WWF superstars. I don’t care who he throws out; if it was that big freak Sean O’Haire, I’m sure even Dean Malenko could tie him up in knots. And god knows, he certainly couldn’t compare his trailer-park tramps like Stacy Keibler to a work of art like Trish Stratus. Therefore, with the utmost confidence, my choice to represent WWF tonight is … Crash Holly.’

The shock of Vince’s pick is almost audible (no more so then from JR and Paul Heyman, who openly question Vince’s sanity). Crash comes to the ring, but without his normal attitude. Crash tries to talk to Vince off-microphone, but Vince poo-poos what Crash has to say and leaves the ring.

Shane comes out onto the stage and introduces his pick. ‘Well, Vince, I applaud you for your bravery, but I think you’ve underestimated me and WCW. My representative is none other then the embodiment of WCW and the definition of the word champion … the four-time WCW World Champion, Booker T!’

Booker comes out to a thunderous ovation. The fear on Crash’s face is plainly obvious, but Vince remains stoic, even confident. His confidence quickly melts away as Crash, smaller then Booker in every way, is crushed by Booker’s strength and deceptive speed, and beaten clean in a matter of minutes. Vince is on his feet, beside himself with confusion and rage, shouting almost incoherently. ‘That wasn’t … That wasn’t fair … I had no …’

‘Sorry, Vince,’ says Shane with a clap on the shoulder. ‘Guess WCW and I will be seeing you at King Of The Ring!’

Smackdown: June 21st

With no scheduled matches at Smackdown, the WCW superstars take the night off and once again watch from the comfort of the crowd as the WWF prepares their final push towards the annual King Of The Ring tournament in four days. Kurt Angle, embroiled in the tournament in addition to his issue with Shane, loses a tag-team match with fellow tournament semi-finalist Rhyno against the other two semi-finalists Edge and Christian when Shane strolls down to ring and provides enough of a distraction for Edge to pin him. His WCW employees jeer and razz Angle as he leaves the ring, which prompts him to rush the barricade; however, this time security is ready and stop Angle from causing another incident.

But the main event, which sees Jericho and Benoit put their WWF Tag Titles on the line against The APA, ends with more of the xenophobic hysteria that is slowly becoming commonplace for the WWF locker room; Austin, paranoid both due to the combined threat of Benoit and Jericho to his title reign and despising the arrival of wrestlers from his former employers, waffles Benoit with the title belt. Commissioner Regal, ‘conveniently’ seated at ringside by the timekeeper, makes sure there is a distraction so Austin can perpetrate his crime and enable the APA to defeat the Canadian Chrises. The worst fears – that the upstanding APA has sold out to the corporate machine – is confirmed when Bradshaw and Faarooq willingly go along with a beatdown of Austin’s two challengers for Sunday. The show ends with the APA and Regal continuing the devastation with Vince looking on from the stage … while Austin stands on the turnbuckle, belt held aloft, and glaring at Booker T.

King Of The Ring: June 24th

Right away, the presence of WCW can be felt on the annual King Of The Ring event before the first match even starts, when the WCW wrestlers arrive backstage. Both the competitors and the rest of the roster retire to their locker rooms to witness the historic event of a WCW match occurring on pay-per-view, and to cheer on their boss in his street fight against Kurt Angle.

After fighting two exhausting matches in the King Of The Ring tournament (and coming up short in the finals against Edge), Angle and Shane have their showdown, which barely even resembles a street fight; a prison beating is a more appropriate description of the bloody brawl the two perpetrate on one another. From the outset, both men abandon any pretense of mat wrestling or attempts at showmanship and go for the jugular by braining each other with chairs, rending the flesh with Singapore canes, and driving each other through tables. But it is only a matter of time for Angle, the trained athlete and Olympic gold medalist, before he’s able press his experience advantage and overpower the cocky young executive whose guts far out-measure his skills. Angle’s sadistic streak comes out as he proceeds in suplexing Shane through two windows in the entrance set (although one fails to break on the first try, and Shane lands directly on his head, almost breaking his neck), turning Shane’s face into something closer resembling raw hamburger. Angle ends it after further punishment by putting Shane through a table, and is taken out on a stretcher (with plenty of jeering and venom from his father on the way out).

The finals of the US Title tournament follows, and as much as the tournament itself excited the crowd, the finals, pitting Lance Storm against Kidman, sets the house on fire with fast-paced, high-flying pure wrestling action, a counteract to the brawling and violence that is the hallmark of the WWF. For almost thirty exciting minutes, the two combatants risk life and limb in a hybrid of cruiserweight-style aerial maneuvers and hard-hitting technical wrestling, almost echoing the wrestling style of the late, lamented ECW (something color commentator Paul Heyman is more then willing to point out). In the end, a mistake by Storm lets Kidman set up and hit his Shooting Star Press for the victory and the US Title. The crowd gives both men a standing ovation for the effort they put on, only for the mood to sour when Angle comes out and plasters Kidman with a chair as he celebrates, then hits an Angle Slam on the chair. Angle celebrates like he’s won another gold medal until Storm comes back and hits a superkick square on Olympian’s chin. Angle goes down in a heap, and Storm follows it up with his Canadian Maple Leaf half-crab, making Angle scream in agony. The crowd eats up every bit of it, and, when Storm releases and helps Kidman back to the locker room as Angle cries in pain and anger, chants ‘crybaby’.

The moment is a triumph both for WCW’s competitors, and for the company as a whole in their bid for public acceptance. Vince, his night ruined by WCW’s triumphant night, comes down to the ring prior to the main event to warn Benoit and Jericho that a lawsuit will be on their heads if they even think about defecting to WCW should on of them (‘in the highly unlikely event’, he adds) capture the WWF Championship. Nevertheless, Booker leads the WCW troops to wish Jericho and Benoit before they get to the ring for their triple-threat showdown. While there is respect between the two wrestlers, the alliance between Benoit and Jericho crumbles in the face of opportunity to capture the WWF Title, and Austin uses it as his window of opportunity against the combined attack from his opponents. After 30 grueling minutes, Austin emerges the winner, pinning Benoit after a top-rope superplex leaves both Benoit and Jericho gasping for precious air. The crowd is livid as Austin, exhausted and sore, covets his title as if it were a life preserver and he was drowning in the ocean. Austin does his normal four-corners pose of victory, but stops on the way to one of the corners and notices Jericho stirring; Austin starts stomping away at Jericho. Authorities are kept at bay with wild swings of his belt and flailing kicks, as he picks up Jericho and delivers a Stunner to put out Jericho’s lights. The crowd is all but ready to storm the gates and have Austin’s head as he picking up Jericho’s near-dead weight for a second Stunner when someone does it for them: Booker T. Austin never sees the WCW Champion coming, and in his weakened state, is no match for Booker, who lights into Austin with a series of chops. A boot in the gut bends Austin at the waist, and Booker sets up to deliver his scissors kick until authorities step in and form a blockade around Austin. Cops clamp handcuffs on Booker and lead him away (to an escalating chorus of hatred from the audience) as Austin, coughing and wincing in pain, yells at Booker and gives him the finger. Booker remains stoic to a fault, simply glaring at Austin with a glare Austin recognizes right off the bat, and suddenly his big mouth shuts and his fingers stop flying. There is a smile on Booker’s lips, but it is a mirthless, joyless grin that is betrayed by his eyes, eyes which can only be described in two words: stone cold.

Part II

Our story continues on Raw the night after King Of The Ring, a night which proved to be of mixed emotions for both Vince and Shane McMahon. For Shane, his WCW match for the US Title proved a major hit for the company as he tries to rebuild it ... but a savage beating from Kurt Angle left him hospitalized. For Vince, Shane's incapacitation, as well as Steve Austin's successful defense of the WWF Title against Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho (two people with seemingly close ties to WCW), is cause to celebrate ... but the actions of Booker T stepping in to save his former WCW friends from further beatings has Vince convinced Shane's motives are hostile. Vince decides Raw is the place to put an end to the threat before it can get any further ...

Raw: June 25th

Raw opens with Vince in the ring, looking as cocky and proud as he could possibly be. “You know, last night at the King of the Ring,” he begins, “there was an ugly rumor going around, and that rumor was simply that if either Chris Benoit or Chris Jericho became WWF Champion, then quite frankly they would come here tonight to Madison Square Garden and defect to WCW.” The crowd breaks out in cheers, which breaks Vince’s cool demeanor. “If you uncouth ingrates would shut up a minute and let me finish speaking, IÑ” The crowd starts in with an “asshole” chant; Vince tries to bellow over it, but it only incites the crowd more, so he simply waits it out. “Well, I’m here to tell you that didn’t happen and it never will, because your World Wrestling Federation Champion is still Stone Cold Steve Austin! That’s right, Austin is still champion; he took on two men at the same time and not only did he beat them both, but he beat Benoit so badly, his neck may never recover, and he may have to retire!” Vince sighs, a look of (mock) sadness creeping over his features. “But in spite of all that, I have news for everyone here, from you the audience to the WWF superstars in the back room. I’d like to have Chris Jericho come out here right now.”

Jericho’s music hits and, after playing to the crowd, he comes to the ring, looking all business. Vince picks up on this and backs into a corner. “Now, Chris, don’t go getting any ideas, you lost fair and square!” Jericho backs away and paces; Vince steps out, straightens his tie and clears his throat. “Now, Chris, I want to address this ugly rumor about you defecting to WCW. I’ve heard about how friendly you’ve become with the WCW wrestlers, and how Shane has talked to you about coming over … and don’t think I missed that piece of WCW scum Booker T come into, or should I say invade, my ring and attack my WWF Champion. He was coming to your rescue, right, Chris? Come to save you from the big, bad Austin?” Chris opens his mouth to speak, but Vince holds up a hand. “Save it, kid. I don’t wanna hear it. I want you to do something for me, Jericho; since you’re such a good buddy with the WCW morons, I want you to deliver a message to them: the WWF crushed WCW once before, and dammit, we’ll do it again. Their employment under my son is temporary; he can’t pull this off, and I will see to it that he, and WCW, are wiped off the face of the map once and for all. Do you got that? Now get out of my sight.”

The announcers kvetch about Jericho being used as a messenger as Jericho walks back up the ramp. As he is about to go through the curtain, Vince speaks again. “Oh, Chris? One more thing; you’re gonna deliver another message for me. Vince McMahon will not stand for anyone in the WWF even thinking about jumping ship. Zero tolerance, Jericho. And it starts with you. You are hereby suspended for 30 days.”

The crowd is caught in a mixture of abject shock and hatred (as are JR and Heyman). Jericho mouths a few insults Vince’s way and leaves with a middle finger salute. Vince can only grin. “Now then, tonight, here in Madison Square Garden, the WWF has brought to you many a memorable moment … and tonight will be no different. This is hallowed ground, where no WCW star has ever walked, or ever will. Indeed, this is the house the World Wrestling Federation helped build, and tonight will be no different! Thank you!”

But Vince’s good mood only lasts as long as he can get back to his office, when he is handed the docket for the evening’s matches. WCW now has two matches on the card. Vince screams and hollers, demanding to see Regal. Instead of Regal, however, WCW Commissioner Arn Anderson comes in and reminds Vince that, unless he wants to face off against in court, he has to abide by the settlement and allow WCW their matches.

The first WCW match of the evening pits Cruiserweight Champion Shane Helms against old nemesis Chavo Guerrero Jr.; the match, with its fast-paced, high-flying action, is a welcome antidote to the WWF’s style and welcomed eagerly. Perturbed, Vince shuffles the evening’s card and pits WWE Light Heavyweight Champion against X-Pac; while entertaining, the two aren’t as reckless nor as daring as their WCW counterparts, and the match isn’t as warmly received, especially with the much-despised X-Pac taking the title away from the beloved Hardy.

Equally well-liked is WCW’s main event, Booker’s first title defense on WWF TV, against Diamond Dallas Page. The match is treated with all the pageantry of a PPV main event, with a special ring announcer (Stacy Kiebler), special pyro and all the trappings, giving it a truly big-match feel. Unfortunately, Austin’s unprovoked attack on both men with a chair ruins the event; WCW wrestlers scurry from the back to check on their fallen friends and run off Austin, who disappears into the crowd with a smile and a maniacal laugh.

Smackdown: June 28th

Again, the WWF emanates from Madison Square Garden, and again, Vince has to deal with WCW programming on his show, in a place that was, at one point, a sanctuary for the WWF. A place the WCW couldn’t even knock on the doors of.

Arn comes out to introduce the first WCW match of the evening (leading off the show, no less), but is interrupted by Dean Malenko. Dean shakes hands with Arn, then produces his own microphone. “Arn, I apologize for interrupting, but I got something to say. It’s no secret about the circumstances to which I came to the WWF; I had a problem with WCW’s management, and even though it killed us to do it since we’d been there for a major chunk of our careers, Chris Benoit, Perry Saturn, Eddie Guerrero and myself all demanded our releases. We thought that the WWF would hold greater promise, and a chance to work under the best conditions the industry could provide, and we never looked back. For the better part of a year, I have been proud to call myself a WWF superstar, and the memories of how difficult it had been working in WCW were all but faded from my mind. Then, this past Monday Night Raw, I saw what had to be the single most shocking event I’ve ever seen in wrestling.” Malenko turns to the TitanTron, whereupon plays the footage of Vince suspending Chris Jericho. “If there’s one thing Dean Malenko has stood for in his career, its integrity. When I was in WCW”ÑDean holds up four fingers, which catches Arn’s attention like a slap in the faceÑ”I flashed these four fingers like a badge of honor and lived up to the standards they exemplified, even when you Arn Anderson said I had no business doing so. When I came to the WWF, I did so with pride and, together with my friends, we proved we weren’t a group of vanilla midgets from Ôdown south’. But when I see crap like that … when I see Vince McMahon punish someone for something they have neither said nor even insinuated that they might be doing … the WWF is becoming something far worse then WCW ever was. Vince McMahon is turning the WWF into a cesspool of intolerance and hatred for anything that doesn’t have his stamp of approval, and I will not stand by and watch a good man like Chris Jericho get screwed by a man who has made a career out of screwing people.” Dean turns around and faces Arn, whose eyes are wide with rapt attention. “Arn … I want you to look me in the eye and tell me this isn’t the WCW I had to walk away from. You tell me that this is a new WCW, and that Shane is gonna rebuild the integrity and honor of this company’s legacy.”

Arn holds up his own four fingers. “If you’re lookin’ for this, Dean, well, I ain’t gonna lie and tell you you’re gonna find it,” says Arn. “But I will tell you that what those four fingers stood for, well, you can be your last damned dollar me and Shane are gonna make sure that’s the fuel the new WCW is gonna run on.”

Arn extends a hand and, without hesitation, Dean accepts it. The shake becomes a hug, and the fans show their respects with a warm, respectful applause. Backstage, however, the reception in the WWF locker room (and in Vince’s office) is anything but pleasant; Dean’s personal belongings are ransacked and destroyed by irate WWF wrestlers, his car vandalized and the tires slashed.

The backlash from Malenko’s abdication continue to be felt later on, during a WCW match between Mike Awesome and Chris Kanyon, when WWF Hardcore Champion Test, along with Kane and Albert, come down to ringside and attack. Awesome and Kanyon hold their own until Regal gets a chair and blasts Awesome with it in the back; Awesome falls forward, unconscious, trapping Test beneath him. While more WCW wrestlers come in to run off the WWF attackers, the referee, noticing the circumstances, makes the count, and announces Mike Awesome the new WWF Hardcore Champion. Regal goes into hysterics and argues with the referee about the legality of a WCW wrestler winning a WWF belt, but before anything can be done about it, the WCW wrestlers help Awesome get up and help him to the back with his new championship over his shoulder.

Raw: July 2nd

Two major announcements, one from Vince and one from WCW, are heavily promoted throughout the weekend programming and on the respective websites. Come Raw, it is Vince who gets first crack, and his announcement doesn’t fail to disappoint as a bombshell.

“Last week was black week for the WWF,” says Vince. “Last week, this company lost one of its titles to a WCW wrestler in a pinfall that shouldn’t have been counted to begin with. Last week, I had to suspend Chris Jericho because he was proving to be a WCW sympathizer. And last week, on Smackdown, Dean Malenko spit right in my face and the face of each and every one of you when he abandoned the World Wrestling Federation and allied himself with WCW. Well, I’m here to tell every one of you pieces of Tacoma trash who saved up your pennies to buy a ticket tonight, and especially to every single WWF superstar under my employ:I WILL NOT ALLOW ANOTHER DEAN MALENKO! Tonight, I am here to announce that, effective immediately, every WWF superstar will be required to visit my office and, by the end of Smackdown on Thursday, sign a Declaration Of Loyalty Statement. Those who refuse to declare their loyalty to the WWF and disavow any ties to WCW, or sign and go on to break the terms of the statement will find themselves facing trouble … legal trouble … monetary trouble … employment trouble … the kind of trouble you can only get when you cross Vincent Kennedy McMahon!”

The APA are the first in line to sign the statement, the beginning of a flood of people; JR and Paul Heyman point out that, while the volunteers are lining up faster then a new ride as Disneyland, not all look comfortable. Worries about the threat of legal action and being fired are written on the faces of many of the WWF wrestlers, but to Vince, all that matters is the signature at the bottom of the final page of the lengthy document (which no one bothers to read in full; Big Show tries, but upon seeing it is 10 pages long, quits and, reluctantly, scratches out a signature).

Vince’s night only gets better when Arn Anderson comes out for WCW’s announcement. Mike Awesome, the Hardcore Title slung over his shoulder, accompanies Arn to the ring. “Shane McMahon would be here tonight if he could,” says Arn, “but with the injuries he incurred at King Of The Ring, it is my sad duty to inform you all that he will not be in attendance for a while yet. In his stead, and on his behalf, though, I am here to discuss the events that occurred on Smackdown last Thursday, when Mike Awesome, however inadvertently, became WWF Hardcore Champion.” The crowd cheers, but Arn urges them to quiet down. “Despite the current hostility the WWF has for WCW, we in WCW have nothing but the utmost respect for the WWF and its championships. Mike Awesome is a man who could, without a doubt, compete for the Hardcore Title and, as champion, defend the title with pride …” Arn pauses to take a deep, mournful sigh. “… were he a WWF wrestler. He is not, though, and as such, the decision has been made to forfeit the title. So, if my colleague, Commissioner Regal, or perhapsÑ”

As if on cue, Vince comes storming through the curtain and down to the ring, a maniacal glare in his eyes. He snatches a microphone from ringside and gets in the ring. “Why, that’s the first smart decision someone in charge of WCW has ever made!” Vince says. Vince walks up to Awesome and holds out his hands; Awesome, a tower of a man, glares down at Vince like a tiger would a rabbit.

“Give it to him, Mike,” says Arn.

Suddenly, Vince’s smile gets even bigger. “No, wait, Arn. I got a better idea. Jeff Hardy! I command you, as your employer, to get your ass down here!”

Jeff, confused, comes down to the ring; he asks Vince what is going on, but Vince won’t even acknowledge him. “Arn, I appreciate the gesture, but here in the WWF, we believe in competition. Championships are earned, not awarded. Therefore, to keep the valued lineage of the title unbroken, Jeff Hardy will pin Mike Awesome for the title.” Vince turns to Awesome, snaps his fingers and points to the mat. “Now lay down, kid.”

Awesome’s eyes go big; he shakes his head slowly, emphatically. Now Vince’s eyes go wide, and a snarl curls his lip. “What?”

Again, Awesome shakes his head. He grabs Vince hand and hauls up the microphone to his mouth (with Vince’s arm still attached). “You wanna see me pinned for this belt? You pin me for it. Kid.” He releases Vince’s hand and shoves him away, putting him on his ass. Hardy immediately launches himself at Awesome, rattling him with shots to the jaw. Awesome staggers back; Hardy climbs to the ropes and leaps at Awesome with his Whisper In The Wind, but Awesome catches him, adjusts the weight, walks over to the ropes, and Awesome Bombs Hardy over and down through the announcers table (to the amazement of everyone there, starting an impromptu “E-C-Dub” chant). Awesome plays to the crowd as medics check on the lifeless Hardy; he never notices Test racing down the ramp. A chairshot (and a three-count by Vince) later, Test is the new Hardcore Champion.

The rest of the evening continues to be a bad one for WCW, with a Tag Title defense by Chuck Palumbo and Sean O’Haire against Kronik spoiled by The Dudley Boys and X-Factor, and a match between Mike Sanders and Shannon Moore ruined by The Undertaker and Kane.

But the final straw occurs in WCW’s main event, with Lance Storm facing, in his WCW debut, Dean Malenko. The match, a fast-paced technical classic, thrills fans with echoes of WCW’s old cruiserweight division with a touch of the mat-based skills of a Flair/Steamboat classic. For 10 minutes, they hold the fans in their hands, until the WWF locker room, led by Austin, empties and floods the ring. Storm is beaten and thrown out by a small group of wrestlers, while the restÑoutnumbering Malenko 10 to 1Ñcorner Malenko; handcuffs and rope are produced, and Malenko is bound and stretched out, face down on the mat. Austin pulls off his belt and whips Malenko, raising red welts on his back. A table is produced, and Bradshaw powerbombs him through it. Raw ends with the vision of Austin setting fire to Malenko’s WCW t-shirt.]

Smackdown: July 5th

The WWF locker room as Smackdown begins (complete with catered food and drinks), celebrating the death of WCW. Indeed, no WCW matches are scheduled, and WCW staff are nowhere to be seen in the arena. Vince brags to Regal how the night of humiliation that was Raw, culminating with the public flogging of Dean Malenko, will all but convince every television network and PPV distributor that WCW is weak and not a viable money-making entity. Vince goes about his evening with a sense of relief, giving all champions the night off and scheduling matches for his personal entertainment (including a bra and panties tag match, Big Show facing Tajiri, and the Dudleys against the Hardys in a hardcore match).

But the delivery of the finalized loyalty statements from the corporate lawyers puts a quick damper on Vince’s evening and he quickly goes to the ring to address the issue.

“This past Monday on Raw,” he proclaims, “I succeeded in finally crushing WCW once and for all by proving them to be the inferior, substandard joke they’ve always been. I proved, once again, that the well of my power is bottomless, and that there is nothing I will not do to rule over this industry with an iron fist!” The disdain from the audience is overwhelming, but Vince is unperturbed. “And, most of all, I proved that the WWF is not only the dominant brand in sports entertainment, but to go against it, be it an individual or a rival company, will only result in your demise. Unfortunately, we have seen examples of people who do not subscribe to my vision in recent weeks, and tonight, the burden is mine and mine alone to inform you all that there are four people left in the WWF who have not signed their Loyalty Statements. I am now giving these four men the chance, right now, to come down to the ring, sign the statements, and redeem themselves in the eyes of these fans, and the eyes of their boss, their superior, me, Vince McMahon. Those four men are …” Vince takes a deep breath (for mock drama), and says (in an exceedingly fake distraught tone of voice), “… Chris Jericho, William Regal, Raven and Stone Cold Steve Austin.”

Regal is the first to come out, looking very flustered. By the time he gets to the ring, Raven comes down to the ring and sits in the corner. There is a pause as everyone waits to see who, if anyone is coming next; finally, Austin’s music hits and he comes down, the WWF Title in hand, looking (as usual) angry as all hell. Vince gives the proceedings a couple extra seconds before going on.

“Well, it seems Mr. Jericho is unable to come forward to affirm his loyalty. So, I shall deal with him on Monday, and I advise you, Jericho, to be there.” He turns to the other three people in the ring and produces three documents from his jacket. “In my hand I have Loyalty Agreements for all three of you. You can all sign them right now and get this nightmare over with, but I’m warning you right now … you better have a damnedgood explanation for not signing already.”

Regal is first to step away, almost tripping over himself to get the microphone so he can explain. “Sir, Mr. McMahon, honestly, I’d assumed these things were for all the scrubs like”ÑRegal hikes a thumb over his shoulder at RavenÑ”that ruffian behind me. I’m the WWF Commissioner, sir, not some bloody window-licking commoner. I’d think you trust me enough not to need such a thing.”

“I trust you, William,” says Vince. “Implicitly. But you’re still signing the damn paper. Or else.”

Regal locks eyes with Vince for a couple seconds; seeing that there’s no give in McMahon’s eyes, Regal snatches the document and signs it. Vince shakes his hand, and Regal returns the gesture weakly, then turns to leave, only to be met face to face with Raven. Raven stares him down for a moment before Regal tries to sidestep him; Raven moves with Regal to the left, then the right. “Now, see here,” says Regal, “move out of the way, scrub, before I knock you back to last Tuesday.” Raven responds with a kick to the gut and a Raven Effect DDT (much to the delight of the crowd).

“I hope you have a damned good explanation for that!” Vince yells.

Raven grabs the microphone from Regal’s hand. “The only rules I follow are my rules. The only world I live in is my world. Your fascism holds nothing for me but mindless servitude and misery. By violently rejecting your totalitarian oppression, I force you to do something you’ve never been willing to do; I am forcing you to see me. I am forcing you to see Raven. You cannot make me into something I’m not, for I’m not something you want. Quoth the raven, nevermore.” Raven extends his arms in his Christ-like pose, drops down and rolls out of the ring.

“Well,” Vince says as Raven backs up the ramp, “I suppose I’ll have to deal with you on Monday just the same, Raven.” Vince looks at Austin, smiles and steps forward. “Steve. I assume it was just an oversight. No hard feelings, eh? Just sign this silly thing and we’ll be done with it.”

Austin’s response is typical Austin: two middle fingers in the face, a reaction that stuns both Vince, the crowd and everyone else watching. Vince is unable to do anything but move his jaw up and down soundlessly. Austin picks up the abandoned microphone. “Ever since your stupid kid bought WCW and started parading them jackasses around here like some damn dumb kid with a new toy, have you once hugged me?” Vince shrugs, but before he can say anything, Austin keeps going. “Ever since your stupid kid came around, Stone Cold has been dealing with some mealy-mouthed bastard called Booker T, but have I gotten a match with him? Have I gotten a chance to beat on any of these damned sons of bitches since they came barging in here like they own the place!Eh-eh! Not a damn one, Vince! Where’s the love for Stone Cold? Where’s Vince McMahon saying ÔStone Cold, I’ll take care of you. You’ll get Booker T at the next pay-per-view.’? I’ll tell ya where; you’re too damned busy runnin’ your mouth, paying attention to your son, and you done forgot about ol’ Stone Cold! You know, you damn well know how much I hate WCW, and you wanna stick some stupid piece of paper under my nose so I can swear to you I’m loyal to the WWF?” Austin stomps up to Vince, shoving the belt in his face. “Do you see this, Vince? Do you know who I am? My name is Stone Cold Steve Austin, and I am the WWF Champion. I am a WWF superstar, and always will be. And here you are, sucking up all the spotlight for yourself, pushing Stone Cold to the back so you can run your mouth and talk about loyalty? Well, here’s what I’m gonna do: I’m gonna shove that agreement up your ass if you don’t get it out my face, son. Then, I’m gonna find that piece of crap Booker T, and I’m gonna be him silly and take his little toy belt and chuck it in the trash and kill WCW dead.” Austin flips off Vince again and turns to leave; he pauses, turns back around and adds, “I forgot something …” before hitting a Stunner on Vince.

Raw: July 9th

The advertised card for Raw is big enough to be a PPV, with title defenses galore and fallout from the previous week’s shows. In addition to Booker T defending the WCW Title, both the WCW and WWF Tag Titles are slated for defenses, and Kurt Angle is booked to have a rematch against Edge.

But no matter how big the matches booked, everyone watching is waiting for two things: how Vince will deal with Jericho and Raven, and whether or not Austin’s demand of a match against Booker T will be fulfilled.

Austin makes his presence, and his demands, known (as if they weren’t already) by inserting himself into a good portion of the matches, especially focusing on WCW’s offerings. One match, a WCW Cruiserweight Title defense, never even gets started when challenger Mike Sanders is eliminated before he can get to the ring, having been thrown into a vending machine and busted open. Finally, after the third WCW match is spoiled by Austin’s rampage, Arn comes out and interrupts Austin’s tantrum to let him know that he has heard from Shane (now released from the hospital, but still nursing injuries from his King Of The Ring mega-beating), and he has authorized Arn to make the deal: Austin versus Booker (non-title) for the next pay-per-view.

Raven’s fate, at least for the night, is revealed when he’s slated to face Undertaker and Kane in a hardcore handicap match. Vince watches from the stage, laughing gleefully as Raven takes a world-class beating, his head split open as he is bashed with all sorts of instruments before he’s finally pinned. Nevertheless, Vince’s moment of triumph over his rebellious employee is ruined when, blood dripping from his face, Raven pulls himself up to his feet, grinning like a madman and, through the blinding pain, stands defiant in his familiar pose. Vince’s scowl only confirms what everyone else can guess: Raven’s punishment has just begun.

Jericho, however, isn’t subjugated to a merciless beating en route to his public humiliation. Vince presents himself, again, as the benevolent employer wronged by the turncoat employee. “Last week on Raw, faced with the incursion of the hostile WCW forces, I put forth to my employees a perfectly voluntary gesture of goodwill on their parts, to sign a Loyalty Statement and publicly declare themselves loyal WWF superstars. A few of them procrastinated, some were confused about how important this gesture was, and some, quite frankly, refused to show up. William Regal, for instance, simply misunderstood that his position as Commissioner did not exclude him from this mandate, and was more then pleased to add his signature to the ever-growing list of loyal WWF family members. Equally, Stone Cold Steve Austin had some reservations about the issue, but over the weekend, he and I were able to come to an accord.” Vince scowls, his lip twitching and curling at the corner. “And, as you all have seen tonight, those who defy my will are handled, and will be continue to be handled with extreme prejudice until they are broken. All this brings me to one man: Chris Jericho.” The crowd reacts favorably, but Vince shakes his head. “Now, Chris Jericho, you failed to show up on Monday Night Raw when the Loyalty Agreements were made available. And you failed to acquire and sign one by the deadline of last Thursday’s Smackdown. This, coupled with the actions which led to your suspension … well … as they say in baseball, that’s three strikes. And do you know what happens when you get three strikes, Jericho? You’re f…”

The countdown of the Y2J clock cuts off Vince’s rambling, sending the crowd into hyperdrive, and obviously flustering Vince, who huffs and puffs. “You’re not supposed to be here! You’re suspended!” he yells as Jericho steps out onto the stage.

Jericho plays to the crowd for a moment before finally acknowledging Vince standing in the ring. “Hey, you told me to show up, Vince,” says Jericho with a goofy grin. “Vince, before you bore these fine people to death with another one of your rambling speeches, let me ask you a question: do you know where I was 2 years ago? WCW. I spent a few years in WCW; won a few titles, and got the attention of someone up in Stamford who decided the WWF needed Y2J!” The crowd bursts out in a “Y2J” chant, which Jericho lets die out before continuing. “But for all the belts I won, for all the great matches I put on and the people I beat … do you know what I did in that last year in WCW? Well, I thought that the time had come, with my popularity on the rise and after winning numerous championships, to step it up a notch and start going after the big boys … the ‘legends’ … people like Hulk Hogan, and Kevin Nash, and Goldberg. And you know what? Not a one of them gave me a second look. I was just some scrub, some lowly little nobody. So I went to the matchmakers, and they made it clear WCW saw nothing in Chris Jericho. That’s why I came to WWF, Vince; I came here because I was told that, for me, in the WWF, the sky’s the limit. I was told if I wanted a piece of Stone Cold, or The Rock, or The Undertaker, all I had to do was step up to the plate and swing. And since then … well, Chris Jericho’s career has taken some strange turns. I had to defendÑand shareÑmy Intercontinental Title with a woman, but did I complain? When I beat Triple H in the middle of that ring for the WWF Title only for him to bully a referee into reversing the decision, and you and the Commissioner didn’t do a thing, did I complain? Since I’ve come to WWF, I have been screwed just as bad, if not worse, then in WCW, but I kept my mouth shut and didn’t complain. You know why? Because I’m STILL getting a better shot then I ever would’ve in WCW, and I am eternally grateful. And yet, you question my loyalty because I say hi to a couple old friends? Because I once worked for WCW? Cause if that’s the case, you got a locker room full of traitors.”

“Oh, no, Jericho, you’re not gonna divert suspicion like that,” proclaims Vince. “You have been engaging in suspicious behavior since the moment those WCW lowlifes showed up, and I am not going to let a potential spy develop under my nose! I took the necessary steps…”

“To stab a loyal WWF superstar in the back, you horse’s ass!” The crowd agrees vociferously, which angers Vince more. “I have bent over backwards to help make this company successful, Vinnie, and instead of trusting me, you suspend me? What do I need to do to prove myself to you?”

“You need to show me that you’re on my side, Jericho. That what you see is what I see, that what you believe is what I believe, and that is that WCW is a plague that needs to be extinguished. That the vermin that call themselves wrestlers need to be crippled and driven from this industry to make it, and the WWF, clean again.” Vince hesitates a moment, and a gleam suddenly appears in his eyes. “And you can start at the pay-per-view, Chris Jericho. Since it’s now plainly apparent to even the dumbest of people that WCW’s arrival here is really an invasion, it’s only fitting that the next pay-per-view be called what it’s all about: Invasion. And you, Chris Jericho, will take part in this by helping to eliminate the WCW threat by ending the career of your good buddy, Dean Malenko.”

The announcement of the match (accepted, respectfully, by Malenko moments later) punctuates the new atmosphere in the WWF, one on the brink of all-out war. And looking to be the person to light the fuse is, naturally, Austin, who sticks his nose in the main event, as Booker T defends his WCW Title against DDP. Booker takes a shot in the back of his head with his own belt, but DDP lays out Austin with a Diamond Cutter. This draws out wrestlers from both locker rooms, and Raw ends with a massive inter-company brawl that covers the arena from the ring to the stage and beyond.

Smackdown: July 12th

With open war between the companies declared, Vince gives the okay to his troops to run wild on WCW and do everything they can to exterminate the company before InVasion can even occur. Many take this carte blanche and run wild, turning many matches into little more then wild brawls, and the backstage area into a continual hardcore brawl. In the midst of this, the Hardcore Title changes hands several times (including onto and off of WCW wrestlers Chris Kanyon and Shawn Stasiak) before finally settling on WWF wrestler Rhyno. Rhyno then picks a fight with “former” Hardcore Champion Mike Awesome, which spills out into the parking lot before cops separate them.

Some WWF wrestlers decide to take their frustrations out by using psychological warfare, including the ever-popular vandalism of personal property. But a new level of depravity is reached when the APA rough up WCW announcer Mike Tenay backstage, and torture WCW referee Charles Robinson by locking him in the trunk of a car and beating it with a ballbat.

Even the two black sheep of the WWF are not forgotten in the wave of violence that disrupts Smackdown; a tag match pitting Jericho with Edge and Christian against the Dudleys and Kurt Angle shows that the suspicion extends into the locker room when Jericho is all but thrown to the wolves by Edge and Christian, and only tagged out when the match is in danger of being lost. Raven, meanwhile, gets to suffer through another handicap match, pitted against all three member of X-Pac’s X-Factor faction; he makes a valiant effort in trying to win, but the numbers game is far too much (especially when he is forced to face down with Albert) for the deranged slacker to withstand, and again, he is beaten senseless before losing. But, like he did on Raw, Raven gets a symbolic measure of revenge against Vince by getting back to his feet after his opponents have left, wincing through a pose, and then grabs a microphone. “Is that all you got, Vince? Is that the best you can do? Three years of hard time in that bingo hall hellhole in Philly, Vince; barbed wire, fire, thumbtacks. Can you beat that, Vince? Do you really think you can make me suffer anymore then I already do for selling my soul for your filthy lucre? Are you listening, you son of a bitch? You can’t break me!”

But Raven isn’t the only person to make a stand against the might of McMahon’s evil empire that night. WCW as a whole, sick of weeks of passive resistance and ass-kickings, take the fight back to the WWF. During a bikini contest between WCW’s blonde bombshells Stacy Kiebler and Torrie Wilson, Trish Stratus interrupts the proceedings, calling the two valets “sluts” and “brain-dead bimbos who give good blondes bad names”. Stacy and Torrie order the WCW production crew to play a video package of Trish’s lowlights in her career, including being stripped to her underwear and forced to bark like a dog, her run as manager of a tag-team called T&A, and having an affair with her married boss. Enraged, Trish storms into the ring, not realizing the set-up until several WCW wrestlers form a human barricade in the aisle. Outnumbered, Trish tries to plead with her new foes, but to no avail; she is stripped to her bra and underwear and spanked before being sent on her way (through a gauntlet of men all hamming it up with catcalls and whistles).

But the biggest victory for WCW comes in WWF’s main event, when Booker T comes to ringside and does commentary with the WWF announcing crew (although Michael Cole likens it more to the show being “hijacked”) as Steve Austin faces off against the temporarily reinstated Chris Jericho in a non-title match (as Vince puts it, “wrestlers on probation don’t deserve title shots”). The referee’s bias against the “suspicious” Jericho is obvious, as Austin gets away with everything short of criminal assault, but Jericho is admonished for open-handed chops, giving Austin a license to maim and injure Jericho and making it near-impossible to win. Yet, for all the advantage Austin has, he fails to press it, as he is preoccupied with Booker. Austin barks at the ring attendant, who makes a signal that, eventually, draws security down to escort Booker away from the match. Booker collects the belt and walks up the ramp while Austin rambles on to his back, until Booker stops halfway up the ramp. He looks down at the belt in his hands and realizes he grabbed Austin’s WWF Title; he turns around and holds it up for everyone to see, sending Austin into an uncontrollable fit of rage. So distracted by this is Austin that he doesn’t notice Jericho come up from behind, and has no idea what hit him when Jericho nails a bulldog and a quick Lionsault for the three-count. Booker gives Jericho a thumbs-up, tosses the belt aside and walks off.

Raw: July 16th

More matches for InVasion are announced during the course of Raw, including a bra & panties tag match between Stacy & Torrie against Trish Stratus and Lita, and three more champion versus champion (non-title) matches: US Champ Billy Kidman against IC Champ Albert, Cruiserweight Champ Shane Helms versus Light Heavyweight Champ X-Pac, and the respective Tag Champions, O’Haire & Palumbo against The Dudleys.

For the WWF, the night begins auspiciously, with production problems ruining the intro of Raw. Nevertheless, Vince demands the presence of his roster on the stage as he, from the ring (and behind a podium, surrounded by large pictures on easels of WWF legends), sets to deliver a very special speech.

“My employees,” he begins. “We are but six days away from what could be the beginning of the end for this company. For make no mistake about it: the mission of Shane McMahon and World Championship Wrestling has been, from the onset, one not of peaceful coexistence and competition, but of extermination and eradication. Shane McMahon and his WCW thugs will not rest until they have completed the task that every man who has ever taken the reigns of that doomed company has shared: to put me out of business. They are jealous of my success. They are jealous that I took this company from a small promotion in the northeast to the multi-billion dollar international conglomerate it is today.” Vince starts to point to the pictures surrounding him. “Look at these faces! Bruno Sammartino! Superstar Billy Graham! Gorilla Monsoon! Bob Backlund! Pedro Morales! Pat Patterson! Gerald Brisco! These men sweat, and bled, and gave of their very souls and lives to help build this company into what it is today! Shane McMahon means to erase all that, and replace it with the cancer that is WCW. He means to annihilate the legacies of these men, and if they can succeed in doing that, in destroying the World Wrestling Federation, then you too will be wiped off the face of the earth! The threat is very real, don’t let their peaceful lies blind you. They blinded Dean Malenko; they may well have blinded Chris Jericho and Raven. You cannot assume that everyone standing next to you is dedicated to the same cause you are; you all must assume the burden as if it were your own, and give 1000% to the cause of driving WCW into extinction! Three years ago, I dragged this company up from the brink of bankruptcy and beat back the threat of Eric Bischoff and WCW, and drove them to the point that their corporate owners needed to sell them off before WCW bled them dry. This is our opportunity to strike! This is our opportunity to, once and for all, present a final solution to the so-called ‘Monday Night Wars’, and eliminate the threat of WCW for all time! Ladies and g…”

But microphone troubles swallow the rest of Vince’s xenophobic speech. Vince demands a new microphone, but it too is faulty by the time it gets to his hands. Vince loses it and starts to kick at the podium and the easels while the show goes to commercial

Thus begins a long night for the WWF; the TitanTron repeatedly goes blank. Pyro misfires (Kane’s goes off during the middle of a match he isn’t involved in, and Big Show’s go off during his opponent’s intro), music fails to play on cue or the wrong music plays (Spike Dudley comes out to Big Show’s music, and Trish Stratus comes out to a snippet of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back”). After over an hour of technical glitches and mistakes, Vince sends trusted underling Pat Patterson to check out the production truck. He is greeted at the door…and sent away brusquely…by Bryan Clarke, who bolts the door shut on the inside. Patterson reports back to Vince that WCW has taken over the production truck and, in effect, hijacked the broadcast. It takes calling local police and a locksmith to get inside; the WCW wrestlers involved are arrested, but not until the show’s closing moments, having had the opportunity to destroy a full broadcast.

Among those in the audience watching the WWF’s almost slapstick inability to counter a few hooligans playing practical jokes and their total meltdown is a young man wearing a WWF baseball hat and sunglasses, an obvious attempt at concealing himself. Before walking away in disgust at the close of the show, the young man throws down his hat, shaking his head. Cameras quickly focus in on him when everyone realizes who he is: the hottest free agent in the wrestling business, Rob Van Dam.

Smackdown: July 19th

The final Smackdown before InVasion continues the build towards the epic clash on Sunday, but despite the impending war (with the rest of the show’s matches being confirmed on Smackdown), everyone’s attention is drawn to two things: the announcement that Shane McMahon will do a phone interview with Mike Tenay, and that Rob Van Dam is thought to be appearing on the show.

RVD shows up not long after the show has started, taking a seat in the front row as Kidman and Awesome warm up for their respective matches (Kidman against Albert, and Awesome against Undertaker) by fighting each other. After the match concludes, Michael Cole and Scott Hudson both rush over to the barricade with microphones to get the interview with RVD. The two try to cut their introductions over one another and bicker until RVD silences both of them

“I got something to say,” says RVD, “and if the two of you don’t shut up, I’ll just walk right on out of here.” He gives both men a chance to say something and louse it all up; when neither do, he continues. “Since before ECW closed down a few months ago, RVD has been the hottest ticket in professional wrestling: 23 months I spent as ECW Television Champion, making that belt as valuable as any World Title in the business. That’s why people call me”ÑRVD points to himself as he speaksÑ”ÔThe Whole Damn Show’. I never wanted to leave ECW, no matter how much money WCW and WWF threw at me, because I liked it in ECW … but since ECW went under, Mr. Monday Night, Mr. Pay-Per-View has been Mr. Sitting At Home On His Butt. So, I figured I’d come down and scope the two companies and see which one deserved my services more.”

Hudson and Cole fall all over themselves trying to ask the obvious questions; RVD shakes his head and waits for them to shut up. When they finally do, RVD answers the question that everyone is asking (although neither man could fully form it). “I wasn’t impressed with either company after Raw. The WWF looked like a joke; you couldn’t handle a couple people pulling pranks with your production? Couldn’t even break a lock on a trailer door? And WCW … well, RVD likes a good joke now and then, but ruining their television show was a little more then I think is funny. I think I’m gonna sit back and watch the two companies a little longer and see what plays out, if you don’t mind.” When the two talking heads try to press for more information, RVD glares at both of them. “Guys, I’d like to sit here and eat my popcorn and see what the WWF and WCW can do to impress Mr. Monday Night. If you want me to leave, you can stay.” Cole and Hudson take the hint, but RVD calls them back. “Oh, one more thing: I will be at InVasion, watching.”

Following the blockbuster of RVD’s promotion-scouting comes the telephone interview (really, a statement) of Shane McMahon. Tenay introduces Shane; “Thank you, Mike. I just wanted to take a minute to thank all the fans of WCW who have supported us as we try to re-establish WCW as an eminent force in this industry. From our office staff to our wrestlers, all the way up to me and Arn, we all thank you incredibly, and look forward to proving how much we deserve to be in this business when we take on the WWF’s finest at InVasion this Sunday. And while I don’t begrudge Arn the slightest bit of respect, because in my absence, Arn has done a tremendous job in my shoes, I wanted this time to inform everyone that, this Sunday, I will be back at the helm, guiding WCW back to the promised land. I intend to deliver the best wrestling you can find, and maybe a surprise or two.”

But the final images on the way to InVasion are not of surprises or of proud competitors; it is of another locker-room clearing melee, this time incited by Austin clobbering Booker with his own championship belt and busting him open during a tag match. Once again, both locker rooms empty and the fights spill throughout the arena, and even into the crowd. RVD watches it all and leaves, again his face a mask of disappointment.

InVasion: July 22nd

The opening video package, with comparisons drawn between the WWF/WCW conflict and its principals against World War II and the men in charge, set a tone for the event of impending disaster and doom. And, as Vince sits in his dimmed office as the event begins, the mood of a massive, hyper-violent conflict is not altogether incorrect; in total, there are 9 inter-promotional matches (and a 10th match, another handicap punishment for Raven), pitting the best against the best. Vince quietly awaits, watching on his monitors like a vulture watching its soon-to-be-food give up the fight and die, while Shane watches with the pride of a new father beaming from him like a spotlight. And, sitting in the first row, the third interested party in the outcome, the free agent Rob Van Dam.

Only, based on the first match, Vince is in for a long wait. The showdown between Sugar Shane Helms and X-Pac, a meeting of champions, opens the event, and X-Pac’s slower wrestling style is no match for the blinding speed of offense put up by Helms. Even X-Pac’s dirty tactics gain him no advantage, as Helms manages to overcome them and counter with pure talent. After 8 minutes of struggling to keep up with the younger, faster man, X-Pac is nearly decapitated by a Helms superkick and eats a pinfall loss. Vince reacts as expected: by throwing a massive tantrum and throwing things in his office.

The next match, while pitting the companies against one another, is hardly about superiority, even to the most hardcore of wrestling purists, for the next match on the card is a tag team bra & panties match. Trish Stratus and Lita end up getting the victory, tying the (unofficial) score at a victory apiece. Vince breaths a sigh of relief, choosing to ignore the reaction from the males at seeing the two blonde bombshells in their unmentionables.

Edge is sent to take out Lance Storm for the following match, a blistering 12 minute marathon of fast-paced, high-impact wrestling that earns a standing ovation for both performers when all is said and done. Edge comes out with the win in the end, and, when the younger, less-experienced (but certainly not lacking in intensity) Rhyno upsets the wily veteran Diamond Dallas Page, it puts the WWF ahead 3-1. Upon seeing DDP get folded in half with Rhyno’s Gore, Vince calls Commissioner Regal and orders him to get in contact with corporate lawyers to set up a tele-conference after the PPV to discuss canceling WCW’s television-time settlement.

But Vince’s good mood turns sour after the next match, pitting Kidman against Albert. Initially, the mismatch of speed versus strength seems to guarantee a squash for Albert. But Kidman uses his speed and agility to dazzle the big man, and generally outsmarts him with sounder decisions and smarter strategies. Even the interference of Albert’s X-Factor teammates aren’t enough (especially when the referee ejects them from ringside), and when Kidman hits the Shooting Star Press, it is enough to seal the deal and give WCW its second win of the night.

In a panic, Vince sends Regal, armed with a message to find WCW Commissioner Arn Anderson with a proposition: increase the stakes in the next match, the battle of the Tag Team Champions, by making it a tables match. Arn agrees, much to the delight of Vince. But the glee quickly turns to misery when the rookie tandem of O’Haire and Palumbo manage to upend the seasoned Dudleys in their own match, thanks to their fiery offense and deceptive athleticism (qualities not to be found in either of the rotund brawlers known as The Dudleys). D-Von tastes wood, giving the decision to the former Natural Born Thrillers, and to add insult to injury, when Bubba Ray tries a post-match revenge attack, he gets put through a table with a Seanton Bomb. The victory evens up the score and, more importantly, gives WCW the psychological edge of having all three of their champions besting WWF’s champions.

Now panicking, Vince orders yet another match to be altered; this time, the Mike Awesome/Undertaker match is turned into a street fight. For the American Badass, this is like home … but, for the veteran of Japan’s FMW promotion and ECW, the no-rules atmosphere is suited just fine for Awesome. The two duke it out for 15 long minutes, throwing everything they have at one another, including chokeslams and Awesome Bombs through tables, chairs, the ring bell, and everything else they can get their hands on. By the time the match reaches its closing moments, both men are bleeding profusely and look in desperate need of medical attention. Undertaker attempts to chokeslam Awesome off the top rope through a table in the ring, but Awesome manages to counter and turn it into a sit-out Awesome Bomb through the table from the second turnbuckle. As the crowd chants “holy shit”, the referee makes the count, and, when Undertaker’s shoulder doesn’t come up during the third count, even the referee is stunned. The ref pauses a moment before signaling the timekeeper to ring the bell, as much in shock as anyone else in the building over seeing what has just happened: Mike Awesome has defeated The Undertaker.

Vince goes into a total rage-fit, upending his chair, throwing furniture and anything else he can get his hands on. After he has destroyed everything he can lift or move, he storms out of his office and into the office of Shane McMahon.

“That’s it! I’ve had it!” he bellows. “I want you out of my life!”

“Sorry, Dad,” Shane says with a smile and a shrug. “Looks like my WCW …” Shane looks to Arn and says; “What was that word my Dad used for us? Scrubs?”

“I think he used that once.”

“Yeah. These WCW scrubs have shown they’re more then capable of competing at… Shane makes quote marks in the air… “‘your level’. I think we’re here to stay.”

Vince throws the two guest chairs in front of Shane’s desk out of the way and leans over it ominously, right in Shane’s face. “Then tomorrow night, you and me are gonna have a little WrestleMania rematch, and if I can’t wipe WCW off the face of the earth, I’m at least gonna wipe that stupid grin off your face!”

The next match, the only match not to be billed as inter-promotional (despite Vince’s suspicions) pits Raven in yet another handicap match, his toughest challenge yet: trying to defeat the monster Kane and Olympic Gold-medallist Kurt Angle. Raven manages to hold his own when it is one-on-one, but the duo make frequent use of distractions and dirty tactics to gain advantages, and double-team during the grace period after tags. Soon, Raven is fighting a losing battle, being beaten and tossed around like a practice dummy. It is only when Kane chokeslams Raven and goes for the pin that troubles start to mount; Angle’s ego takes over, and he pulls Kane off, wanting the pin for himself. Angle barks at Kane how he is a worthless machine whose only purpose is to inflict pain, while he is a real athlete, and deserves the right to pin Raven and make Mr. McMahon happy. The tiff turns into a fight, and the fight into a brawl; Kane ends up winning the brawl, knocking Angle out of the ring with a clothesline. But before he can do anything else, Raven takes advantage of the moment, hits an unseen low blow and rolls up Kane for the humungous upset. Raven quickly rolls out as Angle manages to crawl back in the ring and argue with Kane some more. Raven revels in the disintegration of the team, and therefore never sees who has jumped out of the crowd behind him in a plain black shirt and black pants, wielding a Singapore cane. Raven crumples when Tommy Dreamer swings the cane and blasts Raven in the back of the head. A few more shots for good measure put Raven out like a light and bring in the paramedics. The worst fears are confirmed when Vince comes out and shakes Tommy’s hand; the crowd immediately bursts out into a chant of “sellout”.

The tension in the next match is palpable, probably more so then any other match on the card, as Jericho is forced to take on his friend, Dean Malenko. After several minutes of chain wrestling and counters and counter-counters, the crowd gives the combatants a standing ovation. But Vince isn’t satisfied, and he comes down to the ring and commands Jericho to stop wasting time and fight. They continue, and, for another 15 minutes, the two friends keep each other on their toes, virtually trading move for move, neither man gaining an advantage. Vince watches from the sidelines, “encouraging” Jericho on by reminding him his job is at stake, and his reputation is being sullied by not taking it to Malenko as hard as he should. When Malenko scores a hurricanarana on Jericho and goes to the second turnbuckle to follow it up, Vince springs into action and grabs Malenko’s foot. Malenko tries to kick it off, and has to turn to push Vince away. Jericho comes to, stumbles over to the corner, pulls Malenko down to the mat and goes for the Walls Of Jericho. Malenko tries to reach for the ropes, but Jericho moves them both out into the middle of the ring and cinches in the hold tighter. Malenko has no choice but to quit. Exhausted, Jericho collapses to his knees, gives a thank you to the sky above, and then starts to check on his friend. The moment is broken by Vince’s voice on the microphone.

“I told you to cripple him, Jericho. Now get back to work!”

Jericho stands up and leans over the ropes, responding to Vince with a dirty gesture.

“Jericho, if you’re really as loyal to the company as you say you are, you’ll do what I damn well tell you to and break his back!”

Again, Jericho responds in the negative, this time with a clearly audible vocal vulgarity. “This is my friend,” Jericho says.

Vince gets in the ring and starts to poke Jericho in the chest. “You better do what I tell you, or else you’re gonna find yourself wrestling for hot dogs in school gymnasiums back up in Moosejaw. Now break his damn back!”

Jericho shoves Vince. Vince shoves Jericho back. Jericho grins, rears back to punch, only for Malenko to grab his hand and shake his head. Instead, the two of them start to stalk Vince. Vince panics, looking for an escape, but he knows the two men can corner him even if he gets out of the ring. Vince suddenly stops, takes off his suit jacket and puts up his fists like a bareknuckles boxer. Jericho and Malenko look at each other in disbelief … then fall victim to blindside attacks from the APA. Jericho eats a Clothesline From Hell, while Malenko is smeared with a Dominator, and both men get the leather strap-whipping treatment. Between the victory (now tying things up at 4) and the humiliation of Jericho, the night is back on track for Vince. He goes into the main event feeling confident, despite WCW’s track record for the evening in champion matches.

The Booker/Austin match doesn’t even pretend to be a showdown of two superior wrestlers or two champions; both men eschew all pretenses of a competition and sink into a wild brawl. The referees are instructed by both WWF and WCW officials to let the two have a little more rope then most, and for good reason: neither man tries very hard to adhere to the rules. Instead, their focus is on beating the other person senseless at all costs, and by the time the match has reached 20 minutes, both men have done just that, using the announce tables and even the set as weapons against one another. A Stunner by Austin is pushed off and, when Booker hits the kick to the gut and sets up the scissors kick, Austin moves out of the way and hits a Stunner, only for Booker to kick out. Moments later, Booker is able to land the axe kick, but like Austin, only gets two. This draws out a very nervous Vince, who, when the referee’s back is turned, sneaks in and nails Booker with a low blow. This only gets a two count, but is enough to bring Shane out, who attacks his father and tosses him out of the ring. Austin hits Shane with a Stunner and pushes him out onto the arena floor, but by then, the referee has seen enough and throws the whole match out. The crowd is notably upset at the non-finish, but the brawl continues down to the arena floor. Shane eventually regains consciousness and manages to incapacitate Austin with a low blow, setting up Booker to hit his scissors kick from the ring apron. The crowd gives the spot a “holy shit” chant; Booker and Shane revel in the moment, but when Shane forget about Vince, who comes to and hits both of them with a chair. Vince then grabs the WCW Championship and uses it to bust Shane open. Next, Vince fishes out a garbage can from under the ring and, after teasing it for a couple seconds, hurls the WCW Championship into it. Vince puts the can next to Shane and Booker’s prone bodies, screaming at Shane that he’s put the belt where it belongs, and that, in 24 hours, WCW will go with it into the trash for good.

And, sitting quietly in the front row, with an expression as blank as a cloudless sky, sits RVD.

Part III

Our story continues on Raw after InVasion, with both promotions at a heightened state of alert. For Raven, his old nemesis, Tommy Dreamer, has unexpectedly sold his soul and become the henchman of Vince McMahon. For Chris Jericho, he is still a wanted man by the WWF locker room. For everyone else, the previous night's stalemate is ample reason to further the hostilities. But on this evening, all eyes are on the WrestleMania rematch between Vince and Shane, and towards whatever future might come of it …

Raw: July 23rd

Streamers, confetti and balloons welcome the viewers to Raw, and usher Vince to the ring. A 10-piece marching band plays a stirring rendition of Vince’s theme music to welcome him to the ring. He basks in the glow of his fabricated moment (ignoring the boos of the crowd) for a few moments, then begins elaborating. “A lot of you are probably wondering just why Monday Night Raw looks like a party. Well, that’s because tonight, there is a party. And despite the fact that none of you pitiful Cleveland simpletons deserve it, you’re all invited!” An “asshole” chant breaks out, but Vince brushes it off. “Last night at InVasion, I showed the world, and specifically Chris Jericho and Raven, that you don’t cross the boss; in fact, both of those castoffs aren’t here tonight … I’ve sent them home, without pay, while I do my damnedest to void their contracts Last night, I showed the world that WCW’s finest are incapable of going toe-to-toe with the WWF’s best, especially their ‘champion’, Booker T, who got a championship-style ass-kicking last night. But there’s another reason to celebrate tonight. A lot of you might remember, several months back, only days before WrestleMania 17, I said that you to be a competitor, you had to be willing to grab your competition by the throat and gotta squeeze the life out of them! I did just that with WCW, and by God, tonight, I am going to do it again. Because tonight … tonight, I, Vince McMahon, will face the owner of WCW and crush him under my heel!” More hatred from the audience, and again, Vince ignores it. “But you see, beating Shane isn’t enough. No, beating him does nothing to flush out the poison he has injected into the heart of my company. Beating him will not kill WCW … not unless he is willing to put WCW on the line.”

This instantly draws out Shane, surrounded by several of his wrestlers. “You want me to put up WCW, Dad?” Shane chuckles. “Your grapefruits musta swelled up to the size of cantaloupes if you think you can beat me. You remember what happened at WrestleMania, don’t you?”

“Yeah, and it took that dirty, rotten cheating referee Mick Foley, your mother and that … that tramp Trish Stratus for you to beat me. This time, you’ll have to do it all on your own, Shane. You can’t beat me.”

“If you’re so confident you can beat me, Dad, why don’t you put up something?”

“Like what?”

“Well, you could nullify those Loyalty Agreements and let the superstars make their own decisions about who they wanna work for.”

“Unacceptable! Absolutely unaccept—”

Shane turns and starts to walk away. “Well, then I guess you don’t have anything I want …” Shane pauses, turns around, and sends Vince staggering backwards with the fiendish, Vince-like gleam in his eyes. “Except, maybe … Raw.” Vince can’t even form the words to respond, so Shane does it for him. “Yes, Dad, I’m serious. I’ll put up WCW, lock, stock and barrel; you get every contract, every property, to do with whatever you want … and you put up Raw. You win, and you own WCW. I win, and Raw becomes Nitro.”

Vince huffs and puffs for a minute as JR and Heyman try to second-guess what Vince will say. Finally, he brings up the microphone to his mouth and, with eyes closed, says; “If that’s what it takes to get you out of my life for good, it’s a deal.”

With the landmark challenge set for the main event, the rest of the show is spent with both locker rooms on pins and needles, waiting for their fates to be decided. The respective rosters are booked in matches with their own compatriots, but that doesn’t keep them from venting their frustrations and hatreds out on the competition; thusly, many matches are ruined by interference, and backstage, one ambush after another occurs.

But by the end of the night, everyone has retreated to their locker rooms to watch their fates be decided in the ring. A few wrestlers grumble about trying to sway the match in their direction, but before the match can occur, private security stations themselves around the ringside area and the stage. Vince gives the security a glare as he comes to the ring, but once the match begins, he never notices their presence. The match, a street fight like their first encounter, is a bloody slugfest, with chairs, garbage cans and everything the two can get their hands on. By the closing moments, both men are battered and beaten, barely able to stand.

So when the security suddenly converges near the stage as a group of WWF wrestlers try to break through, no one, save the audience, notices Austin come through the audience and hit a Stunner on Shane. When the security finally contains the situation and notices Austin’s incursion, he slips in between the announce tables and on his way through the crowd, giving the finger to everyone … until he bumps up against Mike Awesome, who boots Austin in the gut and powerbombs Austin through the announcer’s table. And when Vince can’t score the pinfall on Shane, he climbs out and steals a nightstick from a guard. But Shane ducks, grabs the stick and blasts his father in the head. The crowd counts along with WWF referee Earl Hebner as he makes a deliberately reluctant count that lasts a good six seconds … but hits three. Reaction shots from the locker rooms go up immediately, with WCW’s in a state of frenzied euphoria … and WWF’s one of abject astonishment (and, in the audience, Rob Van Dam, nodding in observant silence). Jim Ross bemoans what the fate of the WWF will be as Raw, both for the night and for the foreseeable future, goes off the air.

Smackdown: July 26th

With Raw no longer in the hands of the WWF, WCW forfeits their shared-time agreement on broadcast TV, leaving Smackdown the sole WWF TV outlet (but, in a poke in the eye, PPV time is still split). Nevertheless, Vince promises, in a videotaped message that leads off the show, that the company will continue to put forth the best sports entertainment available on television. And, he has two secret weapons he will unveil over the course of the evening that will not only help bring Smackdown to new heights. In fact, not only does Vince go out of his way not to mention WCW, but he acts as if nothing has changed at all.

Yet, for all his boasting, Smackdown’s contents are obviously a pointed jab directed at WCW. When Rhyno defeats Albert for the Intercontinental Title, Rhyno punctuates his win with a warning to WCW US Champ Billy Kidman that he is one IC Champ who Kidman won’t be able to steamroll. Likewise, The Dudleys pulverize Hardcore Holly & Crash, putting them through several tables apiece until paramedics have to intervene. The Undertaker goes berserk and bludgeons Big Show with an axe-handle after their match ends in a no-contest; while the paramedics come back to the ring to haul off the behemoth, Vince commends Undertaker on showing the spirit and will to win necessary to defeat WCW.

But the most surreal moment of the night comes when none other then color commentator Paul Heyman leaves the announce table and climbs into the ring. The crowd, mystified by him leaving his post, meet the former ECW owner’s arrival with silence. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he announces, “I have the honor and the privilege of welcoming to the ring a man of extreme character. A men who exemplifies honor and reliability. That man is a man you all know well … none other then former ECW World Champion, Tommy Dreamer!”

Tommy comes out to a most unfamiliar sound: a negative crowd reaction. A chant of “sell-out” pops up and catches on. From the ring, Heyman encourages Tommy to ignore the fans. “A lot of you are probably wondering what I’m doing here, introducing this fine young man. You see,” says Heyman, “not too long ago, when Vince found himself at wits end dealing with Raven, he professed he had no clue how to contain and neutralize Raven. He expressed these feelings to me, and I told him that I knew just the guy who could do to Raven what no one else could; drive him from the company. I told him that I knew a man of immeasurable character; a man with undying loyalty for his employer. And a man, above all, who hated Raven with the fiery hatred of a thousand Hells. I have brought to you fans a lot of quality entertainment over the years, but none am I more proud of then this man right here; the man who will finally give Raven what he wants after all these years: a release from the pain and torment he suffers in this mortal coil.” When the crowd responds with virulent hatred, Heyman lashes out. “Don’t you people know who this is? The Innvator Of Violence! This man drove Raven out of ECW! Raven is a pathetic, cowardly, gutless piece of crap, and Vince McMahon has given me carte blanche in getting rid of him!”

“The only thing Tommy Dreamer did was lose to me for almost 3 years,” says a voice that fills the arena. Tommy and Heyman look around in a panic, until the shadowed visage of Raven appears on the TitanTron. “What I did to Tommy Dreamer in ECW was beyond unspeakable, Heyman. What I’ve done to all my opponents has been the stuff nightmares are made of. But the one thing nobody will ever take away from me is that I was able to keep Tommy Dreamer at arm’s length for almost 3 years. Tommy Dreamer can’t stop me, Paul Heyman. Nor can you, nor Vince McMahon. A raven is a bird, free to fly as high and as far as it wants … and like the bird, Raven the man is free to come and go as he pleases. Every organization I’ve been in, I’ve been mistreated and kicked around and cast down. WWF gave me a croquet mallet and a Panama hat; WCW fed me to Goldberg and stuck me with a couple of idiot clown rappers; ECW threw me in barbed-wire deathmatches and caused enough physical scars to match the ones in my mind. No more, Paul. Send Tommy after me, Paul. Send whomever you can find. You won’t do any better then Vince can in breaking me. Quoth the Raven, nevermore.”

Raven’s declaration of strength isn’t enough to damper Vince’s spirit, though, and, after Austin successfully defends his WWF Title against Test, he greets his champion with some good news. “Steve, first of all, congratulations on another successful title defense. You are truly an embodiment of what it takes to be a champion.” Vince gives Austin a clap on the shoulder. “But you don’t have to go it alone anymore. Earlier, I’m sure you saw Paul Heyman and Tommy Dreamer come out and discuss some issues. But I have two more surprises in store for you, Austin.”

Austin, still breathing heavy from his match, says; “I hope it’s a match against that piece of crap Mike Awesome.”

“No, no, Austin. Better then that. I contacted his people earlier today, and next week, I can assure you that right here on Smackdown, you will have another champion-caliber athlete standing side by side with you against this WCW invasion … I have lifted the suspension on The Rock!”

The crowd explodes at the mention of the long-missing People’s Champ; likewise, the announcers come unglued at the mention of Rocky’s return. Austin’s reaction, however, isn’t quite as appreciative. “You tryin’ to tell Stone Cold something, Vince?” He thumps Vince on the chest. “You tryin’ to tell Stone Cold that he can’t get the job done? That he needs that gum-flappin’ punk The Rock to pull his ass outta the fire?”

“I just—“

“Blah, blah, blah, you’re an idiot! Do you know who I am? My name is Stone Cold Steve Austin. I am the World Wrestling Federation Champion. I beat that piece of crap Rock so bad, you had to suspend him for his safety. And I beat him for this belt I got. You think I wanna sit here and trade tags and drink tea with some guy who I hate?”

“Well, like it or not, Steve, The Rock is coming back, and he’s doing so next Thursday.”

“Well, you better just keep him outta my way, Vince, or else—“

Vince gets right in Austin’s face, his eyes almost leaping out of their sockets. “If you wanna sabotage the WWF, Steve, go right ahead. See how long you stay employed.”

Steve gestures to himself and Vince. “You and me, we’re gonna have to talk about this later.”

But Vince is already backed off and moving on. “Well, maybe the second surprise will go over a little better. To help this company in it’s fight to eliminate the threat against us, I have brought back someone else … someone who, at one time, had this company trembling under an iron fist. Ladies and gentlemen, the newest lieutenant under the WWF banner … my daughter, Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley!”

Vince has to re-introduce Stephanie twice more before she finally comes out. When she does, she doesn’t look up, and, in fact, looks haggard and worn out. When she gets to the ring, she can barely meet her father in the eye. “I’ve been up every morning at the crack of dawn,” she says, “helping my husband, Triple H, through rehabilitation for his torn quad. Have you called to check on your son-in-law even once, Daddy? Or can you even be distracted long enough from your obsession with killing WCW to remember what goes on the real world?”

“Honey, I—“

“Save it, Daddy. I only came here because you asked me to. I’m not helping you.”

Vince’s eyes go wide; his Adam’s apple rises and falls almost absurdly. “W-w-w-what are you saying, Stephanie?” His lip curls; anger floods his eyes. His voice goes into a predatory growl. “You’re not helping Shane, are you?”

“No, Daddy. I don’t care about any of this. The wrestling industry has broken up my parents’ marriage, it’s ruined the relationships between you and your children, and it’s almost crippled my husband. I want no part of it anymore.” Stephanie takes a deep breath, closes her eyes and says; “Yesterday, I sold my interest in the World Wrestling Federation. I’m retiring from the company to spend time with my husband, who, hopefully, has enough good sense to stay as far away from you as he possibly can. You won’t ever see me again on this, or any other WWF show.” Stephanie drops the microphone and walks out, leaving her shell-shocked father behind.

Nitro: July 30th

The first Nitro in 4 months opens, not with a grandiose fireworks display, but of a video montage: legends and icons of WCW and its predecessor, the NWA, shown in their finest moments. Ric Flair, Terry Funk, Harley Race and Sting are but a few of the faces shown, before the footage dissolves to a shot of the arena in which Nitro will be held; the stage and ring are set-up, but the seats are empty. The only person in the arena is standing in ring: it is Shane.

"I am Shane McMahon," he begins, "owner and CEO of World Championship Wrestling. Tonight marks the beginning of a new era for WCW; not just a return, or a rebirth, but a re-establishment. Tonight, WCW and Nitro will both begin anew and pick up where it left off, building on the foundation of wrestling that this company has prided itself on for years. This is a company rich with history and success despite overwhelming odds against it … and, just like it did for over a decade, it will succeed without the presence of a McMahon. The WCW that I am proud to present to you today will not live and die by my appearance on your television screens; WCW is about wrestling and wrestlers, not owners and executives. WCW is about presenting the best wrestling you can find each and every week … and you don't need to see me every week for that. So, ladies and gentlemen—or, should I say, wrestling fans—sit back, relax, and allow me to be the first to welcome you back to WCW Monday Nitro!"

With that, the empty arena fades away and is replaced by a live shot of the sold-out arena, with the new set engulfed in fireworks and explosions. Scott Hudson and Mike Tenay welcome the TV audience to the brand new Nitro, while Commissioner Arn Anderson welcomes the crowd with promises of a night never to forget; every title will be on the line, which is only the tip of the iceberg for WCW’s new era, he promises.

But first is a blockbuster announcement from none other then free agent Rob Van Dam; he announces his intention, worked out through his agent, to wrestle in both federations on a trial basis, testing the competition on both sides; and, for his first test in WCW, he is put in a non-title match against WCW Cruiserweight Champion Shane Helms. Helms puts up a valiant fight, but goes down to the hot young free agent’s Five Star Frog Splash. When asked, following the match, on his feelings towards the level of competition in WCW so far, RVD can only shrug confidently.

As the night goes on, WCW’s new foundation continues to be established, as the Natural Born Thrillers faction reunite and take out Kronik; DDP squares off with old foe Chris Kanyon in a wild brawl that ends up being thrown out when the fighting takes both men out of the arena and into the parking lot; and Dean Malenko bests Chavo Guerrero Jr.

But the specter of the WWF and their psychotic campaign of extermination can’t be forgotten, no matter how many times the announcers insist this is a “new era”, especially when Mike Awesome, after beating Lance Storm in a physical match-up, demands of Commissioner Anderson that he make a match with WWF Champion Steve Austin. The crowd loves the idea of WCW’s resident monster gunning for the WWF’s point man, but Arn insists that there will be no more hostilities. The news doesn’t suit Awesome very well, who upends furniture and wrecks the locker room in frustration.

But even more perplexing are the events that go down during a match between Shannon Moore and Mike Sanders. An eerie sense of déjà vu settles over the crowd as the match as two men come through the crowd and invade the ring. But, unlike Scott Hall’s invasion of a WCW ring six years prior, Moore and Sanders just leave quietly; Moore even tosses a microphone up to the interlopers on his way out. The crowd is in silent shock, but hanging on the edge of their seats as Chris Jericho and Raven survey their surroundings.

“For those of you who don’t watch that other company, this is Raven, and I’m Chris Jericho,” says Jericho to a rousing ovation. “And we are WWF superstars.” The crowd boos the mere mention of the competition; Jericho asks the audience to quiet down, and then adds; “Or, should I say … we were WWF superstars. I don’t know anymore, because I’m not allowed on WWF television anymore, by executive order from Vince McMahon. That’s right, me, Chris Jericho, one the greatest entertainers in the history of this business, one of the most popular superstars he has, has been banned from appearing on WWF television.” Jericho turns to his companion. “Raven here is so despised by Vince for not signing one of those stupid contracts, Vince gave Paul Heyman permission to bring in Raven’s greatest enemy, Tommy Dreamer, to torment and persecute him. They say Vince McMahon is a genius; yet, here he has two loyal employees, and he torments and tortures them because we happened to work for WCW once upon a time. We’ve said it, and we’ve shown it time and time again that we would never … ever … dream of jumping to WCW; there’s a reason we left it, and no matter who owns it now, WCW is in our past. But that’s not good enough for Vince McMahon. No, he wants us to cripple people. He wants us to end careers and destroy families. The WWF may be about wrestling and competition, but it is not about hurting people. Not like that.”

Jericho shakes his head, handing the microphone to Raven without even looking. While Raven speaks, Jericho stands in the corner, his head down on the turnbuckle. “Vince McMahon! You want to cast us into perdition? You want to torture us, and drive us to the edge of sanity? You have no concept of what real suffering is. Send your hired guns to bring us down; use your power to keep us from the ring. We will fight back, Vince McMahon. We will resist your every move, counter your attacks, stand in the face of every adversity. And when we storm the gates of your ivory tower, and bring you down to the depths of hell which you have driven us to … when we have torn from your hands the power you wield over your minions … then, you will be ready to learn what true suffering is. And Paul Heyman! You think bringing in Tommy Dreamer is going to scare me? You think sending someone I beat senseless for three years is going to put the fear of God in me? You never understood me in ECW, Heyman, and you sure as hell don’t now! Come at us with everything you have, Vince McMahon. Resistence is futile! Quoth the Raven … nevermore!”

Smackdown: August 2nd

No sooner as Smackdown started then the music of The Rock fills the arena, sending the people into a frenzy. The Rock, missing since early April, steps out onto the stage to a standing ovartion. He enters the ring, a microphone in hand and is about to speak when another voice cuts him off.

“Finally!” exclaims Vince. “The Rock has come back home!”

The Rock’s head snaps towards the stage as the Chairman comes out, a clipboard in one hand and a microphone in the other, marching proudly to the ring. When he tucks the clipboard under his arm and offers Rock a hand, Rock gives it a quick glance, then stares at Vince through his sunglasses. Vince, unperturbed, continues on as though nothing happened. “Rock, let me be the first to welcome you back to the WWF, and say that, speaking for everyone in the company, we missed you!”

The People’s Eyebrow goes up to full arch. When he speaks, his voice is low, almost creepy. “You stab The Rock in the back not one but two WrestleManias in a row. You suspend The Rock indefinitely, and when The Rock comes back, you steal The Rock’s catchphrase. So exactly how did you miss The Rock? Go ahead, explain that.” Vince opens his mouth to explain but gets cut off with; “IT DOESN’T MATTER HOW YOU EXPLAIN IT!Because the fact of the matter is The Rock doesn’t give a monkey’s anus about you or your stupid contract there! Oh yeah, The Rock’s been watching, The Rock knows what’s going down. Got yourself all worked up about WCW. Lost a couple matches at a pay-per-view. And now you think The Rock can help your company from going under, is that right?” Vince, mouth agape, barely has time to nod before Rock keeps up his stream of words. “Well, let The Rock make one thing perfectly clear, crystal clear: The Rock came back for the people.” The crowd starts to chant his name, but Rocky silences them with a gesture. “The Rock doesn’t care about WWF or WCW. When The Rock looks across the ring at his opponent, The Rock doesn’t care if it’s Steve Austin, Diamond Dallas Page, Rhyno, Lou Thesz, the ghost of Frank Gotch, The Gobbleygooker or yo momma, because in The Rock’s eyes, everybody is just another jabroni. ” The Rock extends a hand, which Vince tentatively accepts; he tries shaking it, but Rock’s grip is crushing. “And you’re the biggest jabroni of ’em all,” says Rock, then reels in Vince and drives him down with a Rock Bottom, to the ecstatic delight of the audience.

Despite Rocky’s attack on his boss, Vince still makes sure that The Rock is delivered the documents he had brought to the ring: a copy of the Declaration Of Loyalty agreement, and an authorization form for Vince to challenge, on Rock’s behalf, Booker T. The Rock mulls them over as the show continues, ignoring the urgings from his WWF brethren to sign the documents without due consideration.

But Vince earns himself another headache (this one not physically inflicted) when Big Show vents his frustration about Undertaker’s senseless attack, and Vince’s endorsement of it as “taking initiative”. Show demands a match against Undertaker, with a World Title shot available to the winner. Vince rejects the demand, stating that Undertaker is busy facing Albert. Show’s response is to crash the Albert/UT match, laying out both men with a chair, and choke-slamming Undertaker through the announce table. The outburst earns Show a hardcore match against Vince’s “hardcore assassin”, Tommy Dreamer later on in the evening. Tommy batters Show with everything he can get his hands on, but Show’s size and strength help him mount a comeback; the comeback is all the more assisted by Raven coming through the crowd and blasting Dreamer in the head with a Singapore cane. But Show and Raven are waylayed by reinforcements in the form of The Dudleys and Rhyno, and Dreamer ends up getting the win. Authorities have to insert themselves so Raven and Big Show can get medical attention.

Even RVD’s first WWF tryout match (against Jerry Lynn) has a dark cloud hanging over it, thanks to the presence of Paul Heyman at ringside. The match, like their previous ECW encounters, delivers the goods, and sees RVD pinning Lynn after a 5 Star Frog Splash. No sooner has the bell rung then Heyman is in the ring, blowing smoke up RVD’s ass. “Ladies and gentlemen, it is my privilege to present to you my latest acquisition: Mr. Thursday Night, Rob Van Dam!” he bellows as he raises RVD’s arm. RVD tears his arm away, shaking his head. “Whatya mean, Rob? You’re here, on Smackdown! You’re on the team!”

RVD, though winded, manages to get out; “Nuh-uh, man. This is an exhibition. I ain’t making my decision till the week after SummerSlam.” RVD leaves the ring, leaving behind a speechless Heyman.

The Rock comes out for the final segment, the documents nowhere to be seen. “The Rock’s been backstage thinkin’,” he says, “and if there’s one thing The Rock likes being, is the World Champion. And there’s no doubt in The Rock’s mind, not a damn doubt in the world, that The Rock could take that belt off of Booker T, The Rock is still pissed about Stone Cold. Ya see—”

Vince’s music cuts off The Rock. Vince stomps down to the ring, but when Rocky fakes lunging for him, Vince backs off a little, obviously scared. “Rocky, I just came down here for one reason: do you have the Loyalty Statement?”

Rock raises the eyebrow. “You came down and interrupted The Rock for some stupid piece of paper? Well, let The Rock tell you something; The Rock says you need to go to the bathroom … since you obviously don’t have any balls, perhaps you should go to the little girl’s room …” The crowd eats this up and chants “you’re a woman” for a few seconds until Rock gets them to calm down. “The Rock says you should go to the bathroom, roll yourself up a couple feet of Charmin, and since that’s what your stupid contract is worth anyway, you might as well stick it straight up your candy ass!” This gets the rowdy crowd chanting for Rocky; Rocky lets them have their moment. “As for your little idea about me facing Booker T … The Rock don’t need Vince to talk for him. The Rock can do the talking just fine. In fact, The Rock says he’s not just gonna talk, but he’s gonna go to Nitro next Monday and layeth the smacketh down on all their candy asses!” Rock extends a hand; this time, Vince won’t take it. “C’mon, Vince. The Rock promises: no Rock Bottoms.” Vince measures the moment a bit further before finally taking Rock’s hand ever so lightly. Rock shakes it a couple of times, smiling like a car salesman, then pulls in Vince real close, his voice a low, earthy growl. “But let The Rock make one thing clear: The Rock still wants a piece of that beer-drinking, knuckle-dragging, cousin-kissing, trailer park piece of crap Steve Austin, and after The Rock is through with Booker T, The Rock will get a piece of Steve Austin. Do you understand The Rock?”

The glass breaks, and Austin marches down. When he passes by Rocky on the way to the turnbuckle for his pose, he makes sure to hold up the belt in Rock’s face, mouthing it’s mine as clear as day. Once he’s finished with his pose (met with deep-seated hatred), Austin gets right in Rock’s face … with a cheesy grin. “Welcome back, Rock! Good to see ya!” He gives Rock a hug, which Rock responds to be standing as still as a statue. “C’mon, big guy! Let bygones be bygones! So I hit ya with a steel chair, so what? So Triple H hit you in the head with a sledgehammer, big deal! That’s the past, and now, The Rock is back, ready to go into WCW and take on that piece of trash Booker T! Now, I don’t know if you know, but I been lookin’ to get my hands on Mike Awesome, so maybe, when we’re at Nitro together, we’ll—”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” The Rock yells. “What is this … ‘we’ stuff? There is no ‘we’. There is The Rock, going to Nitro.” Rock gets up alongside Austin, putting an arm around his shoulder, pointing off into the distance. “See that? See that, Austin? There’s The Rock! He’s gettin’ in his Lincoln … The Rock’s drivin’ to whatever jabroni junior high gymnasium Nitro is at next week. Look, there’s The Rock, gettin’ out of the car, looking fine in his $500 shirt … and there he goes, into that rat-infested gym, to their ring and laying the challenge down to Booker T!” Rock gets real close now, almost whispering. “Do you see all that, Stone Cold?”

Austin nods.

“You know what you don’t see?”

Austin shakes his head.

You don’t see your monkey ass anywhere near there!

Austin backs away, looking shell-shocked, and more then a little hurt. “Why, Rocky … you can’t mean that. We’re WWF, Rock. We’re a team!” Austin goes to hug Rock again, but Rock puts up an open palm.

“You hug The Rock again, and The Rock will guaran-damn-tee you’ll be taking your Steveweisers through an IV.”

Now, Austin’s face darkens. “But you need my help, Rock. If you couldn’t beat me at WrestleMania, how you think you’re gonna beat WCW?”

“Let’s get one thing straight, Austin. The Rock doesn’t need your help; The Rock doesn’t need anybody’s help.” The Rock takes of his sunglasses, squinting his eyes to narrow slits, speaking through clinched teeth. “And most of all, I don’t want your help.

Nitro: August 6th

No mention of the impending arrival of The Rock is made as Nitro signs on for their second episode. There is no reserved parking space for his limo, no private dressing room, and no red carpet. But, in light of the previous week’s surprise appearence of Chris Jericho and Raven, the presence of a WWF superstar on Nitro (peaceful or otherwise) underscores a truth that WCW can’t turn away from: even after establishing a separate show, the war isn’t over yet.

RVD’s second tryout match, this time against Mike Sanders, ends in DQ, thanks to the interference of the Natural Born Thrillers. RVD is left laying on the mat a beaten man as Sanders berates RVD for sitting on the fence, and serves warning for anyone who isn’t WCW through and through is a target for elimination.

The severity of the NBT’s actions against RVD underscores a striking reality: unlike WCW’s administration, the WCW superstars aren’t going to stick their head in the sand to the persistent threat of war that exists between companies. And it is none other than the first WWF turncoat, Dean Malenko, who throws down the gauntlet; after taking the Cruiserweight Title from Shane Helms in a classic WCW cruiserweight match, Malenko issues a very aggressive challenge to X-Pac, offering up his Cruiserweight Title as bait.

Malenko’s challenge acts sets off a chain reaction of wrestlers serving up challenges to the WWF, a bold step away from the policy of peaceful co-existence preached by the WCW brass. Arn is quick to confront Malenko about his offering up WCW titles in inter-promotional matches without WCW’s sanction, not to mention how this shot across the bow can’t even be legitimized without serious negotiations between the rival companies. But despite Arn’s attempts at containment, the floodgates open, and soon enough, challenges are being thrown out faster then Arn can keep track of: Kidman follows Malenko and offers his US Title against Edge’s IC Title, DDP challenges Kurt Angle, Kronik challenge The Dudleys, O’Haire & Palumbo challenge The APA, and Chris Kanyon challenges Rhyno. The rash of challenges being thrown out prompts Arn to made a hasty address to the fans and the wrestlers that the challenges cannot be sanctioned or supported by WCW until and unless the WWF agrees to another inter-promotional event. The stonewalling by Arn sets everyone on edge, and the matches that follow look more like Ultimate Fighting matches then wrestling bouts.

So when The Rock finally shows up, not only does he not get any sort of preferential treatment, but the WCW superstars go out of their way to show their disdain for him and, by extension, his company. When he comes to the ring for his appearance, he gets no music, and the fans greet him with a stony silence that visibly unnerves The Rock. “Is this the kind of greeting you give to the most electrifying man in sports entertainment?” The crowd responds, not with cheers but boos; The Rock surveys the crowd and, when it becomes apparent there won’t be any “Rocky” chants tonight, he takes off his sunglasses and says; “Then The Rock says let’s make this short and sweet. The Rock wants Booker T.”

Booker’s music cues up, sending the partisan crowd into a fervor, but Booker doesn’t come out alone; standing next to the well-dressed champion are Mike Awesome, DDP and the Tag Champs, O’Haire & Palumbo. As the group enters the ring, The Rock starts in with the quips; “Nice shirt. You pick it out of The Rock’s trash?” Booker grins and even chuckles, but it’s quite obviously a humorless chuckle. “The Rock’s gonna make this quick, jabroni. The Rock’s seen your act, and while The Rock appreciates the flattery, it’s gone on long enough. There can be only one–just one–People’s Champion, and that’s–“

Booker puts up a hand in Rock’s face; Rock’s eyes bug out of his head, but Booker is as cool as an autumn evening. “You said you were gonna make it quick, Rock, so make it quick and say what you got to say?” The Rock opens his mouth, but Booker is right there to cut him off. “It doesn’t matter what you got to say!” The crowd goes nuts for Booker feeding Rocky’s lines back at him; Rocky, however, doesn’t take as kindly to it and glares a hole through Booker. “You forgettin’ where you are, Rock? You’re onNitro, not Smackdown. This ain’t your show, Rocky; this is myshow. Here …” Booker points a finger right in the face of Rock. “Here, you be the jabroni.” Booker pats the belt resting on his shoulder. “You want this? You want some of Booker T and WCW? What’s WCW get out of me facing you?”

“Does The Rock look like a deal-maker to you, Booker? Does The Rock look like Vince McMahon?”

“I can make that deal,” says another voice, a husky, southern growl. Everyone turns to the aisle to see Steve Austin coming to the ring. He stops when he gets to the ringside area, eyes locked on Mike Awesome. “Oh, yeah, son, I see you want a piece of Stone Cold. Why, if I didn’t have a couple beers on the way here, I’d come up there, stomp a mudhole in your ass and walk it dry.”

“Didn’t The Rock make it clear your monkey ass was to stay on Smackdown? The Rock doesn’t need your help, and The Rock doesn’t want your help.”

“Rocky, old buddy! I just came here to back you up. You’re here all alone, in WCW, with no friends, pissing people off with your big mouth like you always do … I knew you’d need a little back-up.” Suddenly, all the cheer drains out of Austin’s face; his eyes go as flat and emotionless as marbles. “And that’s what we’re here for.”

Before anyone has time to run back what he said, the “we”—namely, The Dudleys, Rhyno, Tazz, X-Factor, The Undertaker and the APA—-swarm from the crowd and over-run the ring, catching the distracted WCW stars off-guard. Rock is shoved out of the way as the WWF stars invade the ring; Booker tries to lead his me, but the numbers game quickly asserts itself, and WCW can’t compete. When WCW sends out troops from the locker room, more WWF stars—Tajiri, Jerry Lynn, The Hardy Boys, Big Show and William Regal—jump into the aisle, armed with ballbats, forming a barricade in the aisle. WCW’s forces stop dead in their tracks, unable to compete with the numbers and their armaments …

… until Big Show swings and clobbers Regal in the back. The rest of the WWF forces in the aisle are caught in a momentary fugue, staring at the seething giant. Show rips the bat out of Jeff Hardy’s hands and snaps it over his knee; it breaks WCW’s reverie, and they pounce on the distracted WWF forces, leaving Show to turn his attentions to the ring. Show uses his bat to clear out X-Factor, the APA and Tazz before the rest of the WWF wrestlers realize the tables have turned. The break gives Booker and his cohorts a chance to regroup and strike back. Show makes a beeline for Undertaker, who bolts from the ring and into the crowd; Show follows Undertaker into the crowd, leaving the war behind in the ring, where WCW manages to make a comeback and drive the WWF forces from the ring. Austin, having showed his true colors and staying out of the fray, ducks into the crowd as well, glaring at Awesome from behind the barricade. The Rock, having been shoved out of the way and down to the floor, stares at his nemesis, Booker T, who mouths a simple two word response: it’s on.

Smackdown: August 9th

What everyone expects from the WWF—a triumphant video package boasting about their invasion of Nitro—doesn’t open up Smackdown. Instead, videotape shot outside the arena from earlier leads off the broadcast, as wrestlers arrive to the arena, only to find locked doors. “This was the scene as the WWF’s wrestlers showed up to work today,” says the commentator with a detectible amount of malicious glee. Scott Hudson’s evil smile is almost infectious to look at, and his happiness is visibly uncontainable. “That’s right, folks. The WWF’s locked out of their own show, and Vince McMahon is locked in! This is WCW, striking back!”

Vince stomps down to the ring (sans entrance music or a video, thanks to the truck being hijacked) and makes a beeline for Scott Hudson and Mike Tenay, sitting in the seats normally reserved for JR and Paul Heyman. Vince berates the announcers, who take it with cat-who-swallowed-the-canary grins on their faces. When Vince demands to know what is going on, Hudson and Tenay point behind Vince, who turns and freezes. On the stage is WCW’s entire roster, including their newest acquisition, The Big Show, led by Arn to the ring. Vince grabs a mike and dashes into the ring, screaming and stomping like a 7-year old throwing a tantrum. “THIS ISN’T YOUR SHOW! YOU CAN’T DO THIS TO ME! I’M VINCE MCMAHON, DAMMIT! I AM WRESTLING!

Booker fakes lunging at Vince; Vince skitters back, but loses his footing and falls on his ass. Several WCW wrestlers start laughing. Vince glares at all of them. “I will bury you!” He pounds the mat, repeating his threat over and over. Then, he fixes his gaze on Show, stabbing a finger at him and says through clinched teeth; “Especially you, you ingrate. I will ruin your career. I will have you tied up in court for so long, your children’s children will be bankrupt because of you. You’ll wish you were dead!”

Arn reaches into his jacket and pulls out a small manila envelope, and tosses it at Vince. “Read this, Vince.” Vince looks at it a moment, as if it were a snake that might jump up and bite him. “But I can save you the trouble. No one understands that a man has to do what he has to do to protect his more then me, Vince. For over a decade, I protected the interests of the 4 Horsemen and the ideals we held dear. We did just about every bad thing known to man or beast … but the one thing we didn’t do was break the law.” Vince’s eyes grow to dinner plates. Arn hunkers down to Vince’s eye level and holds up two fingers. “First, you sent your thugs into Nitro to attack WCW wrestlers at a WCW event. Your wrestlers are not contracted by WCW. Not only were they trespassing, but that’s assault. We could turn SummerSlam into a WCW event if we really wanted to, Vince, but we aren’t like that. We like the competition; it’s you that has a problem with anyone else trying to exist in this business. That’s why you made everyone sign those little agreements … and that was your second mistake, Vince. You made a unilateral decision and created those contracts without bothering to run it by the board for approval, or see if the language is even legal.” Arn stands up, looking down on Vince, who is as white as a ghost; his jaw keeps moving up and down as if to talk, but nothing comes out. “You can’t touch Big Show, Vince. You can’t keep anybody from exploring their options. Anybody who wants to escape your tyranny is more then welcome, and legally free, to check out their options in WCW … especially if you insist on persecuting them.”

Arn backs away, letting Booker, Awesome and Show step forward. Show grabs Vince by the lapels and hauls him to his feet. Show brushes off Vince’s jacket, which Vince watches in stupid silence, then stares down at his former boss with the rage of gods in his eyes. Standing next to him are Awesome and Booker. Booker talks while Show continues to keep Vince backed up against the ropes. “You done finally pushed us too far, Vince,” Booker says. “You wanna go to war with WCW? Well, we wanna war with you! WCW is ready to put you on your ass, sucka! Now can you dig that?”

Awesome looms in closer and adds; “You wanna send your boys to Nitro to challenge us? We’re here to accept your challenge, Vince! We ain’t hiding from you, dammit! We’re here to tell you it’s on!”

Show gets right in Vince’s face, nosetips touching. “And I want The Undertaker, Vince!” Show backs away a step, then gives his signal for the chokeslam and bellows like an angry dragon. Everyone steps back, leaving Vince quivering against the ropes … until Booker jumps back in his face and adds; “SUCKA!” With that, WCW peacefully leave the ring and the arena.

With WCW gone, and the WWF wrestlers finally allowed in the building, the show resumes, albeit with a different air: with virtually no spare time, many matches are held in street clothes and sneakers, and more resemble street fights then wrestling matches.

And, with Vince seething about the “violation” of his sanctity, his own wrestlers not only suffer in terms of performance, but all around; Kurt Angle is forced to wrestle both Albert and Edge in separate matches, when Edge’s original opponent, Jeff Hardy, isn’t ready to perform; the delay by Jeff nets him a week suspension and a fine. Crash Holly has to deal with a livid Undertaker, who beats him mercilessly; when he gets backstage, Vince chews him out for not putting up much of a fight, and books him in a hardcore match against Tommy Dreamer.

The match surprises no one, and is little more then a sanctioned mugging (and a not-so-subtle message directed at Raven), with Crash being busted open with a Singapore cane, and abused with every implement Dreamer can get his hands on. When the referee calls the match for excessive brutality and signals for paramedics, Dreamer assaults the referee and the medics, then continues beating on Crash while Heyman cheers his client on from ringside. Raven comes through the crowd and, after clobbering Heyman, waffles Dreamer with a chair. But the advantage evaporates when The Dudleys, Tazz and Tajiri rush down to the ring and help decimate Raven. Before Dreamer and his cohorts allow Raven and Crash to be taken away, Raven takes multiple shots with weaponry, finishing moves and, in a graphic display of savagery, a 3D through a table covered in thumbtacks.

But, despite the charge that everyone gets from seeing Raven get a good beating, Vince’s bruised ego takes its toll on the roster. When Rock finally arrives, he and Vince get into a heated argument over the “reinforcements” on Monday and how foolish it made The Rock look; Vince accuses The Rock of cozying up to the competition, and warns him that pushing the issue will earn him a seat on the outside looking in next to Jericho. The Rock reminds Vince that he is WWF through and through, and intends on bringing the WCW Title to the WWF … unless he keeps taking out his shortcomings as a leader on everyone else. When word catches of the argument, the locker room becomes a minefield of a two sets of polarized zealots: a group loyal to Vince, no matter what, and a group seeing cracks in the great “genius” of professional wrestling. The division is illustrated all the better by the main event, pitting the unlikely team of Stone Cold and The Rock against the lunatic Dudley Boys; within minutes, Austin and The Rock are at each other’s throats, yelling, screaming and, eventually, brawling, leaving The Dudleys’ Tag Titles intact through a no-contest, and the WWF fragmenting from the top down, only a week before the biggest event in the company’s history.

Nitro: August 13th

The feeling on Nitro as it opens up the final edition before the big inter-promotional collision at SummerSlam isn’t one of trepidation or nervousness, but of excitement and happiness. Any worries about the future of WCW and its World Title seem insignificant and even silly as Nitro gets underway. And when RVD comes to the ring and issues a challenge to both Billy Kidman and Edge in their title-for-title match, upping the stakes to a ladder match and even promises to deliver a decision after SummerSlam as to where he will sign. The fact that the announcement is made on Nitro is, in the minds of WCW, evidence that RVD is bound for WCW.

But the surprise arrival of Chris Jericho serves to remind everyone of what is at stake in the inter-promotional war: the integrity and future of not only a company, but of the wrestlers under the respective banners. This time, he comes down the aisle, not an invader but a guest. Yet, his discomfort is obvious as he paces back and forth in the ring, running his free hand through his hair.

“Ya know,” he begins, “I didn’t really wanna be here tonight, but since Vince still won’t allow me on WWF TV, I got nowhere to go. I’m not out here to cut a promo or anything like that; I’m not out here as Y2J, talking to Mr. McMahon. This is real life. Vince McMahon has become obsessed with destroying anything that gets in the way of his ‘one world’ vision. If that means people loses their jobs, their companies, their homes, he doesn’t care. And above all, Vince McMahon would rather die then be wrong; he lost Dean Malenko, and he lost Big Show because of his tunnel vision. And he banned me from WWF television; Chris Jericho, the man he tapped as the next Shawn Michaels. The man he said WCW squandered.” Jericho leans on the ropes, looking at the camera with eyes as cold as polar winds. “But I know how to play head games, too, Vince. I know how to work the system. You may have your locker room convinced I’m the biggest traitor since Judas, but the fans know different. And lemme tell ya something, Vince: the board of directors knows it. They know Chris Jericho is huge with the fans; they know I sell t-shirts, and video games, and toys, and most importantly, I sell tickets and pay-per-views.” Jericho starts pacing again, but his discomfort is gone; he talks with his hands, and the Jericho cockiness comes back in voice. “And when I told them that I was available for SummerSlam and not on the card, they were confused, Vince. And angry; real angry. Because, ladies and gentlemen, the board of directors of the World Wrestling Federation had been led to believe that I was injured, and would be out indefinitely.” Jericho pauses to let the tidbit sink in (which does so with an audible gasp among arena full of fans). “Let me repeat that, because I think it’s kinda important: Vince McMahon lied to the board of directors about the health of one of his most popular competitors because of a personal vendetta, based on unproven, and improvable, accusations. So, after I helped peel the members of the board off the ceiling, they had a quick little meeting and offered me a couple things: they would lift the ban on my appearing on WWF television, and, since SummerSlam was kinda full on matches, they’d … well, I before I go letting the cat out of the bag, I wanna do the right thing. So, if I could have the company of Arn Anderson?”

The old Horsemen music cues up, and Arn comes out after a few seconds. Jericho and Arn shake hands and exchange a few pleasantries before Jericho lays forth his offer. “Arn, I called you out here because I respect you, and I want to present this to you man-to-man. I, along with Raven, have both been offered spots refereeing the co-main events at SummerSlam. I want to know from you: do you, WCW, have a problem with me officiating the Rock/Booker match, and Raven officiating the Austin/Awesome match.”

Arn doesn’t hesitate for a second. “Chris, I’ve known you for more then a few years. I know you’re a stand-up guy. If you say you and Raven can call this down the middle, I believe it.” Arn and Jericho shake hands again, sealing the deal. Jericho’s feet haven’t even hit the arena floor before the announcers ask the question: can Jericho and Raven be trusted?

But any skepticism of Jericho’s and Raven’s reliability isn’t to blame for killing the mood on Nitro; the incursion of WWF wrestlers does, this time as paying audience members. Unlike their previous invasions, this one is strictly, and unusually, peaceful, aside from heckling and holding up signage. By the time the main event—a non-title match between Booker T and Mike Awesome—comes around, the WCW roster has more then had enough of the heckling, and Booker & Awesome confront the WWF contingent. Austin splashes beer in the face of the already agitated Awesome, triggering a melee. When the cops finally get everyone separated, Austin is being led away in handcuffs, half the WCW locker room is acting as a human shield to keep Awesome from going after Austin, and the rest of the WWF group laughs and snickers as they leave Nitro.

Smackdown: August 16th

With only 3 days until SummerSlam, and massive heat on him for his litany of misteps, Vince addresses the fans and the employees of the WWF and, in the process, makes a series of major announcements: firstly, he announces that Smackdown will be headlined by two main events, being the return of Chris Jericho to take on The Rock, and, in a hardcore match, Raven versus Tommy Dreamer.

But the biggest announcement comes in the form of Vince declaring that he will not be present at SummerSlam due to important corporate issues that require his full attention, and will allow Paul Heyman to act as his lieutenant not only at the event, but starting immediately. Vince brings out Heyman, who vows to continue developing a strong contingent of wrestlers to combat the evil at their door, and crush anyone who stands in the way.

The Dreamer/Raven match starts out as yet another chapter in Tommy Dreamer’s campaign to eliminate and humiliate Raven, when The Dudleys and Tazz beat on Raven as he makes his way to the ring. The weakened Raven is easy pickings for Dreamer, who drags out a legalized mugging. But Dreamer’s confidence turns to laziness, and, as he tries to cover with a foot on his chest, Raven grabs a cane laying nearby and bashes Dreamer in the crotch. Raven manages to DDT Dreamer and get a pinfall, then high-tails it out of the ring area as Dreamer’s friends race down to ringside.

By contrast, the Jericho/Rock affair is more sedate in terms of violence, but with animosity between the two going into Sunday, the tension is as thick as a brick. Jericho holds nothing back, unleashing every move in his arsenal against The People’s Champ. But Rock is tentative, as if calculating not only the move, but the ramifications of it. With his pragmatic stance, it doesn’t take long for Rock to be on the defensive end of things. But Jericho’s advantage evaporates when Austin stomps to the ring, cussing up a storm about the “damned jackass traitor” and brandishing a chair; while Rock is on the floor, and Jericho is distracted with the referee, Austin bashes Jericho in the head, drawing a DQ. Rock doesn’t take kindly to Austin’s interference, and stops Austin from continuing to beat on Jericho. The two argue over Austin insinuating himself in business that isn’t his, with Austin insisting he’s helping out a “friend” who’s being threatened by “WCW trash”; Rock rips the chair out of Austin’s hands and moves to toss it away when Jericho wakes up and sees the chair in Rock’s hands. When Austin tries to hold Jericho back, Jericho decks Austin and goes after The Rock, only to be waylayed by Austin. The two brawl until Austin tries a Stunner; Jericho catches the leg, sweeps Austin off his feet and puts him in the Walls Of Jericho, torquing the surgically repaired spine of Austin in directions it wasn’t meant to go. Rock watches with wild amazement from the entrance ramp as Jericho finally releases the move, then leans over the ropes and, glaring at The Rock, vows revenge.

Part IV

Our story continues at SummerSlam, with Arn Anderson and Paul Heyman (filling in for an absent Vince McMahon) leading their troops into battle against one another for each other’s respective championships. The moods vary between the companies: in WCW, there is cautious optimism and steely determination. But in the WWF, with an absent leader and a locker room growing more divided by the day, just keeping the company from collapsing in on itself is the only thing on the minds of the wrestlers …

SummerSlam: Aug. 19th

SummerSlam begins with tensions high on both sides, as Dean Malenko and X-Pac head to the ring to put their respective titles on the line. The shot on TV continually cuts back to the locker rooms, with everyone gathered around monitors for all the near-falls and big spots. When an errant spinning wheel kick hits the referee, X-Pac resorts to a low blow to fell Malenko, and calls in Justin Credible. The WCW fans in the crowd turn on the incursion, only to have their jeers silenced when Credible blasts X-Pac and drapes Malenko on him. Albert chases Credible from ringside, but neglects to stop the ref from making the count, giving Malenko both WCW’s Cruiserweight and WWF’s Light Heavyweight crowns.

The WWF’s fortunes improve with a successful retention of the WWF Tag Titles by The Dudleys against Kronik in a wild brawl that goes all over the arena. The Dudleys manage to win only with judicious cheating (a low blow, plus holding the tights during the pin), but the brawling continues into the back and only stops when authorities split them up.

The next match, however, contains none of the trickery or controversy of the prior one; in fact, it’s too short to have any. Kanyon comes to the ring to face Rhyno, and pauses to pose for the crowd. When he turns around, the man-beast Gores Kanyon almost out of his boots. The referee signals for the bell to start the match, but Rhyno makes the cover, and just like that, the match is over.

The WWF’s streak continues with The Undertaker’s match against The Big Show. The behemoth Show comes at Undertaker full tilt, and for a short while, a victory for Show looks assured. When ‘Taker tries to use his speed and agility advantage, Show counters with strength and overwhelms ‘Taker. ‘Taker finally resorts to blasting Show with a chair to draw a DQ and get out before he is rended limb from limb. But when the chair shot has no effect on the angry monster, ‘Taker panics and calls for help from his brother Kane. The two manage to get the big man off his feet and batter him with everything they can find, working up to their <i>coup de grace</i>: a double chokeslam off the apron, through a table, that leaves Big Show a crumpled heap of humanity on the arena floor.

And, following that, another successful strike for the WWF in their war, and by far, the most important yet in the night, as the Hardys, courtesy of a distraction by the APA, upend Sean O’Haire & Chuck Palumbo for the WCW Titles. The third straight loss seriously deflates WCW morale, taking an immediate toll on O’Haire and Palumbo, who argue about the loss all the way back to the locker room, while Team X-treme celebrate the victory to the mixed reaction of the crowd.

But the run of luck for the WWF comes to an abrupt with the title-for-title US/IC triangle match. The three high-impact athletes take it to one another with daring, death-defying offense that leaves everyone with jaws dropped. And when they take advantage of the no-DQ atmosphere of triangle matches, the match becomes an impromptu TLC match. Caution and hesitance are nowhere to be found as Edge, Kidman and RVD pull out all the stops, diving off ladders, through tables and more, all trying to top each other and get the three-second edge to take the championship. But despite their best efforts, the ECW veteran’s edge in extreme wrestling gets him the pin on Kidman. The audience holds its breath as the announcer discusses the situation with the referee and the timekeeper; finally, the announcement is made: RVD is the new United States <I>and</I> Intercontinental Champion. Neither side rushes to claim victory or defeat, with RVD’s decision still pending … but RVD’s victory still puts the companies in the precarious situation of having a non-contracted wrestler with no allegiance holding a major championship.

And the news doesn’t get any better for either side with the DDP/Kurt Angle match. The two spend 20 minutes tearing each other limb from limb, wrestling, beating and brawling one another into two bloody pulps. By the end of the match, both are bleeding profusely, can barely raise their arms to strike one another, and are glassy-eyed and staggering. When both men go for a clothesline and connect, the ref starts a 10-count. Angle manages to twitch his feet, and DDP gets off shaking his head, but neither can really answer the count, and the match is declared a no-contest. The anti-ending pleases no one, least of all the respective rosters, who are both anxious to claim a victory over one another.

The next match brings everyone to their feet: the long-awaited return of The Rock, facing off against Booker T for the WCW Title, with Chris Jericho caught in the middle. Jericho eyes Rock with silent hatred while Booker makes his entrance, at which point the two symbols of their promotions get into a staredown in the middle of the ring. When they get to business, the advantage goes back and forth with almost every move, and the crowd eats up every tilt of the seesaw. For 20 minutes, the two trade offense, but neither manage to get an upper hand long enough to finish the other off. But when the APA comes down to the ring and starts arguing with Jericho, it gives Steve Austin the opportunity to sneak in from behind and hit Booker with a Stunner. Rock and Austin argue about Austin’s involvement while Jericho is kept busy with Bradshaw and Faarooq, until Austin sees Jericho ejecting the APA from ringside. Austin takes quick action and ends the argument with Rock by hitting him with a Stunner, tossing him on Booker and leaving before Jericho can see him. Jericho comes back to see Booker unconscious, and Rock sprawled on top of him, a very sloppy cover; he regards it suspiciously, but, obligated to do his duty as a ref, makes a three-count. Jericho tosses the title belt on Rock’s prone body and leaves … only to see Austin in the aisle, cackling maniacally.

With WCW on the losing end of the majority of the evening, the pressure is on Mike Awesome as he goes to the ring for his WWF Title bout with Austin, but Awesome doesn’t wear the burden outwardly. Austin spends the majority of the match on the run from the furious Awesome, who uses his deceptive speed, as well as his amazing strength, to overwhelm the WWF Champion. The only advantage Austin can find to level the playing field is deep well of dirty tricks, a tactic special official Raven allows to great leniency (spending the bulk of his time as ref sitting in the corner) … but over time, all the crotch shots, choke holds and thumbs to the eye don’t buy Austin enough to get out of danger, and he resorts to the last, desperate gambit he can think of: getting physical with Raven. Raven shoves Austin right back and tells him under no circumstances will he call for a DQ. Awesome manages to get hold of Austin, but Austin hits a quick Stunner and goes for the pin … only for Raven to go down in a heap, the victim of a Singapore cane to the back of the head. Austin notices no count is being made and gets up to see what’s going on, to discover Tommy Dreamer. Dreamer whales on Raven a couple more times before Austin stops him and demands to know what is going on; Dreamer responds by blasting Austin with the cane. Dreamer drags Austin up and hits the Dreamer DDT and laughs at the carnage around him. Jericho ambushes Dreamer, beating him out of the ring and sending him packing, then turns around to see Awesome crawling over and draping an arm over Austin. Jericho drops and makes the count, giving Awesome and WCW the WWF Title. Jericho helps Raven up and out of the ring while trainers and EMTs check on Austin and the new WWF Champion … while Dreamer watches with a sick grin.

Nitro: Aug. 20th

A highlights package of SummerSlam preceeds Nitro, with Hudson and Tenay recapping the shocking events of the previous night, and giving updates: Big Show, out with an undisclosed injury. DDP, nursing minor injuries, out for a week. The new WCW Tag Champs will defend their titles, and new WCW Champion will make an appearence to address the WCW fans.

Nitro opens up with The Hardys, accompanied by Paul Heyman, coming out to a vicious chorus of boos, to defend their straps against Hugh Morrus & Kanyon. WCW sends Stacy Keibler to ask the obvious question of why Heyman is present; “WCW Champions they may be,” he explains, “but they are still WWF superstars, and I am here to see to it that they get the treatment they deserve in this backwater hellhole.” Despite the best efforts of the ad hoc team, they can’t match the established teamwork of the Hardys, and fail to retake the WCW Tag Titles for their company. But before the Hardys can celebrate their big victory, they are overtaken by the most recent defection, Justin Credible, and his old partner Lance Storm, beating them senseless while Heyman watches on in horror. When helping his charges back to the locker room, Heyman dares the Impact Players to show up on Smackdown and take on the Hardys in a legit match.

But the presence of WWF isn’t limited to the members of their roster holding WCW belts; Austin, accompanied by William Regal, Tajiri, The Dudleys, Tazz and Rhyno, get into the arena via the back loading docks. Austin turns to his troops and issues his orders: protect The Rock, cripple Awesome, and find Heyman, Jericho and Dreamer and bring them all to him. And, of course, any WCW people are to be eliminated.

Austin’s hunt plunges Nitro into chaos; matches are interrupted, the participants beaten up and thrown aside as Austin’s thugs wash over the building like an angry swarm of bees, backstage personnel are harassed and abused. No one is safe from the wave of destruction, from stagehands to women to, in a shocking and horrific moment, Arn Anderson, who is thrown around with no regard for the injured neck that retired him years before.

As the show approaches its final minutes, Booker T and Mike Awesome head to the ring and demand Heyman and Austin come to the ring. After a few long moments of tension-filled silence, Booker and Awesome demand any of the WWF wrestlers bold enough to invade Nitro to show their face in the ring.

The dare brings out the one member of the WWF present who isn’t guilty involved in Austin’s lynch mob: The Rock. Rock and Booker eye one another, the rivalry far from buried, the results of the previous night in the forefront of their minds. Booker gestures at Rock. “I didn’t ask for you. I want one of them suckas who be beatin’ up everyone.”

The Rock paces to and fro like a caged animal, the WCW Title over his shoulder. Finally, he stops, whips off his sunglasses and glares at Booker. “You don’t think The Rock knows what you said, Booker? You don’t think The Rock was listening, or paying attention? The Rock knows what’s going down tonight. The Rock just wants you to not have any lingering doubt in your mind, doesn’t want a drop of confusion in your head, about what those jabronis are doing. Make no mistake about it, Booker; The Rock…” Rocky shakes his head emphatically. “The Rock ain’t down with what’s going on. The Rock didn’t call for this. The Rock don’t stand for WWF, or WCW, or ABC, 1-2-3, it doesn’t matter; The Rock stands for The Rock. The Rock just happens to be employed by the WWF, but that doesn’t mean The Rock don’t respect you, Booker. In fact, that’s why The Rock challenged you; because The Rock is the very best,the very best in sports entertainment today … until you and WCW came back. The Rock-“

“Ya know, this is all very fascinating, Rocky.” The owner of the high-pitched, scratchy voice comes forward, a pudgy man in a suit and ballcap. “But somehow, I doubt these ingrate WCW fans give a rat’s ass about what you have to say, so why don’t you save your breath?” Heyman enters the ring, moves at formally been introduced, Rocky. I’m Paul Heyman, Vince McMahon’s right hand man.” When Rock doesn’t take it, Heyman retracts the hand with a shrug and continues. “See, Rock, what you need to understand is—“

Heyman’s words are cut off by Austin spinning him around. The rest of his coterie, left behind while Austin raced to the ring, jog down as Austin grabs Heyman by the lapels and gets in his face. “You better pray I just Stun you and put your lights out quick, son. Now you wanna explain why that son of a bitch Tommy Dreamer cost me the WWF Title last night?” Heyman stammers as he looks around for help. Austin grabs his chin and directs Heyman’s face at his own. “You look me in the eye and tell me why your boy turned on us.”

Heyman struggles and finally squirms out of Austin’s grip. After he straightens his jacket, he clears his throat and says; “Ya know, Steve, I was looking for you. I wanted to talk to you man to man. And since I got you here … and The Rock … and, well, since Booker T is here too, so I might as well tell you all; Vince McMahon is due for some bad news come Smackdown. And, knowing that, I’ve taken the liberty of establishing some contracts and such ahead of time, so as the best interest is served. But I’m gonna do everything I can to ease you all through this transition period, okay?”

Austin has time to get out the words “What the hell—“ before the arms of Tazz wrap around him and cut off his air. Regal goes to pry Tazz off Austin, but is caught by Rhyno, who folds Regal in half with a Gore. The Rock and Booker exchange a fleeting glance, enough to communicate the same feeling: for now, we fight together. Booker and Rock go after the Dudleys, and, when they see RVD and the Impact Players coming out of the corner of their eyes, they are confident the tables are about to turn … until the IP hit a double-superkick on Booker that almost puts him out of his boots. Rocky tries to keep fighting, but a 3D drops him. RVD makes his contribution with a 5 Star Frog Splash on Regal, while Tajiri kicks Austin in the head. Dreamer comes in through the crowd, a gym bag in one hand and a cane in the other. From the gym bag, he pulls t-shirts and tosses them at his cohorts one at a time … and, last but not least, one to Mike Awesome. Awesome watches everyone put on the black t-shirts, with the familiar barbed-wire-covered block letters. Awesome looks at Heyman, who nods with a fanatical gleam in his eye; a smile explodes on Awesome, and he puts on the shirt as Rhyno Gores Rocky, and Austin eats a 3D. Heyman grabs a microphone and, in his most ear-piercing shriek, lets out a short but sweet tirade: “Look at your heroes, folks! These ‘sports entertainers’ can’t even pretend to fight back against real athletes! What you see here tonight is only the beginning! This isn’t about revenge … this is about justice! This isn’t a war … this is a holocaust! I’m not fighting a rival … I’m taking down an empire! You wanted a war, Vince? Well, now, finally, you got one!”

Smackdown: Aug. 23rd

Jim Ross and his new broadcast partner Michael Cole open up Smackdown by recapping the events on Nitro that led to the formation of, as JR puts it, a “dangerous, lunatic fringe group”. But despite Heyman’s betrayal of the WWF, JR assures the viewers that Vince is on his way to set things right.

In the meantime, though, the show goes on, with a match set up by Heyman prior to his turn: a non-title match between the Hardys against the Impact Players. JR questions why Heyman would bother setting up a meaningless match, but when it is announced the match will be fought under “extreme” rules (identical to the Hardcore Title division) it quickly becomes apparent that the means are to achieve a specific end: the elimination of iconic figures associated with the federation. The history of ladder and TLC matches is of no help to the Hardys, who are overwhelmed by the rage and brutality possessed by Credible and Storm. Matt and Jeff persevere, and manage to take advantage of a mistake to retake control of the match … but, as Matt goes for the match-winning pin on Storm, it is broken up by Lita. Matt barely has time to react before Lita low-blows him and leaves, giving Credible the chance to use his cane to KO both Hardys and get the win. Trish Stratus and Molly Holly race to the ring to defend her company, but are waylaid by Steven Richards and Jerry Lynn before they can do any damage. The WWF contingent is left decimated as the ECW crew take their leave.

JR tries to change the course of the show to the events at SummerSlam, and the brewing controversy surrounding the officiating in the two matches. A sit-down interview is shown with Jericho, who insists that he is a loyal WWF employee and doesn’t know how he can prove it otherwise. When confronted about the actions he took during the Rock/Booker match—ejecting the APA, his hesitance to make the three-count—and his involvement in the Austin/Awesome match, Jericho refuses to admit there was any bias or impropriety from either side. When pressed about Austin, Jericho calls him a “loose cannon” and a “paranoid, psychotic freak” who’s a danger to everyone around him, friend or foe. JR follows it up with asking Jericho his thoughts on The Rock; Jericho replies that The Rock is a company man … but as far as he and The Rock are concerned, there is nothing good between them. Finally, JR asks if Jericho how he expects to be welcomed back to the WWF if he can’t even get along with Rock or Austin; Jericho says that the two of them can’t get along, but that’s okay because of who they are. Jericho finishes off by telling JR that if the locker room insists on branding him an outcast, he’ll make them regret it.

A document is sent to William Regal’s office by Heyman, notifying him of a change in the night’s main event, from an Austin/Awesome title rematch to Austin & Raven against Awesome & Dreamer. The news pushes Austin, already on the edge of madness, right over the line, pummeling Regal with punches and kicks. Austin reads the document, and, seeing it is an official WWF contract, tries to reach Vince on his cell phone, only to be told Vince is on his way anyway.

The ECW invasion continues unabated, with RVD going over Hardcore Holly with great ease (thanks to another new member, Perry Saturn) to retain the IC Title, and The Dudleys crushing Billy Gunn & Scotty 2 Hotty. Only an ambush by The Undertaker and Kane on The Dudleys gives the WWF any sort of victory to savor as the night progresses.

The final chance for the WWF to strike at the heart of the growing insurrection comes during the main event, pitting a very defiant and enraged Austin with Raven against WWF Champion Mike Awesome and Tommy Dreamer. The extreme rules are little more then a license for Austin to do what he does best: brawl like a man possessed. But his opponents take full advantage of the stipulations as well, with Rhyno almost cutting through Austin like a chainsaw through butter with a Gore. Before long, the WWF side is overwhelmed again. The collective might of ECW gathered in the ring is too much for the WWF to compete with, as wrestler after wrestler charges the ring and is decimated within seconds. Dreamer’s pin on Austin is academic, and with the referee having left for higher ground, is counted by Heyman. Heyman and his friends celebrate the carnage until Vince’s music cues up. The chairman stomps to the ring without a drop of fear; Heyman tells his men to back off as Vince steps through the ropes.

“I got one thing to say to all of you,” Vince growls; “You’re—“

“In desperate need of a reality check, Vince,” says Heyman. “Ya see, once upon a time, Vince, I was the leader of this ‘renegade’ promotion in Philly … perhaps you heard of it, ECW? Anyway, while you were giving people hog farmers and plumbers and The New Generation, I was in Philly, giving the people honest-to-God wrestling, with guys like Tommy Dreamer and Sabu and The Sandman; wrestlers you and WCW wouldn’t even give the time of day. The audience wanted blood, they wanted real people, and they wanted edgy stories, and I gave it to ‘em night and day. And when all was said and done, Vince, you know what happened? You came along and did what you did in the 80’s to guys like Verne Gagne and Don Owen and Sam Muchnick and Jim Crockett. You betrayed a promise your father made to all those men, and more; your father shook the hand of every promoter in this country and swore to them that he’d never compete against them … that his son would never compete against them. And when your father died … you competed. And with your ruthless, merciless, take no prisoners attitude, you drove everybody out of business. You ran all the competition to the ground and you stole all their ideas, and you made yourself a billionaire out of it. And when you had the federal government, and WCW, and your own legacy breathing down your neck, what did you do? You stole everything that made ECW what it was, its concepts, its ideas, its legacy! You stole that and twisted it and turned it into your gods-be-damned ‘sports entertainment’; you made ‘wrestling’ a dirty word. What kind of a man are you? What kind of a man takes wrestling and makes it sports entertainment? Well, guess what, Vince? And then, to top it all off, you bring me in at a peasant’s salary and stick me behind a table next to that hillbilly tub of crap and to do color commentary for your dog and pony show? I hate your stinkin’ guts, Vince. I’ve waited so long to tell you that to your face. I hate you, your company, and everything you stand for. That’s why I assembled this group, Vince, and I did it right under your nose. I waited until you were at your weakest possible moment, and I drove my venom-tipped knife right into your black, shriveled heart. You’re done, Vince. Over. This is the end for you, and your sick, sad one ring circus.”

“Are you done, you pathetic little lump?”

“Oh, by all means, Vince. Are you gonna tell me I’m fired? That Tazz and Tommy and Stevie and The Dudleys are fired? Well, there’s someone else who has something to say about that! If you’d just take a look at the TitanTron …”

Vince turns to the screen, weary of putting his back to his new enemy. But when he sees Linda on the screen, all color drains from his face. He faces Heyman again, a living ghost with his jaw unhinged, his eyes as big as dinner plates. “Watch, Vince!” says Heyman gleefully. “This is the best part!”

“Vince,” begins Linda, “over the past few months, the WWF board of directors has sat idly by and watched you make one alarming move after another … that is, when we were even apprised of your doings. You banished one of the top drawing performers from television due to an unsubstantiated personal belief; you drafted a fraudulent document attempting to legally bind employees out of fear without getting board approval; you willfully engaged and sponsors unsanctioned attacks on WCW wrestlers that could border on criminal assault. If all this wasn’t enough, the revelation that you gave Paul Heyman a position of power in the company that we are contractually bound to, which he then manipulated for his own gain is more then ample evidence that your judgment and decision-making abilities have been compromised, and only reinforces the decision made.” Linda takes a deep, almost rueful breath, then says; “Vince McMahon … it is the majority decision of the World Wrestling Federation board of directors that you are immediately removed as Chairman, stripped of any and all decision-making responsibilities and powers, and to be excluded from future television broadcasts.”

Nitro: Aug. 27th

There is no joy in WCW for the downfall of Vince McMahon; everyone is too consumed with worry over the threat posed by Heyman’s faction, and still smarting over the loss of Awesome and the WWF Title. Moreover, thanks to Heyman’s cunning and forethought to sign matches ahead of time under the auspices of inter-promotional match-ups, his ECW faction gets to compete for WCW titles on Nitro, starting with Malenko defending against Tajiri. Malenko manages to escape the hardcore extreme-rules environment with his title intact, less a few drops of blood and a head clouded by Tajiri’s buzzsaw-like kicks; but the denial of another belt for Heyman’s group is valuable momentum for WCW.

Not faring as well, though, are The Hardy Boys and their defense of the WCW Titles against The Impact Players. Lita takes every opportunity to stick it to her former Team X-Treme friends with cheap shots, distractions of the referee and general taunting. The strategem works, and after a Lita distraction, the IP lands a double super-kick to Jeff’s jaw to capture the WCW Tag Titles. The Hardys’ loss is of no matter to WCW, forced to watch their championship ping-pong between non-WCW wrestlers. When the IP take to celebrating their win in the ring with egotistical abandon, O’Haire and Palumbo, backed by their NTB friends, rush the ring and lay waste to the new Tag Champs.

Equally on the downside for WCW is the US Title, defended successfully by RVD against Mike Sanders. The cocky RVD almost gets taken by the hungry Sanders, eager to prove his worth to the company and his legitimacy as a wrestling threat, but RVD manages to escape with, once again, a little help from his ECW friends.

But with Heyman’s venom primarily directed at Vince and the WWF, this leaves WCW out of the line of direct fire, and free to deal with issues of their own. And the number one issue is the WCW Title. Arn is mobbed by claimants to the #1 contendership; the opportunity gives Booker a chance to plead his case of being screwed by Jericho at SummerSlam, and deserving of a rematch. DDP disagrees, and says his performance against Kurt Angle shows he is the rightful #1 contender. Arn orders them to settle it in the ring, while he makes his decision on who can best represent WCW against The Rock. Shots at Malenko and RVD also cause turmoil among the troops, but Arn offers no solution, and insists he needs to discuss the situation with WWF Commissioner Regal.

The Rock joins the commentary team to witness the battle of DDP and Booker. Rock is uncharacteristically quiet, commenting only that he wouldn’t care which one was his opponent come Unforgiven. Eventually, DDP comes out on top of the grueling affair, hitting a Diamond Cutter after dodging a Booker jumping sidekick. No sooner does the ref raise his hand in victory then DDP gestures at Rock, makes the sign of the Diamond Cutter and adds; “Hey, Arn … now how’s about coming out here and giving DDP the title shot at The Crock at Unforgiven?”

Arn comes out in time to stop Rock, Booker and DDP from starting a three-way war. “Wait a minute, hold up!” Arn steps in between Booker and DDP, all the while glaring at Rocky, standing outside the ring. Arn looks at DDP and says, “Page, I never said this match was a #1 contender’s match. And Booker, since you got Chris Jericho on the brain as the source of your misery, well, WCW needs someone focused bringing WCW Title home. I did a lot of soul-searching tonight, and I talked to Shane and a couple old friends … and they helped me realize the the best man for the job was sitting right under my nose the whole time. Next week, Rock, you’re gonna meet the man who will bring that belt back to WCW, a man who exemplifies not only WCW, but what is to be a champion.” The crowd noise grows with Arn’s words; the description could mean a number of men, and any one of them will turn the crowd on their ear. Arn lets a few more moments of agonized silence draw out before, in a burst of breath, he shouts; “I’m talkin’ about Ric Flair!

Smackdown: Aug. 30th

A retrospective video package opens Smackdown, showing highlights from almost 20 years of Vince McMahon’s involvement in the WWF. It is a grim reminder of the future faced by the WWF: leaderless, with one perceived enemy trying to kill the company from the outside, and one very real enemy leading an insurgency to destroy the company from within.

But within the fragmented, wounded company, a few men still show the determination to crush their opposition (be it real or presumed); to that effect, Smackdown opens with a mandatory meeting, called by Austin, Undertaker, Angle and Regal. One by one, the remaining members of the WWF roster gathers on the stage while their de facto leaders wait patiently in the ring. When the assembly is complete, the foursome begin.

“I ain’t never been a big talker,” starts Austin. “I prefer to open up a six pack of whoop-ass and let that do the talkin’. And I sure as hell ain’t for givin’ you a bunch of rah-rah go-team crap, since I can’t stand a damn one of ya.” Austin leans over the ropes, jabbing a finger at the collective. “But if there’s one thing I know, it’s that you’re damn sure tougher then them WCW sons of bitches, and you sure as hell can stand up to them pieces of crap Heyman’s got. We don’t need help from anybody but ourselves; no Raven, no Y2J, nobody but ourselves. So from here on out, I expect all of ya to whip your ass in shape, or expect me to whip it for ya.”

Austin tosses the mike aside as Angle lets out a “Heck yeah!” in support, earning him a glare from Austin. Angle shrugs as ‘Taker picks up the stick. “This ring has been my yard for 10 years. Ain’t nothing that’s happened in here has happened without my say-so.” Angle punctuates the statement with a “Woo!” that earns him another scornful glare. ‘Taker shakes his head and continues. “If you’re cool to let this company get knocked in the dirt, you go right ahead, tuck your tail between your legs and walk out the door and don’t come back.” Angle adds a get-out-of-here gesture and a “Yeah, go on!”; once again, he gets harsh glares from his fellow leaders. “But if you’re here because you believe WWF is the dominant force in sports entertainment … well then, we expect you to stop sniveling like a bunch of puling brats, and take the fight to them.”

Undertaker hands off the microphone to Regal, who adds; “You see, folks, it’s things like Rhyno. Now, this bugger has had the Hardcore Title for weeks now, and not a bloody one of you has been able to take it from him. And now, he’s tied his fortunes to that window-licker Paul Heyman. That’s a prime example of how any one of you can help this company. As your Commissioner, I am negotiating with my …” Regal shudders and sneers. “… counterpart in that other company, and I assure you all, that the WWF will have ample chance to acquire our titles back from those gutter trash.”

Finally, Angle takes the microphone, his dorky smile making his teammates grind their jaws. “And I just wanna add that, while not all of you … well, since none of you can be an Olympic hero like me, we don’t expect miracles. I’d be satisfied if Albert just shaved for once! Sheesh!” Austin gives Angle a small push to get his attention. “What, Steve? I’m just saying, you can’t expect these guys to do all the dirty work. I mean, do you really wanna rely on Crash Holly to beat Mike Awesome?”

“Well, well, well,” says the annoying voice of Heyman. His face appears on the TitanTron, his smile making everyone nervous. “It’s nice to see this company finally has a little unity. Too bad it took me stealing half the roster and getting Vince kicked out of his ivory tower to do it. I’m not here just to crash your party, though, or remind you all just how bad I humiliated each and every one of you last week; I’m here to issue a challenge. You see, I watched Nitro … well, when I could stay awake, that is … and I just heard you talking, William, about how you and Arn Anderson are negotiating contenders and such for your respective belts. Yet, somehow, nobody bothered to ask me who should get title shots. And since I am Vince’s lieutenant, not to mention in possession of four of your titles, I would only think it natural I get some kind of say, wouldn’t you?” Before anyone can answer, Heyman says; “Great! I’ll expect a phone call tonight, Willie. Later, boys!”

Heyman’s instigation inspires the WWF roster to new levels of intensity, with both foreigners and each other; Test crushes Matt Hardy with a renewed mean streak en route to taking the European Title, although Hardy comes roaring back after the match and gives back to Test what he took in the match. The renewed fire brings a smile to the unofficial leaders in the back, who encourage the rest of the roster to follow suit.

Malenko is the next to taste the new wrath of the WWF, barely escaping Smackdown with the Light Heavyweight Title after a hard-hitting three-way dance with Crash and Christian. But the joy of winning disappears when Regal pops up on the screen to announce an agreement has been reached for Malenko’s double-title defense at Unforgiven: a 10-man pinfall-or-submission battle royal, featuring wrestlers from WWF, WCW and Heyman’s Lunatic Fringe faction (so named after JR’s comment about the stable being “a lunatic fringe group”). Kane also gets a piece of D-Von Dudley in a singles match, running through the tag specialist with seeming ease … until his partner Bubba Ray comes out afterwards and the two manage to drop Kane with a 3D. Undertaker comes to his brother’s aid, but far too late, as the Dudleys head for higher ground.

Likewise, Rhyno gets a dose of WWF hospitality when he is attacked non-stop by person after person, all looking to take the Hardcore Title away. He gets by through sheer toughness and, on occasion, the assistance of Tommy Dreamer, until Austin catches up with the duo and assaults Dreamer. Rhyno tries to save Dreamer, but is intercepted by Angle, and the Fringe team is driven away.

But for all the aggressiveness shown by the WWF, the unity is still not 100%, evidenced when Jericho arrives and is confronted by Regal about his SummerSlam refereeing in the Austin/Awesome match. Jericho makes no apologies about doing his job, and suggests that, if Regal wants to see how much of a company man he is, to let him face Awesome at Unforgiven. Regal counters by making Jericho have to get through Kurt Angle later on in the evening for the title shot. When word reaches Austin, he goes through the roof at being overlooked for the title shot, and even more so for Jericho even getting the opportunity, and the two almost come to blows before Angle bursts in and breaks up the fight. Angle assures Austin he has the situation under control, and will dispose of Jericho with ease.

Awesome joins the commentary team to watch Angle and Jericho throw down. Angle’s initial dismissal of Jericho haunts him as Jericho comes at him like a raging bull, putting Angle on the defensive for the majority of the match. It is only when the referee gets caught in the corner and pulverized with a clothesline that the tide of the match changes; Booker T uses the distraction to sneak in and put Jericho on the mat with a kick to the jaw before Raven runs him off. Angle gets in some token offense, scores with the Angle Slam and gets the pin, but has no time to celebrate; when he turns around, he is folded in half by Rhyno. This draws out Austin for the save, which in turn draws out Dreamer; within seconds, the ring is flooded with humanity, brawling with each other to close out Smackdown.

Nitro: Sep. 3rd

The anticipation as Nitro begins is bigger then ever for the face-to-face confrontation between The Rock and Ric Flair. Throughout the evening, building up to the meeting, footage showcasing his career rolls, showing his various title reigns and highlights.

The show opens with an exciting triple threat match between Dean Malenko’s WCW opponents at Unforgiven: Chavo Guerrero, Shane Helms and Billy Kidman. But the fantastic match only lasts a few minutes before the Fringe contingent of Tajiri, Spike Dudley and Jerry Lynn storm the ring and lay waste to the WCW group. Arn responds to all this by ordering a six-man tag; Heyman is more then happy to oblige, only to see it backfire when Malenko interferes and helps Guerrero get the pin on Jerry Lynn.

Equally impressive is a win by O’Haire & Palumbo over the tandem of Tazz & Saturn. The victory is made all the sweeter when the Impact Players try to ambush their opponents for Unforgiven, only to be met with the rest of the Natural Born Thrillers and a surprising new ally, Molly Holly, who drives away Lita.

An even bigger sign of things turning around comes during a non-title match pitting RVD against DDP. RVD’s aerial arsenal is grounded by a vicious and hungry DDP, who keeps RVD grounded and wounded with a continual barrage of punishment. When DDP lands a Diamond Cutter after dodging a RVD spin kick and scores the pin, the audience almost forgets to applaud until the announcer proclaims DDP the winner. RVD scurries away, petrified as DDP gestures a belt around his own waist and pointing at RVD.

But a match between Booker and Raven, stemming from their interaction on Smackdown, stops the sweep of good fortune, thanks to the interference of Raven’s arch-nemesis, Tommy Dreamer. The attack on Raven prompts not one but two people to intervene, although for entirely different motives; Jericho gets Dreamer off Raven, while Steve Austin shows up just to get another piece of Dreamer. Booker doesn’t take well to Jericho assisting Raven—or, for that matter, the mere presence of Jericho—-and goes after Y2J with a vengeance. With the match having disintegrated, the referee has no choice but to throw it out and call for officials to help contain the situation. When the ring is cleared, and the ring announcer is back to begin the next match, Jericho storms back out and grabs the microphone.

“I have had it with the crap in this business!” he yells. “Everyone in the WWF still thinks I’m a traitor! Booker T thinks I’m to blame for him losing the WCW Title! How the hell am I the bad guy here? What the hell did I do to be made the example? I have done nothing but showed my loyalty for the WWF since day one, and I get pissed on for it! I was brought in to do a job at SummerSlam, and I did my job!” Jericho paces back and forth in the ring, running his fingers through his hair, almost at a loss for words. Finally, he lets out a blood-curdling scream of rage. “That’s it! I am sick of being the wrestling world’s whipping boy, when everybody in this building knows I have been loyal to the end!” The partisan audience doesn’t disagree, but Jericho pays them no mind. “I am serving notice to every single person, it don’t matter what company or what gang or who the hell you are: I am done taking your crap. Chris Jericho is not gonna be your doormat anymore. From this day forward, I see no difference between WWF, WCW or Fringe; Y2J is coming all for you. Do you hear me, Booker? Austin? Angle? Rhyno? Dreamer? Y2J is loyal to no one anymore. I have one friend left, one man to stand by; everyone else has now become Chris Jericho’s victim. Y2J is a rogue element.” Jericho throws down the microphone and leaves through the crowd.

When The Rock heads to the ring in the final segment, the crowd comes unglued, waiting for the big moment. The Rock paces in the ring, anxiously awaiting the arrival, the WCW Title over his shoulder. When the music hits, Rock stops cold and watches as the crowd explodes at the sight of the dapper legend coming to the ring. Flair struts a little for the audience when he gets to the ring, lets out a “Woo!” then accepts a microphone from The Rock, who chuckles. “So, this is the great Ric Flair. The legend, the icon, The Man!” Rock pauses, raising the eyebrow and adds; “And the number one contender to The Great One. The Rock means no disrespect, Ric, not a bit but … how do you expect to keep up with The Rock? Do you really think, do you believe you got what it takes to go one on one with The Great One for the oldest belt in wrestling? Hell, weren’t you one of the first guys to wear this thing?”

The crowd “oohs” at the dig; Flair just chuckles. “Did I hear you right, junior?” he says, his voice calm and level. “Did you just take a shot at me? Are you doubting the Nature Boy can still go?” Ric’s voice gets louder and louder. The jacket comes off and is thrown aside. “Do youreally think I’m just some old fart who should be put out to pasture? Kid, I’ve had coffee breaks longer then some of your title reigns!” The crowd oohs at this, too, but in a positive way; The Rock doesn’t see the humor, and whips off the shades. “Who are you? Who are you? I beat Hogan, Savage, Rhodes, Piper, Vader, Funk, Race, Sid, the biggest names this sport has ever seen? What’ve you done, kid? What’ve you done? The man who wears that belt is not just a champion because he wears it, but because he is a champion! I’m a champion! You’re just some punk kid with big a mouth! You’re a fluke!” Flair rips off his tie, tears his shirt open, all the while still talking. “Let’s see what you got! Let’s see what you got, boy!” Flair drops the mike and puts up his fists; Rock laughs nervously and backs away, shaking his head. Flair screams back; “C’mon, champ! C’mon! Come get the old man! Woo!” Finally, Rock drops his microphone and turns to leave; Flair gives chase, grabs him by the arm, turns him around and gives Rock an open-palmed slap across the cheek. Rock’s eyes flare up with sudden rage, but Flair doesn’t back up an inch. The two glare at each other for only a few seconds, but the silent seconds drag out for an eternity until Rock slowly steps through the ropes, this time without interference from Flair. Rock holds up the belt as he backs away, earning a sinister, predatory smile from Flair, their eyes locked until Rock disappears through the curtains.

Smackdown: Sep. 4th

A special Tuesday episode of Smackdown opens with the announcement of a major main event for the evening: Angle vs. Rhyno, with Rhyno getting a shot at the WWF Title at Unforgiven if he wins. Along with that comes the announcement that Austin and Dreamer will collide in a street fight at the PPV, and that the WWF will send Christian, Taka Michinoku and X-Pac to the dual-title battle royal. The three light heavyweights get the opening match slot, with Christian getting a victory over Taka with his feet on the ropes; unlike the night before, though, there is no sign of the Fringe.

But before Rhyno can even make it to the main event, he is besieged by people, man and woman alike, trying to end his Hardcore Title reign; Hardcore Holly and Crash get defeated in the parking garage, and the APA laid to waste just beyond the door to the arena from the garage. The losses aren’t a good thing, but weakening Rhyno and keeping him paranoid pleases the 4 de facto leaders enough to keep the strategy going all night.

And, for the second night in a row, RVD suffers a stunning loss, dropping a non-title match to former IC Champion Edge. Again, RVD leaves the ring shaken and scared at his seemingly newfound vulnerability, while Edge issues the challenge: a Ladder match at Unforgiven. RVD’s only reply is to back away.

Even a match between Bubba Ray Dudley and Undertaker gives the WWF a bolstering of morale when, despite copious interference from Bubba’s brother D-Von, Undertaker decimates the WWF Tag Champ. And when the duo tries to double-team Taker, they are met with reinforcements in the form of Kane, sending the Dudleys scurrying off for higher ground.

But with every good comes the bad, and for the polarized WWF team, the bad comes in the form of the so-called “rogue element”, Chris Jericho. Jericho shows up (with slicked back hair, Matrix-style sunglasses, and simple dark outfits instead of his normal colorful attire) in Regal’s office; Regal reminds Jericho of his words from Nitro and that he is now persona non grata in the WWF. Jericho asks how this differs from before, when he was just a traitor and a pariah. When Regal insists Jericho leave before his well-being becomes threatened, Jericho responds with a stiff slap. Jericho is on Regal before he can even blink, throwing Regal around the office like a rag doll. Jericho leaves the office in shambles, Regal a brusied and battered mess, and gives Regal a message to deliver to his friends: Jericho is no one’s victim anymore.

Jericho takes a ringside seat when the main event rolls around. Angle gets in Jericho’s face, telling him he doesn’t belong in the building, and that losers like him should go running to Mondays; Jericho responds by turning away and sticking a middle finger in Angle’s face. When more arguing leads to a pair of fingers, Angle finally quits and gets in the ring to turn back Rhyno’s challenge. Angle finds himself at wit’s end with the seemingly endless supply of rage and resilience in the man-beast as he absorbs blow after blow and move after move, and barely stays down for a two count. Even the Angle Slam gets a short two-count, frustrating Angle enough to argue with the ref. When arguing gets him nowhere, Angle turns around into an angry Rhyno, who pummels Angle down to the mat. Jericho stands up and approaches the apron, but stands still as Angle tries to fight back. When Angle is whipped into the ropes, Jericho trips Angle; Angle tries to grab Jericho, but Jericho backs away and points behind Angle; Angle turns around just in time to get cut in half by the Gore and pinned. Jericho watches with no emotion whatsoever as Rhyno’s arm is raised, making the WWF Title match at Unforgiven a triple-threat match (or, as JR insists, a glorified handicap match).

But, as Awesome comes to the ring to celebrate his teammate’s victory, Rhyno is clobbered from behind by a steel chair. Raven drops the chair, spins Rhyno around, hits the Raven Effect DDT on the chair and makes the cover. The referee stands for a moment, confused, then realizes what’s going on and makes the three-count and awards the Hardcore Title to Raven. Raven and Jericho eye one another in cautious silence Smackdown comes to an end.

Nitro: Sep. 10th
Nitro opens with a pair of singles matches, pitting the WCW Tag Champs against their Unforgiven opponents, O’Haire and Palumbo. O’Haire manages to beat Credible, but Palumbo falls to Storm. The split decisions are an auspicious start to Nitro; the bad vibes only get worse when the follow-up a rematch of the three WCW opponents for Malenko’s WCW Cruiserweight Title, are all laid to waste by the incursion of Jericho. His sleek appearance and icy demeanor harkens back to a lost hero of WCW’s past, and Jericho’s choice of a ballbat as his weapon on this night only helps the comparison.

“Last week, I told the world I was done being the good guy,” he says. “Last week, I said I was done trying to win points with Austin and Regal and the WWF. Last week, I said everyone was on my hit list, because everyone was out to get me.” Jericho observes the cruiserweights leaving the ring, holding aching body parts. He holds up the bat like Lady Liberty. “This is all I need to stick it to the people who stuck it to me ever since this damned nightmare began. Booker, you got a problem with what I did at SummerSlam? Then consider yourself next on the list.”

Jericho waits for Booker to come out, but instead gets ambushed by Angle coming through the crowd. Jericho and Angle trade punches until Booker comes in and it becomes a three-way brawl. Together, Jericho and Booker drive Angle from the ring and out onto the floor, pausing long enough to glare at one another and break out into their own brawl. Neither of them notice Rhyno sneak up through the crowd and throw Angle into the steel steps. It takes arena security and local police to break up the four men and separate them, but Arn comes out and turns the moment on it’s ear; with the full blessing of WWF Commissioner Regal, Arn books a historical cross-promotional match for later in the evening: Jericho & Rhyno against Booker & Angle. On top of Flair’s first match back in WCW, against DDP, and The Rock’s first WCW Title defense against Kanyon, it is a landmark night.

The night begins to turn around on the first part of the triple main event, pitting Flair against DDP, gets off to a hot start, with Flair proving once again he is still the man by working over DDP in classic Flair style. But DDP doesn’t sit back and let Flair’s legendary status distract him from competing, and takes it to the icon like he has something to prove. After ten minutes, both men are coming to the end of their tanks, slugging away for that one mistake that’ll create the opening for the victory. When The Rock comes down in the last moments, the distraction for Flair is enough for DDP to score with a Diamond Cutter. But before the ref can count to three, an RVD Five-Star Frog Splash breaks up the pin. The ref throws out the match as RVD starts beating on DDP. Rock rushes in and goes after RVD, but gets dropped by a Flair low-blow. Flair struggles to his feet as DDP dodges a kick and hits a Diamond Cutter on RVD; Flair gets the figure-four on and locks it in until authorities order Flair to release the hold. Arn has to personally drag Flair away while the authorities keep the rest of the participants apart. Shortly thereafter, Arn announces that in addition to defending the WWF Intercontinental Title against Edge in a Ladder match, RVD will also defend the US Title against DDP in the very same match.

Hot on the heels comes The Rock’s first WCW Title defense, against Kanyon. The sneaky Kanyon uses every trick in his devious book to try and take back the WCW Title, but Rocky’s athleticism and strength are too much for Kanyon to overcome, and he falls to a Rock Bottom. After Kanyon leaves, Rock grabs a stick. “The Rock doesn’t give a monkey’s anus about this company or that gang or anything, and The Rock sure as hell ain’t gonna kiss anybody’s ass when he can kick it instead. But The Rock wants to make sure you all understand one thing, so there isn’t a shadow of a doubt: The Rock respects the hell out of Ric Flair. The Nature Boy, stylin’ and profilin’, wheelin’ and dealin’, the 4 Horsemen … oh yeah, The Rock respects it all. But when it comes to getting in this ring and being the absolute best, The Rock pisses on all that.” The crowd boos this, but The Rock ignores it. “You see, when The Rock gets in this ring, and he looks across the ring at whatever jabroni is on the other end of it, he doesn’t see a legacy, or an icon, or whatever; Ric Flair, George Bush, The Rock’s daddy, it doesn’t mat—well, maybe not The Rock’s daddy, but certainly anybody else’s daddy, it just doesn’t matter to The Rock, because The Rock wrestles for one reason.” Rock holds the title aloft, almost reverently. “This. This is what drives The Rock. This is why The Rock comes to work every day. And this is why The Rock has been on Nitro each and every week since he won this: because, to steal one of Ric Flair’s lines, whether you like it, or you don’t like it, The Rock is yourchampion. Right now, The Rock represents WCW, and until someone can take this belt away, The Rock will continue to represent WCW and this title as proudly as he ever wore the WWF Title.”

The final match of the evening, however, has none of the grandeur or pride of the previous two, despite the landmark inter-promotional teams. Angle and Booker don’t even pretend to like each other, while Jericho is ice cold to Rhyno’s attempts at team unity. Eventually, the match breaks down to a brawl that has everyone at each other’s throats, until Mike Awesome ambushes Angle and puts him through an announce table with an Awesome Bomb. Booker gets thrown from the ring, leaving Awesome and Rhyno with Jericho, who only glares at them when they attempt handshakes.

Smackdown: Sep. 13th, Nitro: Sep. 17th

Vince and Shane open their respective shows with heartfelt tributes and moving speeches about carrying on their entertainment for the sake of the country. Both leaders declare that their shows will air with pure entertainment and wrestling, without wars and enemies, out of respect for the national tragedy.

Smackdown: Sep. 20th

The final show before Unforgiven gives the final push to the pay-per-view, mixing up the wrestlers in tag matches and unscheduled confrontations. But no match or promo can touch the spectacle put on by the Fringe.

As the show winds down, the Fringe gather in the ring, in celebration of the anticipated “final takeover” of the WWF at Unforgiven. Heyman makes sure Angle and Austin are well aware of their chances of survival, and are offered spots in the Fringe in exchange for their obedience; naturally, the offers are met with silence, so Heyman continues.

“And, before we wrap up the show tonight and fly to Pittsburgh so we can get ready for the big celebration,” says Heyman, “I just wanna recognize the contributions of one man to our cause. Lately, he has shown a fire and a passion unparalleled in the Fringe, and not only does this man deserve recognition, but to be officially welcomed to the family. Ladies and gentlemen, the Lunatic Fringe is proud to present to you its newest member … Chris Jericho!” Jericho’s music plays, but he doesn’t appear. “Chris Jericho!” Heyman says again, and this time, Jericho appears, although through the crowd. Jericho steps into the ring, his eyes hidden behind sunglasses, the bat hanging from his hand. Heyman extends a hand to welcome Jericho, and pulls it back uncomfortably when Jericho doesn’t even acknowledge it. “Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t know if you realize just how proud we are to have this young man in the fold. This is a man who has held gold wherever he went; ECW Television Champion, WCW Cruiserweight and TV Champ, and in the WWF, he’s held every title but the World Title. We are privileged to have such an accomplished athlete in our company, and once we exterminate this McMahon-tainted cesspool this Sunday, we shall brush away the afterthought that is WCW, and do what ECW could have done had Vince McMahon not crushed it: dominate this industry all by itself!” Heyman turns to Dreamer, who hands him a team shirt; Heyman extends it to Jericho and says; “I’d wish you the best of luck against Booker T this Sunday, Chris, but I don’t think you need luck. So, I’ll just tell you that the party after the show is—“

Heyman chokes on his words as Jericho drives the bat into Heyman’s gut. Jericho tosses Heyman to the outside and jumps out before anyone can even register what has just happened. By the time they realize it, the locker room has emptied, and WCW’s forces have poured over the barricades, engulfing the Fringe in a wave of humanity. The final images the fans of the WWF and WCW see as Smackdown goes off the air are of the Fringe, finally caught unawares, decimated at the feet of the two rival companies, who regard each other with a cool distance, while Jericho, joined by Raven, back away from the tableau … and for the first time in what seems like forever, they are smiling.

Part V

What if the Invasion hadn’t failed?

Our story continues at Unforgiven, with WCW and WWF trying to gain some traction in the war to survive against Paul Heyman’s Lunatic Fringe. With 7 championships on the line and 2 grudge matches, both companies recognize their opportunity to strike a fatal blow to the growing insurgency and right themselves. But both also know they can’t underestimate Heyman’s capacity for surprise …

Unforgiven: Sep. 23rd

Unforgiven opens with the ultra-obnoxious Impact Players defending the WCW Tag Titles against Sean O’Haire & Chuck Palumbo. While outsized and far weaker, the IP rely on their speed advantage (which is small, considering the deceptive quickness of the Natural Born Thrillers) and the help of Lita to control the pace of the match. When Palumbo, after taking a hellacious beating for several minutes, finally makes the hot tag, the crowd goes nuts as O’Haire cleans house … only for the IP to escape through the backdoor of a disqualification, courtesy of Lita caning O’Haire. The IP try to press their numbers advantage, only to be sent scurrying by the Hardys and Trish Stratus. The Hardys and the NTB glare at one another, an uneasy truce between them in the face of a common enemy.

The 10 man pinfall battle royal follows, with 9 men contending for Dean Malenko’s combined WCW and WWF Cruiserweight Titles. With 10 cruiserweights in the same ring, the action borders on impossible to follow, with bodies flying through the air like airplanes, and unseen feats of athleticism happening faster then the blink of an eye. For a while, everyone unites in trying to do away with the Fringe’s representatives, but teamwork quickly erodes as eliminations pile up on all sides, and self-preservation becomes the order of the day. By match’s end, the competitors are whittled down to three, one from each camp: Malenko, Christian and Jerry Lynn. Malenko and Christian try to work together to eliminate Lynn, but the partnership only lasts as long as they can put down Lynn before Christian double-crosses Malenko and goes for the pin; Lynn breaks it up and, with a handful of tights, sends Christian to the showers. The two tussle and fight, trying to capture that split second of mistake that leads to the victory … but the buzzsaw kick of Tajiri in the back of Malenko’s head gives Lynn the unfair edge, the victory, and two more belts for the Fringe.

The mayhem continues with Raven, defending his newly won Hardcore Title. Raven gets in the ring, sits in the corner with a microphone. “Hardcore is a word the WWF likes to throw around like a catchphrase, a buzzword, a marketing gimmick. But hardcore is a way of life. The Big Bossman hitting Al Snow with a bag of popcorn isn’t hardcore; me wrapping myself in barbed wire and splashing myself on The Sandman is hardcore. Hardcore is something you are, not something you learn, and I’ve been doing hardcore longer then anybody in that locker room. So if anyone back there thinks they’re hardcore enough to take me down, I’m waiting.” The invitation empties the locker room of just about everyone not already on the card, regardless of company. Within the 20+ man melee, Raven manages to separate himself from the pack and get a pin on Steven Richards. But the arena quickly floods with the entire Fringe camp, led by Tommy Dreamer, who overwhelm all other participants and gang stomp Raven until paramedics take him away on a stretcher; as he is being wheeled down the aisle, Tazz covers him on the stretcher and the reluctant ref has no choice but to count Tazz to the Hardcore Title.

On the heels of the hardcore chaos comes a refreshing straight match, with the Dudleys defending the WWF Tag Titles against Undertaker & Kane. Initially, ‘Taker and Kane have their way with The Dudleys, mauling them without cease or challenge. For a while, it looks like the streak of ECW domination might come to a screeching halt courtesy of the Brothers Of Destruction, but fate intervenes, in the form of the returing Big Show, who drags ‘Taker off the apron and slams him through the announce table. Kane fights as best he can, but the two-on-one numbers catch up and he eats a 3D en route to being pinned. The Dudleys celebration is short-lived, however, as Show gives choke slams to the half-brothers, leaving everyone involved in the match on the mat, broken and hurting.

If the humiliation of four straight losses isn’t bad enough for WCW and WWF, the double-title Ladder match with Rob Van Dam taking on DDP and Edge, with RVD’s experience in extreme wrestling, is more then enough cause for worry (even with Edg’e experience in TLC matches). But a pleasant surprise unfolds during the match: an unspoken truce between DDP and Edge, united to take down RVD and reclaim their company’s belts. RVD absorbs 100% of the punishment from his opponents, and within minutes, looks in need of medical treatment. But Mr. PPV won’t stay down when it comes time to claim the belts from their hook, even after suffering several finishers and attacks with the ladder. Finally, with RVD bleeding and splayed out on the mat, DDP and Edge climb opposite sides of the ladder to retrieve the belts; but RVD manages to drag himself up and steal the ladder out from underneath them, leaving the two hanging in mid-air onto the belts. Both try to unfasten the belts, but find their grip too weakened when holding on with one hand, and are more or less stuck. RVD positions the ladder to the side, pulls himself up the rungs, and launches himself at his opponents in a missle dropkick. The impact annihilates all three men, but somehow, RVD is the first to rise and makes the climb to claim the titles, giving WCW and WWF 5 straight losses on the night.

After four straight losses, WCW looks to get back on track with Booker T’s challenge against the renegade Chris Jericho. But no one expects the Jericho that walks through the entrance (to brand new entrance music reflecting his dark, angry attitude): the showman is gone, replaced by a black-clad Matrix-like angel of death, who approaches the ring without a shred of the bombast of old. When Booker and Jericho lock up, the high-flying, risk-taking Jericho is gone, and in his place stands a brutal punisher, with targeted offense designed not to just win, but to inflict serious pain. Booker can hardly muster a reply to the cold, calculated new Jericho, whom the announcers compare to a mechanical animal: single-minded, as if following a program, but merciless in the pursuit of the goal. When Booker finally is able to put Jericho on the defensive, Jericho accommodates for the weakened body part and works through it. The struggle becomes too much for Booker to bear, and he falls prey to the Walls Of Jericho. Just as quickly as the ref can ring the bell, Jericho is gone, leaving through the crowd, and none too soon as Heyman’s troops come rushing to the ring, looking for revenge on Jericho.

The bell doesn’t even ring before the Austin/Dreamer Street Fight begins when Austin ambushes Dreamer on the way down to the ring. Within minutes, the two are bleeding, but still going full tilt without having even made it to the ring (the ref having given up on that and called for the bell to start the match), using every impliment and set piece they can get their hands on to batter one another into unconsciousness. When the brawl finally migrates to the ring, Dreamer is caught off-guard by Raven, bandaged and battered from the earlier beat-down, with Dreamer’s cane in his hand. Raven tees off on Dreamer, only for Austin to attack Raven for his transgression. Austin tosses Raven, then sets to work on Dreamer, only for Dreamer to kick out of the Stunner. A second Stunner also gets a two-count, as does a third, sending Austin into a panic. When Austin tries to waffle Dreamer with a chair, Raven takes the chair out of his hand, and the two argue; this draws out Jericho, who solves the argument by blasting Austin with the chair then, for good measure, nailing Dreamer too. Jericho and Raven step back and watch as Dreamer crawls over and drapes on arm across Austin, getting the pin, and leave through the crowd again.

The first of two world title matches bows next, with the epic confrontation between The Rock and Ric Flair. The two meet in the center of the ring, two icons, living embodiments of their companies. For the first time in the show, the two competitors show a mutual respect, and set about trying to out-wrestle the other as opposed to beating the other stupid. When Flair wraps on the figure-four and cranks back, making Rock scream in pain, the crowd holds its collective breath, waiting for Rock’s hand to tap … and when The Rock manages to escape and hit a Rock Bottom not too long after, again, the crowd waits as the ref’s hand goes up for the third count. But neither get the duke, and the match continues until Flair goes for the figure-four again, only for Rock to reach up and pull Flair down in a cradle, giving Rock the victory. The show of class by The Rock to offer a handshake and a rematch anytime is a bright spot on an otherwise black night for WCW.

But there is no sportsmanship in the triple-threat match for the WWF Title, which quickly devolves into what was feared: a glorified handicap match. Angle weathers a fantastic beating from the two Fringe powerhouses, and, even when he is visibly injured, he refuses to stay down for the three-count, no matter what Rhyno and Mike Awesome throw at him. Even when he bleeds enough to cause a normal man to pass out, Angle persists in kicking out. Finally, Heyman sends out Tazz, who drags Angle out of the ring and slaps on the Tazzmission. Angle fights with all he has, but is unable to escape the choke hold … until Raven, accompanied by a ref, clocks Tazz in the back of the head with the timekeeper’s hammer and covers him for the three count. Raven disappears into the crowd before Awesome can catch him, but he grabs Angle and tosses him in. Rhyno tells Awesome to get Angle on his feet, only for Rhyno to plow through Awesome with the Gore. The crowd collectively gasps as Heyman comes to ringside and yells for Rhyno to do it again; Rhyno follows the command, bulldozing through Awesome. A call for a third Gore is followed, and Rhyno makes the cover after for the three count and WWF Title. The rest of the Fringe join Rhyno and Heyman in the ring, continuing the beating on Angle and Awesome as Unforgiven fades to black.

Nitro: Sep. 24th

Ric Flair’s music ushers him down the aisle as Nitro kicks off. Dressed impeccably, Flair nonetheless looks a little distraught. Flair allows the fans to chant his name, a sign of respect for the valiant effort he put forth only 24 hours before in trying to bring home the WCW Title. When he finally speaks, he is soft and reserved. “Ya know something, 6 months ago, I stood in a WCW ring and said that Vince McMahon had no business with WCW; that the boys like Sting and Booker and Page and myself kept WCW’s heart beating. 6 months ago, I told Vince McMahon I wouldn’t allow him to kill something that wasn’t his anyway.” Flair pauses as a “Vince sucks” chant cycles through the building. When it dies out, Flair continues; “When my best friend, Double-A Arn Anderson called me and said ‘Naitch, we need your help. WCW needs The Nature Boy to save it’, I know I couldn’t let down the company that made Ric Flair; I had to come back and restore WCW’s pride.” Flair lets loose a mournful exhale, his head bowed as if delivering a eulogy. “But I failed you. I failed WCW. I couldn’t take the title from The Rock. I’m just a pathetic old man, a shadow of–“

The Rock’s music cuts off Flair, and the WCW Champion marches down the aisle with a blazing look of purpose on his face. Rock eschews the normal posturing on the turnbuckles and, instead, tosses aside his sunglasses, looks Flair in the eye and extends a hand. Flair regards it skeptically, and, when he looks to the crowd for assurance one way or the other, gets a mixed reaction. Flair eyeballs it a bit more, and then finally, hesitantly, takes it. Rock pumps it twice, then pulls Flair in, nose to nose, and raises a microphone up to his mouth. “The Rock says don’t youever-AND THE ROCK MEANS EVER-call yourself a pathetic old managain!” The crowd lights up and starts chanting “Rocky” Rock holds up a hand to still them, and the chant cuts off as if someone hit an off button. The Rock backs up a step, letting go of Flair’s hand, but keeping his eyes locked on Flair’s. “So you lost last night. Hey, it happens. The Rock loses. The Rock lost back in March to that bald-headed sumbitch Austin. Hell, Ric, you’re a 16-time World’s Champ, and since you don’t have the belt right now, that means you’ve lost at least 16 times. And that’s okay, Ric. Cause you see, The Rock says that when all is said and done, when all the smoke is cleared, Ric Flair is still … The Man. So you lost … big deal. You’ve lost before. The difference, the thing that sets The Nature Boy apart from everybody else is that a defeat for Ric Flair is just another reason for you to come back and do it again.” The Rock looks at the big gold belt on his shoulder and pats the center plate. “The Rock used to be obsessed with being champ. The Rock would get up in the morning, shine the belt up, and sit it across from The Rock at the breakfast table; bought it its own seat in first class alongside The Rock. The Rock lived and breathed holding the championship. But The Rock has come to realize something over the past year, Ric; being the champion isn’t as important as being a champion. Being a champion means you don’t stop until you get the job done; being a champ means you give these people the absolutebest each and every night, not just cause you want to or because you have to, but because you don’t know any better. Being a champion means losing one night and coming back the next night …” Rock drops the title on the ground and puts his arms out in a familiar pose. “… and walkin’ that aisle, stylin’ and profilin’ …” Rock does a picture perfect Flair strut. “… wheelin’ and dealin’ and vowing to bring the hammer down on every jabroni that gets in the way until he gets what’s coming to him.” Flair’s eyes are wide, electric, watching The Rock’s every move. Rock picks up the title and holds it out for Flair to get a good look. “Arn Anderson didn’t pick up the phone and call Ric Flair just to come save a belt.” Rock points back towards the stage, to an unfolding scene of amazement: every member of WCW’s staff and the entire roster. “Arn called you to lead WCW. To save them.” Booker T and DDP break away from the pack and enter the ring. Booker and DDP regard Rock with a little skepticism, but Flair gets hugs and handshakes. “These men are looking to you, Ric,” says Rock. “You don’t need The Rock to tell you the threat, the danger, WCW faces with Paul Heyman and his jabronis. Lead these men, Ric; take the fight to that roody-poo candy-ass!” Booker and DDP concur, encouraging Ric, whose face is flooding with color, his eyes showing more life then since his return. Rock slaps the belt again and says; “And The Rock has already talked to it with Arn; No Mercy, The Rock, DDP, Booker T, and The Nature Boy, WCW World Title! One time only! If ya smelllllllllllllllllll … what The Rock …” Rock looks at Flair and smiles. “Woo! … is cookin’!”

With an enthusiastic handshake and a “Woo!”, the match is made official, and a fire is ignited in the heart of WCW. Within minutes, Arn flexes his muscle and orders Jerry Lynn to the ring to defend the WCW Cruiserweight Title. Lynn balks and, with a shit-eating grin, announces that holding two titles would be far too many commitments for him to handle, so he is forfeiting the title and passing it on to Tajiri. When Arn’s lips spread out in a devilish smile, Lynn’s malicious glee evaporates; Arn informs Lynn that WCW doesn’t allow belts to be passed around like a Christmas fruitcake, declares the title vacant and books a four-way elimination match later in the night with Shane Helms, Chavo Guerrero, Mike Sanders and Tajiri.

Likewise, the Impact Players and Lita feel the pinch of WCW as they close their ranks; when The Impact Players are ordered into a non-title match against the Natural Born Thrillers, the Fringe trio are horrified to see 5 of the 6 members of the NTB and all three of WCW’s ladies on the other side of the ring. A hasty exit is blocked by Kronik, who soften up the IP and toss them back in to the bloodthirsty mob inside for a royally ugly beatdown. Tajiri meets a similar fate during the elimination match for the Cruiserweight Title, being jumped on by all three opponents, beaten senseless with a chain of finishers, and pinned by all three men. WCW surrounds the ring, letting the match come to its natural conclusion, crowning Chavo Guerrero the new Cruiserweight Champion.

But none of the stands against Heyman’s renegades can match, for drama, the one that comes about when RVD offers an open challenge to anyone who can best him. Dean Malenko comes out and the two begin to brawl, but with an assist from Heyman, RVD manages to get the better of Malenko. The impromptu brawl becomes a mugging of Malenko, but before WCW can send their forces to rescue Malenko, Chris Jericho comes through the crowd and tees off on RVD with his ballbat. The dual champion is left battered and bruised at the hands of Jericho, while Heyman makes for higher ground, vowing revenge over his turned shoulder. Jericho surveys the scene and hesitates on Malenko, the two old friends, divided by loyalties and decisions; Malenko struggles to his feet, hands up, ready to fight his old, tormented friend. The two eye each other for a handful of tense, drawn-out moments before Jericho says the only people on his hit list are those killing the business, and Malenko isn’t one of them. Jericho tosses Malenko the bat and leaves.

The only black mark for WCW on the evening comes in the main event, with Big Show taking on DDP, and the unwanted incursion of Undertaker, seeking revenge for Big Show’s violent return and ruining of the WWF Tag Title match. Undertaker manages to lay out both men, but fails to get the upper hand when Flair and Booker join in the fight. Austin comes out of the crowd to lend a hand to his WWF compatriot, but the odds are overwhelming, and Austin and ‘Taker are driven from the ring, with WCW’s elite standing tall int he center of it … and The Rock watching everything from the aisle, his eyebrow firmly arched.

Smackdown: Sep. 27th

Smackdown opens with the announcement of a huge double main event: Rhyno, defending the WWF Title for the first time, against The Undertaker, and The Dudleys, defending the WWF Titles against Stone Cold and, wrestling on Smackdown for the first time since winning the WCW Title, The Rock, on order of the acting authority, WWF Commissioner William Regal.

But before the WWF can go trumpeting the night’s big matches too much, the Lunatic Fringe crash the ring. Heyman is all smiles, his wild cult-leader eyes glowing like a neon sign. “Ya know, a lot of you might think that that the actions of Arn Anderson and WCW last Monday might have rattled me,” he begins. “See, I’ve known Arn for almost a decade; I managed Arn back in WCW, way back in the day, so I know how his mind works. He is a cold, calculating man, a very dangerous individual … but Arn is a predictable man. And between him running the show, and the incompetents wrestling on it … I mean, none of their guys can even beat The Rock, and he has almost 6 months off! … well, let me just say WCW is an after-thought for the Fringe. They will be dealt with in due time, once we finish off the WWF, and we are very close to achieving this goal.” The crowd boos; Heyman mocks surprise and confusion. “What, you don’t believe me? Let’s look at the facts; Steve Austin is alienating nearly everyone he comes in contact with, and has lost two big matches in a row. The company drove Chris Jericho and Raven right out of their camp on an assumption. The Rock has be ordered to return to Smackdown, since he’s so busy with his new friends in WCW. And thanks to his overbearing and borderline illegal activites in trying to keep his ship afloat, Vince McMahon got himself fired. And then … to top it all off, I control nearly every title in the company … Light Heavyweight? It’s on the most dominant light heavyweight in history, Jerry Lynn. The Intercontinental Champion is the man who held the ECW Television Title for almost two years, and had to forfeit it due to injury, Mr. Pay-Per-View Rob Van Dam. And how could I forget … the most physically dominating WWF Champion since Yokozuna, the man who defeated Kurt Angle and Mike Awesome …” The crowd becomes enraged at the lead-in to Rhyno’s introduction. Again, Heyman mocks surprise. “What, you don’t like him? You actually thought I’d allow that traitorous son of a bitch Mike Awesome to keep the title? Mike Awesome stole the ECW World Title and took it to WCW. Why would I align myself with such a backstabbing piece of garbage like Awesome, when I have someone like Rhino, the last ECW World and TV Champion I might add, who is far more dominant then Awesome could ever be?” The crowd rails against Heyman, chanting “asshole”, but Heyman shows no sign of being bothered. “Chant whatever you want; the point is that we have the WWF weakened and ready to die. Every goal I’ve set in this campaign of mine, every indignation and defeat I’ve set up has come to pass. And for the Sam Muchnicks and Don Owens and Jim Crocketts of the world, but mostly for myself and the legacy of ECW, I vow to finish the job and kill the World Wrestling Federation once and for all!”

Heyman’s proclamation of Armageddon polarizes the locker room; those in charge and partisan to Austin, Regal, ‘Taker and Angle support them and believe in their ability to drive back the invading forces (and push on to take down WCW), while a chunk of the roster, already nervous and untrusting of the increasingly unstable leadership, voice their displeasure about the state of affairs with each other. When word spreads to the reigning hierarchy, Austin and company take action by interrupting the matches with the dissenters and pulverizing them; the Hardys, Edge, Test, Albert and X-Pac all suffer under the “leadership” of Austin’s troupe.

With the WWF busy self-destructing and fighting with each other, the Fringe seize the opportunity to take care of other business, starting with Awesome, who shows up in Regal’s office demanding a rematch against Rhyno; Regal rebuffs him and tells Awesome to go crawling back to WCW. The argument leads to a brawl, which leads to a match between the Commissioner and the former champion. In the midst of the match, Tazz interferes and strangles Awesome with a Tazzmission while the rest of the Fringe send Regal back to the back with a beating for a parting gift. After a few Tazz-plexes, Tazz leaves Awesome for the paramedics.

But the Fringe doesn’t fare as well dealing with their other two rogue elements, Raven and Jericho. A 24/7 challenge to his Hardcore Title by Spike Dudley turns into another trap for Raven by the Fringe. Raven outwits the group and barricades himself in the parking garage, where Tommy Dreamer is waiting. The brawl ends with a sickening exclamation point as Raven hits his Raven Effect DDT on Dreamer on the hood of a car, sending Dreamer’s face crashing into the windshield. Jericho deals another defeat for the Fringe, tearing through Perry Saturn in under two minutes with his new aggressive, offensive stance. Before the Fringe can come to Saturn’s aid, Jericho gets the pin and heads for higher ground.

But Heyman’s campaign of destruction regains some traction with the double main event, starting even before the matches occur, when The Rock arrives at the arena and confronts Austin and Regal; Regal tries to shake Rock’s hand, while Austin welcomes Rock with a cold beer. Both men get cold, irritated stares. “Who are you to demand anything of The Rock?” he barks. “The Rock is a busy man, kissing babies here, whipping jabroni ass there, keeping your skanky-ass momma away The Rock’s strudel every night!”

“Rocky,” Austin says, “we got problems, son, and I knew if the WWF could count anyone, it’d be you.” Austin claps Rock on the shoulder; Rock glares, first at Austin’s hand touching him, then, with a quick snap of the head, Austin himself. “Listen, we got the APA, I paid ’em in beer and cigars to watch our backs while we whup up on them Dudley Boys and take back the WWF Tag straps. C’mon, let’s get-“

“The Rock still hasn’t heard exactly how you get off demanding anythingof The Rock.” Rocky holds up the WCW Title. “See this, Stone Cold? Get a good look. You know what this is? This is a championship belt. The WCW Championship. This says The Rock is the champion of WCW, he represents WCW, and until the belt is on someone else’s waist, The Rock belongs to WCW. So, if you’ll excuse The Rock …”

Rock turns to leave, but Austin grabs his arm. Rock’s glare switches on a dime, from cold to hostile. Austin doesn’t let go, and gets in Rock’s face. “Rocky, you are a WWF superstar. You have a responsibility.”

“The Rock has a responsibility to defend this belt until someone else takes it from The Rock. The Rock already told you, told Vince McMahon, told your brother-father Cletus, your sister-daughter Flora Mae, told the whole world that The Rock don’t care about some stupid war, The Rock don’t want help from you, and The Rock sure as hell ain’t a comrade of Stone Cold.”

“And as an employee of the WWF, sunshine,” says Regal, “you have a contractual obligation to perform for the WWF. I’d suggest if you don’t want to find yourself in court, you’ll go put on your wrestling trunks and meet Steve in the ring.”

The tensions between Rock and Austin derail their chance almost right out of the gate; Rock is game to compete, and takes it to The Dudleys with his normal 100%, but every time he and Austin cross paths, the teamwork comes unglued and The Dudleys are right there to capitalize. Even with judicious, and illegal, assistance from the APA, Rock and Austin are unable to maintain the advantage. Eventually, the pressure becomes to much to bear, and Austin snaps; he grabs a chair and blasts Bubba on the floor. The ref catches it and disqualifies Austin, who continues to beat on Bubba. D-Von tries save his half-brother, only to get waylaid by the APA. But Rock sidesteps it all and storms out, taking his WCW Title with him.

The WWF’s final chance for redemption comes in the form of Undertaker’s challenge of Rhino for the WWF Title. Taking a page from WCW’s proactive playbook, Undertaker orders the WWF superstars to surround the ring and prevent any unfair interference from Rhyno’s Fringe brethren. But ‘Taker is disturbed to see only about half of the mob he expected to come out; Edge appears on the TitanTron and tells Undertaker that as long as people like him, Austin and their friends continue to help the Fringe along by killing the WWF from the inside like a cancer, that certain members of the roster won’t follow their “leadership” anymore. Heyman takes the opportunity to suggest that, since the WWF is protecting their investment, that he should have the right to protect his, and sends down some of his men, turning the match into a Lumberjack match. No sooner are the Fringe members at ringside then they start brawling, leaving Rhino and Undertaker alone in the ring to settle up. But the hardheaded Man-Beast proves a tough nut for Undertaker to crack, absorbing everything ‘Taker has to dish out like it were a back massage. And when Rhyno takes the advantage, the systematic dismantling is awe-inspiring; it is the first time since Mankind that an opponent has owned The Undertaker, only this time, the opponent is a bloodthirsty animal. When Rhyno hits a Gore, the crowd hold their breath, waiting for the American Badass to do as he always has and triumph over the impossible … only this time, there is no miracle comeback. The ref’s hand hits the mat for the third time. The bell rings, and everyone on the floor stops brawling to hear the results of the match they’d fought through. When the announcer proclaims Rhyno still the WWF Champion, the moment of disappointment in the WWF camp is enough for the Fringe to pounce on and get one final victory on the night.

Nitro: Oct. 1st

Nitro gets off to a rousing start with a rundown of the big matches for the evening; new Cruiserweight Champ Chavo Guerrero taking on Dean Malenko, The Impact Players taking on Shane Helms & Shannon Moore, and a special main event tag match of The Rock & Ric Flair versus Booker T & DDP.

Right out of the gate is the Cruiserweight Title match. Malenko takes the young Chavo to school with a dizzying blend of cruiserweight speed and technical prowess, but Chavo is no slouch, and gives as good as he gets. Unfortunately, the Lunatic Fringe seize upon the match to mark their arrival, with Tajiri and RVD descending upon Chavo and Malenko and laying them out. Before the beating can get out of hand, a number of WCW wrestlers storm the ring and drive Tajiri and RVD from ringside, into the audience. Waiting there for them is Heyman, who has a microphone and rage in his eyes.

“Did you think I was gonna take you for granted, WCW?” Heyman yells. “Did you think I’d have all of my attention on the WWF and forget about you? Do you remember who I am, Arn? Remember The Dangerous Alliance, and how evil and twisted and dangerous we really were? Do you think I’ve mellowed out in 10 years? You can rally around old man Flair all you want, but it won’t save you; if I can take down the WWF, crushing WCW should be like stepping on a bug!”

For a while, Heyman’s threats seem hollow, as neither he nor his band of misfits are anywhere to be found on the broadcast. Matches occur, and there isn’t a peep from Heyman or his group. But the peace is disturbed, not by the Fringe, but by Mike Awesome. When he arrives at the arena, he is given no professional courtesy, no special treatment; he is shunned, a walking pariah he is laughed at at whispered about as he passes through the halls, making a beeline for Arn’s office. Arn listens to Mike rant and rave about being sucked in by Heyman’s fast talk and getting caught up in the whirlwind without stopping to check things out. Awesome begs for forgiveness and asks to come back to WCW. Arn deadpans and tells Awesome that he can’t walk back over burnt bridges, and if he wants to establish new ones, he’ll have to earn it. Earning it turns out to be a match against Big Show. Awesome and Show get into a knock-down, drag-out brawl, with Awesome’s deceptive speed giving him an edge against the giant. But before he can attempt to Awesome-bomb the behemoth, Tazz and Undertaker invade the ring, attacking their respective targets. Authorities are pushed, shoved and punched at until they get the hint to stay away, but one man, certainly no authority, has the gumption to stop the carnage: Chris Jericho. With a swing of the bat, Tazz goes down. Awesome is the next victim, and the Undertaker soon gets a gut full of wood. The only person left standing is Big Show, who gets a glare from Jericho as he walks away, leaving the wreckage to be sorted out by paramedics.

With the rampant incursions, WCW once again rallies around Flair and Anderson, who order a tripling of security along the ring’s perimeter, and wrestler escorts by other members of the roster for every match. The lockdown conditions a little nerve-racking for the wrestlers; even with the extra security, Helms and Moore are too distracted with looking over their shoulder to focus on the match, and the Impact Players squeak by with another victory, although without any assistance from Lita (forced to watch from behind the two human walls called Kronik) or the Dudleys (kept at bay in the crowd).

But one thing the added security doesn’t stop is peaceful interaction in the back, and Heyman uses that to his advantage by visiting Booker T before his big tag match and offers his help and advice to defeat The Rock. When Booker tells Heyman to hit the road, Heyman reminds how Booker not only came up empty against The Rock at SummerSlam, but how in recent big matches, the Book has been off. Booker throws Heyman out on his ass, but in the silence of his dressing room, Heyman’s words weigh on his mind.

DDP catches wind of Booker’s run-in with Heyman right before the match; DDP questions Booker’s integrity, but Booker insists nothing happened. The dissension rears its ugly head all through the match, with Booker and DDP all over the map in terms of teamwork, while Flair and Rock work together as if they’ve been tagging for years. Nevertheless, when Paul Heyman comes down the aisle, it distracts Rock long enough for DDP to score a Diamond Cutter and get the pin. Booker, DDP and Flair all exchange suspicious glares with each other; DDP leaves and is immediately accosted by Heyman, who forcibly shakes DDP’s hand. Booker and Flair watch, even more confused then before.

Smackdown: Oct. 4th

Another big title defense by Rhyno, this time against Kane, headlines Smackdown, plus Jericho versus Tazz. But before the action can begin, Austin, Regal, Undertaker and Angle stomp to the ring for another addressing of the troops. Only this time, the amount of troops on stage is significantly less.

Regal takes the microphone first, his perpetual sneer directed at his subordinates on the stage. “Since WCW first attacked us in June, and since that miserable toe-rag Paul Heyman gathered together his flotsam & jetsam last month, not a bloody one of you has done a thing to stop these hooligans! You’re lucky I don’t dock your pay until I see some victories!” Regal shakes his head in disgust. “If Kane doesn’t wrest the WWF Title from Rhyno tonight, Kurt Angle has been gracious enough to volunteer to not only redeem himself, but fight for this company at Unforgiven and defeat that thug and get our title back! Who among you can say the same thing?”

Regal passed the mic to Austin, who is pacing and rubbing his forehead. “We are gonna say it again, and again, and again, until you jackasses understand,” says Austin. “We cannot beat WCW and Heyman without each and every one of you doing your damn job and kicking ass.” Austin gestures to Angle. “I mean, Angle here is gonna beat the snot outta Rhyno and get our WWF Title back at No Mercy.” Austin stands in front of ‘Taker and says; “Big Red here is gonna put the hurt on Big Show. But I ain’t seen a damn one of ya in Regal’s office saying ‘I can beat the Dudleys, I can beat RVD!’. Not a damn one of ya! You sicken me! You’re weak! A bunch of weak, pathetic pieces of crap!”

Faarooq and Bradshaw step forward, heads held high. “You can count on us,” Bradshaw proclaims. “We’ll take them Dudleys at No Mercy!”

Angle punctuates this an inspired “Woo!” that earns him looks from Austin, ‘Taker and Regal. Angle shrugs, completely oblivious. “That’s one,” Austin says, moving on and ignoring Angle’s annoying exuberance. “Who’s next?”

The music of Edge suddenly comes on; the crowd on the stage looks around for the youngster, who is absent from the group. When Edge emerges from the curtains, he is not alone; a small group follows him down the ramp and to the ring. Edge gets in Austin’s face, his eyes narrowed to slits. “It takes a lot of guts for you guys to stand in this ring and accuse everyone else of not doing their job,” says Edge, his voice a low growl. “When was the last time you won a match, Steve? You couldn’t beat the Dudleys, you couldn’t beat Tommy Dreamer, and you couldn’t beat Mike Awesome. Maybe the problem in the WWF isn’t that we’re not doing our part to survive, it’s that the people who’ve elected themselves as leaders are looking more like losers!”

Austin glares at Edge. “What’d you say, son? I’m sorry, who’s been World Champion between the two of us, huh? Who’s the one who’s actually standing up to them WCW scum and them punks Heyman has, and who’s the one running their mouth instead of doing their job?”

Edge gets nose-to-nose with Austin, speaking through clinched teeth. “Who’s the only one out here complaining about WCW? Why do you think everyone is quiet, Austin? You think nobody wants to do their job because they’re afraid of WCW and Heyman … or because they’d rather be unemployed then do a damn thing for you?”

Austin fumes for a second before turning away … only to turn back and respond with a right to the jaw of Edge. The punch triggers a brawl between Edge, Austin, and their respective groups, until the remainder of the roster pries them apart. Regal makes a match between Edge and Austin for later on in the evening, along with himself and The Undertaker against the Hardys.

The Hardys surprise ‘Taker & Regal with a barrage of lightning-quick offense and smooth double-team maneuvers, but the experience and strength of Regal & ‘Taker win out over time, and Jeff Hardy gets broken into fine bits with a thunderous Last Ride. ‘Taker grabs a microphone and issues a warning that Big Show will suffer the same fate at Unforgiven, and gives another example by hitting the Ride on Matt. Nevertheless, the Hardys drag themselves to their feet after Regal & ‘Taker leave, beaten, but not defeated.

Prior to his match with Tazz, Jericho runs across Edge in the back hallways. For a long handful of seconds, the two athletes regard each other with cautious silence. Edge makes the first move and extends a hand. Jericho watches for a moment longer, and when Edge starts to withdraw his hand, mournfully and disappointed, Jericho reaches out and grabs it. Edge starts to mutter an apology, but Jericho shakes his head. “If you feel you wanna apologize,” explaines Jericho, “keep doin’ what you’re doin’.” Jericho leaves Edge to ponder this while he goes out for his battle with the Fringe’s suplex master, Tazz.

Tazz gives Jericho his toughest fight yet in the Fringe, absorbing Jericho’s punishment and dishing some out in return. But in the end, Jericho is too much for Tazz to take, and falls prey to the Walls Of Jericho. No sooner has he gotten the tap-out then Jericho drops the hold and heads out, passing Mike Awesome sliding in and getting some retribution on the fallen Tazz. Dreamer comes out to provide support, but is caught by Raven, who drags the Innovator Of Violence back to the stage. Awesome manages to get in some good licks before taking off for higher ground, but Raven isn’t so lucky, and is thrown off the stage, through a table. Saturn gives Dreamer some barbed wire, which he wraps around his body and dives off the stage, splashing Raven and puncturing him (and himself) with the dangerous wire. Paramedics haul both men to the hospital, a pair of broken, bleeding messes. Regal goes on the air shortly thereafter and says that, due to the escalating level of violence between Raven and Dreamer, and the threat it presents to those around them, an announcement regarding a once-and-for-all showdown between the two would be made next week, once the proper environment had been found to hold such a bloodbath.

Edge shows no nerves when he steps into the ring to take on Austin for the first time. Austin, however, is enraged, and doesn’t take off his vest, pose in the corners or even wait for the bell before charging Edge and peppering him with fists. The hailstorm of fists is too much for Edge to counter, and Austin takes control of the match, which in no way resembles a wrestling match, but more a prison-yard ass-kicking. Yet Edge rises to his feet, refusing to give Austin the perverse satisfaction. When a pair of Stunners won’t put down Edge, Austin signals to the back; Undertaker comes out, a sadistic grin on his face. But Undertaker never makes it farther then the bottom of the ramp when Jericho drops Undertaker with a bat. Austin, perplexed and horrified, tries to put more hurt on the rebellious Edge, but Edge manages to turn the tide in his favor. Austin tries to bail, only for Jericho to scare him back in with the bat. Austin regains the advantage with a low blow, but a Stunner is blocked and turned into an Edgecution DDT, giving Edge the biggest (upset) victory of his career. Edge doesn’t stay to savor his victory, although he gets a congratulatory clap on the shoulder from Jericho. Jericho steps into the ring while Austin rolls around on the mat, holding his head. “Jeez, Austin,” says Jericho mockingly. “You can’t even beat some upstart, free-thinking young man like Edge. Can’t beat Dreamer. Can’t beat Awesome. How are the fans and the wrestlers supposed to buy you as a leader when you can’t even get the job done?” Jericho flashes an entirely humorless smile. “Maybe, just maybe, if you hadn’t driven away the young guys who want to succeed … maybe if you hadn’t pissed off The Rock …” Jericho gets down on his haunches, looking into Austin’s eyes. “Maybe if you hadn’t treated me like some god-damned leper, the WWF might be in better shape, instead of sucking wind and staring at the lights under your leadership. Like you are right now.”

Austin jolts up to his feet, still breathing heavy, wiping the sweat off his forehead. “The World Wrestling Federation don’t need your help, son,” Austin says through gasps of air. “Especially from some back-stabbing piece of crap like yourself. Or is beatin’ Undertaker with a baseball bat and making me lose somehow helping us beat Heyman and WCW?”

Jericho steps up into Austin’s face. “Last I checked, Austin, WCW … they don’t even care you exist. If you just stayed on Smackdown and never bothered them, they wouldn’t bother you.” Jericho chuckles. “And as for the Fringe? Son, the only person helping the Fringe beat your ass is you. Your time is over, Austin. If there’s something that’s gonna kill the WWF, you’d be that cancer. You, and The Undertaker, and all your cronies.” Jericho backs away and gives Austin a taste of his own medicine with a pair of birds. Austin seethes, turning as red as if he’d been covered in blood, as Jericho walks away.

The final chance for the management coalition to strike some kind of blow for the WWF comes in the main event. This time, instead of allowing the match to turn into a Lumberjack match on the spur of the moment, Regal stations as many wrestlers as possible around the stage and ramp, and puts extra private security around the ringside area, and warns Heyman if any Fringe members try to interfere, Rhyno will be stripped of the title. Heyman acquiesces all to easily, confident that Rhyno can bowl over the Big Red Machine. Kane gives Rhyno all the fight he can handle, and the biased WWF ref lets a lot of things slide when done by Kane … but the taste of WWF blood in Rhyno’s veins is too strong a force to counter, and the Man-Beast, through sheer force of will, overcomes Kane’s assault and sends Kane back to the showers with a ring-shaking Gore. Rhyno adds a second Gore after the pinfall to put the exclamation point on his triumph … but is blindsided by Angle, who comes from behind, hits the Angle Slam, then locks on the Angle Lock, torquing Rhyno’s ankle as far as it’ll go before the bone breaks. Rhyno screams and tries to roll out of it, but Angle follows and locks it in tighter, twisting even as Rhyno taps and the ref has the timekeeper ring the bell. Angle has to be pried off by the police and taken away, but the moral victory, and the sight of Rhyno tapping, gives the WWF, for the first time in weeks, some valuable momentum.

Nitro: Oct. 8th

Mike Tenay and Scott Hudson usher in another jam-packed Nitro with a rundown of the night’s big matches: Chavo Guerrero squaring off in a grudge match against Jerry Lynn, Mike Awesome taking on Booker T, DDP facing Flair, and, starting off the show, RVD and the Impact Players in six-man tag action against Kronik and Dean Malenko.

The six-man tag starts off as a melee, with Kronik and Malenko cleaning house on the Fringe group. The Fringe come back and, through cheating and the help of Lita, manage to turn the tide in their favor, until Lita is dragged away kicking and screaming by Molly Holly, Stacy Keibler and Torrie Wilson. Cameras follow Lita being dragged through the halls and thrown out into the night, revealing WCW’s newest strike against the Lunatic Fringe: the group is locked out of the arena, with security stationed at the door, a checklist in hand of all of Heyman’s followers. Heyman complains and argues with the security guard, who radios into someone, while the action inside continues, with the IP losing steam as they wait for the help that never arrives. Kronik take advantage and squash their smaller rivals, while Malenko gets the drop on a confused and frightened RVD and sinks in the Texas Cloverleaf. Kronik nails both Players with High Times, and the win, pinfall or submission, is academic. Arn comes out and adds insult to injury by informing the defeated Fringe team that the Impact Players will defend the WCW Tag Titles against Kronik, while RVD will get a special challenge; a triple threat, one fall for each title, with Malenko being WCW’s representative.

Another stinging defeat follows the tag match for the Fringe, when Jerry Lynn drops a DQ loss to Chavo Guerrero. Chavo dominates Lynn, showing a ruthless side of himself never before seen that takes Lynn totally off his game. When nothing he can do stops Chavo’s onslaught, Lynn takes the easy way out and blasts the ref, drawing the DQ, and heading for the hills. Unfortunately, it is announced later on that the following week, Lynn will have nowhere to hide in a steel cage rematch.

Flush with his companies victories over the Fringe, Arn strolls to the locked security door to meet with the Fringe. He finds a predictably irate Heyman, screaming and sweraing while his charges mill around, complaining about the cold. When Heyman sees Arn come through the door, he charges over like a bull, his face red as a tomato. “What in the hell do you think you’re doing keeping us out here?” he bellows.

“It’s real simple, Paul; this is a wrestling company, not a hotel. The Dudleys are WWF Champions, not WCW. Same with Rhyno. And we don’t have Tommy Dreamer, or Steven Richards, or Saturn scheduled-“

I don’t care!” Heyman screams. “We’re not animals! This is inhuman!”

“No, Paul, this is business. And if you don’t have business at a WCW event, you’re not welcome at a WCW event. I can’t put it any simpler then that.”

“Well, what about Jericho? Is he in the building? He seems to go wherever he wants, so why can’t we?”

Heyman makes a move for the door, trying to catch Arn off-guard; the security guard catches Heyman and puts him back. “As a matter of fact,” Arn says without missing a beat, “Chris Jericho is not here tonight. I spoke with him personally, and he informed me he would not be in attendance. So, the answer is still no. But nice try.”

Heyman stomps away and screams like a banshee, throwing his hands in the air and walking in circles. Finally, he composes himself, straightens his tie, and approaches Arn again. “Fine, if you won’t let my boys in to grab a bite to eat and a cup of coffee to warm their bones, at least let me in.”

Arn raises an eyebrow. “For what?”

“I have business in there!”

“Not with me, you don’t. Not with any of my boys.”

“Oh, but that’s where you’re wrong, Arn. You see, Arn,” Heyman says, slipping an arm around Arn’s shoulders, “one of”-Paul removes his arm briefly to make quotation marks in the air-“‘your boys’ is no longer proud to wave the WCW banner. One of ‘your boys’ isn’t too happy he got passed over for a title shot in favor of a guy who has’t wrestled regularly in a year, and is over 50 years old. One of ‘your boys’ is tired of languishing on what he thinks is a dying show, and is looking to make a switch. I need to get in there so I can help counsel this disgruntled employee of yours towards the right decision.”

“And I suppose the right decision would be the Fringe?”

“Now, now, you know better, that’s privileged information. A client has privacy rights, and I can’t go violating those! So, as you can see, I have a valid reason for entering, so if you’d just-“

Arn shoves Paul’s arm off his shoulder. “I don’t think so.”

Paul’s face flushes, his eyes going steel cold. “I have been more then patient with your crap, Anderson. Now either you let me in, or- Hey, wait a second!”

Arn ignores Paul’s fading voice as he steps through the door and closes it behind him, trapping Paul on the outside. Paul tries yelling for Arn, but gets nothing but his own voice echoed back. When more screaming and pounding get him nowhere, Heyman drops back and gets on his cell phone as the segment goes to commercial.

Booker heads to the ring, but before Awesome is introduced, Booker grabs a mic. “Last week, that pudgy sucka, Paul Heyman, he came to me and told me the Lunatic Fringe was the place to be. Ya know somethin’, WCW is the only home the Bookerman has ever known. Were it not for WCW, Booker T wouldn’t be a four-time, four-time, four-time, four-time WCW Champion! WCW is the only home I wanna know … but it’s awful hard, knowing WCW allowed that sucka-ass fool The Rock to compete forour main belt!” The crowd gives Booker a negative reply to his dissing of the respected champ. “And then, instead of giving me a rematch, they give the shot to Ric Flair! And now I-” The crowd boos even more at the disparaging of Flair. “As I was sayin’, now I gotta win back my belt in a fatal four-way, with Rock, Flair, and Diamond Dallas Page! Maybe Heyman was right … maybe WCW needs the Bookerman more then the Bookerman needs WCW. All I can tells you is that come No Mercy, it don’t matter who Booker T is with, cause Booker T will be the five-time, five-time, five-time-, dive-time, FIVE-TIME WCW Champion! Now can you dig that … sucka?”

Booker fuels his irritation and disappointment into his match, but finds himself at odds with Mike Awesome’s determination to prove his worth to Arn and the WCW brass. The frustration in Booker visibly multiplies as every for-sure finishing blow he hits only gets long two-counts from the former WWF Champion. But Awesome finds himself fighting the same problem: a fiercely determined opponent, desperate to prove something with a victory. After an Awesome Bomb, Awesome goes for a frog splash, but Booker moves out of the way and Awesome eats mat. An attempt to follow-up with a Harlem Hangover comes up empty for Booker, but a second try at the frog splash doesn’t, and Awesome earns a hard-fought victory. When Awesome leaves the ring in triumph, Booker snaps and destroys the ringside area, throwing the stairs, tearing apart the announcers’ table and throwing chairs.

The black cloud of Booker’s tirade hangs over the main event for the evening, Flair’s match against his fatal four-way opponent, DDP, especially in light of DDP’s run-in with Paul Heyman the previous week. Flair talks to DDP off-mic, but DDP ignores Flair’s inquisitions and gets to the business of the match. Like Awesome/Booker, the two are evenly matches in their determination and desire to win, if for nothing else then the bragging rights going into Unforgiven. But Booker’s bitterness compels him to approach the ring, a steel chair in hand … and right behind Booker is Heyman. Booker slides into the ring as Flair and DDP trade blows, winding up the chair to strike Flair in the back. Heyman slides in behind him and grabs hold of the chair. Booker turns to see Heyman the anchor weighing down his arms and starts to argue. Flair manages to drop DDP and, along with the ref, approaches Booker and Heyman; Flair issues a string of curses at the both of them. But taking his eye off DDP proves the mistake, as DDP rolls him up with a schoolboy, and the ref, seeing the pinfall attempt, counts the three. Heyman drops out of the ring, smiling, arms out in a sort of full-body shrug, while DDP and Booker regard both Heyman and each other with suspicion … and Flair watches all three, the horror of the situation evident on his face.

Smackdown: Oct. 11th

To avoid another embarrassing lockout like the one on Nitro, the Fringe arrive at the arena early and wait for the WWF to join them. The frustration on the faces of the WWF people betray a copycat ploy was in the works. The failure causes Regal to adjust the evening’s match docket, but sticks it to the Fringe by stacking the heavy-hitters against them; Kane teams with The APA against The Dudleys and RVD (a preview of RVD’s second opponent for the triple threat at No Mercy), The Undertaker gets Dreamer, Angle gets Tazz, and in the main event, Austin challenges Rhyno for the WWF Title.

Regal starts off with a message for the “insurgents” (as he calls them) within the company, warning them that their divisive actions and attitudes would not be tolerated, and, as a result, all insurgents will be kept off the show tonight as punishment (without pay, he adds gleefully). Regal’s announcement is met with harsh criticism from the crowd, but Regal shows no care or concern for the people … until Jericho strolls out and joins him in the ring. Regal blanches as Jericho gets right in his face, silent but as serious as a heart attack. Regal starts to stutter and try to come up with something to say, but all he gets out are random letters. Jericho cuts off the stammering with a stiff slap across the jaw that sends Regal to his knees. Alternating of shock, fear and rage flash across Regal’s face, but Jericho’s is a mask of stone. “Edge and Matt and Jeff and their friends, they aren’t the problem,” says Jericho. He points his bat in Regal’s face; “You are the problem. You and Austin and Undertaker and Angle and all your cronies. Every one of them has put 110% of their efforts in doing right by this company and fighting proudly for the WWF name, but if they don’t do it your way, they’re traitors. Meanwhile, you guys keep coming up empty against these ‘enemies’, but somehow, you come out smelling like a rose.” Jericho gets down on his haunches; Regal scurries back into the corner, but Jericho follows him and gets back down on his level. “Lemme make myself perfectly clear, Willie: this ends tonight. You’re afraid of the Fringe taking over? You’re afraid of WCW taking over? Thisis the hostile takeover you shoulda been
watching out for. Starting tonight, your reign of terror over the WWF superstars is done. I’m leading this war, and the firts thing I’m doing? Austin’s little match tonight against Rhyno … I’ll be refereeing that.” Jericho stands upright and walks off, leaving a quaking Regal on the mat in the corner.

The news of Jericho’s confrontation spreads through the locker room like wildfire, furthering the divide between the loyalists and the separtists. The APA vow to exterminate Jericho and his buddies “for free”, while Edge & Christian and their brethren vow to build on Jericho’s bold proclamation. Their first strike is against the APA, during their six-man tag with Kane against the Fringe trio of RVD and the Dudleys. Kane has the match well in hand, dominating the smaller RVD with a power-based offense, and helping the APA with out-brawling the Dudleys. The sight of Edge & Christian coming down to ringside sends the crowd into a frenzy; the masters of the Con-chair-to lay in wait at the end of the aisle, poised like tigers ready spring at a gazelle. When the match breaks down into a melee, they spring into action, taking out everyone with chairs. Christian pins Bubba Ray Dudley and Edge goes down for a phony three-count, which the crowd counts along with. Before more loyalists can run over Edge & Christian, they high tail it to safer parts.

The anti-establishment backlash continues when Undertaker, getting ready for his match, winds up jumped and beaten by an angry mob led by Jericho. ‘Taker is bound, dragged into the parking lot and tossed in the trunk of a car. Jericho walks up to the driver, the Big Show, and gives him a nod and a clap on the shoulder. “Make sure he gets the treatment he deserves, Show,” says Jericho.

In the ring, a bandaged and bruised Dreamer gets a count-out victory, of which Heyman is quick to gloat about. “Ya see? This is why I hired this man!” he proclaims. “Austin? Beat his ass into the ground. Undertaker? Too scared to show up! The WWF’s biggest stars are dropping like flies, and half of their own roster hates those guys anyway! All there’s left to do is for the Innvator of Violence to finally rid the world of that pathetic piece of garbage, Rav-“

“Tommy …” says a familiar voice, echoing through the arena. “The so-called Innovator Of Violence. Brought to the WWF to persecute a broken, washed-up, pathetic piece of garbage called Raven.” Raven’s face, bathed mostly in shadows and obscured by what looks like a cyclone fence, fills the TitanTron. “How pathetic could I be if it took you almost three yearsto pin me in ECW? How innovative could you be since you pinned me with a DDT? Do you want to know what true innovation is, Tommy? You see, Tommy, Commissioner Regal thought a Last Man Standing match would settle our differences, but I declined and took it up with Linda McMahon. Linda McMahon wants this over, Tommy, and she gave me a blank check. And I filled that blank check, Tommy, and I cashed it … do you know what I got for my money? A Hell In A Cell, wrapped in barbed wire.” The crowd, Heyman and the announcers gasp; Tommy’s only response is his eyes growing wider. “Weapons, all around the ring; canes, shovels, sledgehammers, screwdrivers … everything I could think of, Tommy, it’s inside the cage. And the man who can’t answer a 10 count is the winner; the ref cannot stop the match under any circumstances, and if there is a tie, the match is restarted. How’s that for innovation, Tommy? Does that excite you, Tommy? Because it makes me sick. I got in this business to wrestle, Tommy; I got in this business to be World Champion. I never meant for things to get to this point. Because this isn’t about winning anymore, Tommy. You’ve pushed me farther then I ever wanted to go with another human being. I don’t intend on walking out of No Mercy, Tommy; I fully intend on spending weeks in the hospital. I know going in that I will lose blood, break bones, tear flesh and muscle … I may never walk again after next Sunday. My career as a wrestler will very likely be over next Sunday. But it’s a small price to pay, Tommy, for what I’m going to do to you. Make no mistake, Tommy; what I have planned for you would be considered attempted murder if it weren’t inside the wrestling ring. I may not walk away from next Sunday, Tommy, but you … you’ll be lucky to ever walk again.” The camera pans back; wherever Raven is, he is already inside the hellish structure, his hands gripping the barbed wire steel mesh of the cell’s walls … and bleeding … and he is smiling. “My hell on earth will be being trapped in the broken, crippled body I will inherit next Sunday, knowing I had to inflict such unspeakable things on a human being. Your hell on earth … will be knowing it was Raven who orchestrated your demise, inside my innovation of violence. Quoth the Raven, nevermore!”

The 20-megaton bombshell of the Hell On Earth match sends a bolt of panic through the Fringe. Unfortunately, it is nothing the WWF can take credit for, and find themselves still struggling with an uphill fight to get any traction. The WWF sees that with Angle’s match against Tazz, as Tazz comes out with nearly half the Fringe roster for moral support. Mike Awesome tries to intervene, but is kept at bay by the army of warriors on the arena floor, and given a stern beatdown as well. But with their focus on keeping Awesome from getting anywhere, the group forgets about the match, and Angle takes advantage of a Tazz mistake to take to the air and hits the Angle Slam for a decisive victory. Angle makes a break for it after the victory is announced, lest he incur the wrath of Heyman’s collective bunch of thugs. Tazz grabs a microphone and demands a rematch on the next Smackdown, under submission rules, which Angle is all too happy to accept. Heyman dares Angle to up the ante and put his title shot on the line; Angle counters that, should he win, the Fringe will be banned from ringside at Unforgiven, on punishment of the stripping of the WWF Title from Rhyno. Heyman doesn’t hesitate to accept the offer.

Before the main event can begin, Austin finds Jericho in the back halls. Austin buries a finger in Jericho’s chest, his lip turned up in a snarl. “You don’t make the damn rules round here, son,” Austin says.

Before Austin can say anything else, Jericho slaps Austin’s hand away. Austin looks from his hand to Jericho’s eyes, his own eyes burning with hatred. Jericho disregards it. “You don’t either, boy. Not anymore.” Austin seethes a moment, then springs at Jericho; Jericho moves out of the way. When Austin turns back around, Jericho slams Austin back against the wall, one arm across Austin’s throat, speaking through clinched teeth. “You wanna screw with me, Austin? You wanna prove you’re the man to lead this company? Save it for No Mercy, and you can try your damndest to beat that into me. I promise you, you won’t get the job done, cause youcan’t the job done anymore, Steve.” Austin tries to squirm out of the hold; Jericho punches Austin in the gut, then presses harder on Austin’s throat and leans in so close, his and Austin’s nose tips touch. “Just keep trying my patience tonight, Austin. Just keep on doing what you’re doing, and see how long it takes me to count to three.” Jericho releases the hold, and Austin collapses to his knees, gasping for breath. Jericho squats down and says in Austin’s ear; “Snap to it, soldier. You’re up next.”

The entire match, Austin spends with one eye on Rhyno and one on Jericho, but never making an overt move against him; in fact, whenever Jericho steps in with a five-count or to stop the use of closed fists, Austin breaks almost immediately, but not without a hateful glare thrown Jericho’s way. Likewise, with Jericho’s wrecking ball attitude towards all people Fringe-associated and zero tolerance for shit, Rhyno gives Jericho a wide berth too. In Austin, Rhyno has his hands full with an opponent of just as much piss and vinegar as himself, and just as much of a sadistic meanstreak. But Rhyno’s tenacity and brute strength overwhelm Austin, and, right before Rhyno can unleash the Gore, Austin bails. Jericho scoops up his bat and circles around Austin, ordering him back in the ring; Austin considers it a moment, knowing he can’t compete with Jericho’s bat, but frustrated with an opponent who won’t stay down for anything or anyone. Finally, without another viable option, Austin gets back in the ring, and reverses a Gore into a Stunner … but only gets two. Austin jumps up and screams at Jericho about it being a slow count; Jericho lets Austin blather on for a few moments until Austin shoves Jericho. Jericho shoves Austin back, right into a schoolboy by Rhyno, but Jericho signals for the disqualification. Both Austin and Rhyno are up to protest the decision; Jericho starts to leave, but Austin pulls him back and argues. Jericho asks for a mic and says; “I told you not to provoke me, Austin. You pushed me. I won’t stand for your crap anymore. If you wanna blame someone for not beating that stump-dumb human wall over there, look in the mirror.”

Rhyno grabs Jericho and tries whipping him into the corner, but Jericho puts on the brakes before he hits the turnbuckles. Rhyno, too busy setting up the Gore, doesn’t notice and charges; Jericho turns, sees Rhyno coming and swings. The bat explodes on the head of Rhyno, and the Man-Beast drops to the ground like a stone in a lake. Austin, in total shock, just stares as Jericho drops to the floor and walks off, never taking his eyes off Austin … and smiling.

Nitro: Oct. 15th

The final Nitro before No Mercy gets off to a hot start with RVD issuing an open challenge to defend the US Title against any and all comers in WCW. Not one or two but three people answer his challenge: Hugh Morrus, Mike Sanders and Shawn Stasiak. RVD tries to beg off his multitude of challengers, but Arn comes out with a better idea: a gauntlet match. RVD protests, but Arn insists, and the threat of being stripped of the US Title is enough to convince RVD. Arn springs another surprise on RVD, bringing out Malenko as the special referee for the matches, but this time, RVD keeps his mouth shut and gets to defending the title. Stasiak is the first in line and gives RVD a good fight, but falls quickly to the Five-Star Frog Splash. RVD doesn’t even have time to catch his breath before Malenko calls in Sanders. RVD is too busy arguing to notice Sanders, and gets caught in a roll-up, escaping at 2 and 7/8ths. Sanders takes RVD for a long 7 minutes, unloading an offensive cannon on the US Champ. It is only by way of a fluke backslide that RVD is able to put away Sanders, and by then, he is spent. But Morrus is in the ring and on the attack just that quick, overpowering RVD with his size and strength. RVD tries to bail, but Malenko grabs RVD by the hair and tosses him back in the ring and orders him to continue. It takes everything RVD has to mount any kind of offense, but with a tank nearly on empty after two opponents, Morrus is too much to bear. RVD finds his way out when he takes an opening to riddle Morrus with his fast kicks, only to land wrong on a spinning jump kick. RVD tries to stand, but collapses, and Malenko has no choice but to call the match, and putting Malenko’s US Title shot in jeopardy.

But even more disturbing then the thought of the cancellation of the US/IC Title match is the controversy surrounding Booker T and DDP. Upon hearing Booker T has arrived in the arena, Flair and Arn go to his dressing room to confront him. Booker sees them coming and slams the door shut. A check on DDP gets them another locked door, and a sinking feeling that the unity in WCW is coming undone.

The steel cage rematch between Chavo and Lynn adds an element of brutality to an already explosive match; both men end up with blood on their face from face-to-face meetings with the steel. Lynn manages to hit Chavo with the cradle piledriver, but his sadistic need to punish Chavo with a second proves his mistake, and Chavo mounts the comeback and wins with a top-rope brainbuster. A singles victory over Justin Credible by Bryan Clarke adds to the momentum for WCW, keeping the Fringe, at least on one battleground, at arm’s length. And while he is still consideredpersona non grata among WCW’s locker room, Mike Awesome’s challenge to Tazz gives the company another front through which a blow can be struck at Heyman’s collective.

As well, the Big Show’s appearence strikes at WCW’s other hostile rival, the WWF. “Two years ago, The Undertaker thought I needed to learn a lesson,” says the Big Show. “He took me to the middle of the desert and left me there to die. For two years, I have wanted revenge. This past Monday, I got my opportunity. With the help of Chris Jericho and his friends, I got my hands on The Undertaker, and I drove him out to the middle of nowhere. I beat him until he couldn’t open his eyes or lift his arms, and then I dumped him in the middle of a barren wasteland and left him to rot! The Undertaker likes to say he makes people famous … well, I’m the most famous person he’s ever encountered. I’ll go down in history as the man who took down The Undertaker, and this Sunday, at Unforgiven, I’ll make it permanent!”

An even bigger pop for the crowd is the return of The Rock, a defacto face to the crowd for his respect of the WCW Title and the duties of being the champion. Rocky faces and defeats Mark Jindrak, but sends the young star off with a handshake, and pumps up the crowd with the promise to do the WCW Title justice come Sunday.

But the blight of the DDP/Booker still mars the positive outlook, and their tag match against O’Haire & Palumbo only fuels the fire when Heyman comes down to ringside. Booker and DDP pay him no mind, but it’s all but impossible for O’Haire and Palumbo to suspect the worst, that two of their most beloved and prominent figures have sold out. The weight of such a possibility puts O’Haire and Palumbo off their game, and Booker & DDP take advantage of it for the win. Heyman makes a big show of giving the thumbs-up to DDP and Booker, and applauds them exuberantly as they have their arms raised in victory.

With DDP and Booker stuck in the public eye, Flair and Arn take the opportunity to confront them in the ring. Both are hesitant to speak, but Heyman is more then willing to put his two cents in. “I think the two of you need to head back to the locker room and leave these two alone!” cries Heyman. “They have done nothing to deserve your scrutiny or your persecution!”

“You got no business here,” says Arn coolly. “I want you to take your carcass out of my ring, and take your low-down, rotten snakes in the back with you.”

“Oh, but I do have business here, Arn! I have a vested interest in this. The outcome of this represents a lot of hard work and money on my part, so I have every right in the world to stand here!”

Flair steps forward, his demeanor calm, but, in a way, saddened, like a disappointed father. “Guys,” he says, addressing Booker and DDP directly, “if there is something I’ve done, or Arn has done, that has offended you or made you felt like your contributions to World Championship Wrestling weren’t appreciated, I apologize. It was never the intent to overlook or insult-“

“Well, you did that,” snaps Heyman.

Flair looks at Heyman, and his face floods with red; his words come out in the drawn-out, one-word-at-a-time style synonymous with Flair when he is angry. “Was I talking to you? I don’t think so! I don’t think so! Why don’t you shut your big yap and walk your fat ass to the back and let WCW handle its own business?”

The music of The Rock breaks in. There is no fanfare or posturing by The Rock; dressed in his street clothes, Rock walks with a purpose into the ring, the WCW Title dangling from his hand. Heyman is almost apoplectic. “And what do you call this? How is he letting WCW handle its own bus-“

Heyman’s speech is cut off by The Rock getting right in his face, leaning down over him like a falling tree. Heyman gulps for a second and tries to stammer out a word, but gets drowned out by the People’s Champ. “The Rock is telling you, The Rock is begging you, The Rock will pay you toknow your role and shut your mouth!” The crowd bursts like a balloon, but Rock is on a roll. “You come out here, you come out on Nitro, not even your show … say, whatever happened to your show? Oh, that’s right, your piece of crap company went bankrupt! You come out here on Nitro and you say”-Rock drives his voice up as high in the octave range as it will go-“‘I have a right to be here! I have business here!’ The only thing you got business with is a treadmill, since your fat ass spends so much time at the buffet! The Rock says none of that don’t matter, though, because the bottom line-“

“The bottom line is that this isn’t none of your damn business either!” says DDP. “I don’t care how much respect you show for Lou Thesz or Gene Kiniski or Harley Race; you wearing that belt, our belt is a spit in the face to each and every one of us. When Arn agreed to let you fight Booker T, WCW was poisoned. You ask everybody in the back how they feel about The Rock being our champion. You ask them how they feel when we’re trying to rebuild WCW and we gotta do it in his shadow!”

Flair tries to interject, but Booker jumps right in. “And while you’re at it, why don’t you ask how it feels to be passed over for your title shot so it can go to some old man who ain’t wrestled in months!”

Flair can only shrug, totally taken aback. “Booker, buddy, I’m sorry … I-“

“Stuff it, Ric,” DDP says. “Take your old, decrepit ass outta here and-“

Rock gives DDP a small but noticeable push. DDP looks at him, not saying a word. Without warning, DDP reaches out, grabs Flair and hits the Diamond Cutter. Rock reacts by swinging at Booker; three rights stagger Booker, but when Rock goes back for his trademark spit-punch, Booker feints, comes under the arm and puts Rock on the mat with a sudden Book-End. The crowd is aghast at the scene before them, and the ramifications for the fatal four-way and beyond … but, to add more fuel to the fire, Booker and DDP ignore Heyman’s cheers and offers of congratulations and leave the ring. Heyman stands in the middle of the ring, with Rock and Flair laying on the mat, writhing in pain, as confused as anyone else in the building.

Smackdown: Oct. 18th

With the card set for No Mercy, the final Smackdown before the event is about one thing for the WWF: keeping together and not imploding. But with the Fringe keeping them on the ropes, and a gathering insurrection in the company, achieving anything of promise is a seemingly impossible task.

Right off the bat, the insurrectionists, led by Jericho, flex their collective muscle, getting a WWF Tag Title shot for Edge & Christian against The Dudleys. Heyman doesn’t make the same mistake twice, though, and pulls the WWF Title off the table for an encounter between Rhyno and Jericho. Nevertheless, the prospect of Jericho, with his laundry list of defeated opponents in both the Fringe, WWF and WCW, facing off against the reigning WWF Champion fills the insurrectionists with hope that Jericho can validate their movement with a victory where others failed. For the loyalists, Jericho’s opportunity is a looming earthquake that threatens to level the foundations of their oppressive reign.

Kane & Undertaker (back from his sojourn in the wastelands, and looking none the happier for it) get a warm-up for their respective matches at Unforgiven in a no-DQ rematch against The Hardys. Once again, the strength and experience of the Brothers Of Destruction give them an edge, but the no-DQ ruling allows for the Hardys to utilize hardcore tactics to even the odds. But all the trash can lids and tables can’t stop the angry titans from laying waste to the young daredevils, and a Last Ride through a table puts an end to the match. Still, like last time, the Hardys pull themselves to their feet and dare the brothers to bring the pain again.

A promo runs on the TitanTron, the pained face of Raven filling the screen. “They’re calling this match the ‘Hell On Earth’ match, Tommy.” Raven pushes his hair out of his face, revealing cold, unfeeling eyes. “This Sunday, Hell will be unleashed. Do you really realize exactly what’s in store this Sunday? Do you think it’s going to end with a DDT or a Dreamer Driver? You may be the Innovator Of Violence, but Tommy, you lack the sick, depraved, bottomless hole in your soul to really understand what this Sunday is all about. You lack that hole in your heart … you still have the little angel on your shoulder that tells you to stop. Mine left me years ago, Tommy. That’s why I found it so easy to torment you for years. That’s why I don’t think either of us walking away from this match. Because, if you really intend on beating me, if you really want to give Paul his money’s worth, you will have to get down on my level.” Raven inches closer to the camera. “But when you’re stuck facing a man who has no bottom, no limit as to how low he will descend to destroy his opponent, and you are someone burdened by the weight of conscience, how can you possibly hope to survive? That is what you face, Tommy; you face the prospect of turning to the most sour, black, rotten part of your soul and plunging into its never-ending darkness, and not look back … and not be afraid to be swallowed by that darkness. You have to do that to defeat me … and I have a head start, Tommy. I have a head start that’s years long. You won’t catch up in one night, Tommy … you won’t catch up, and I will bury you alive in that black hole. Quoth the Raven, nevermore!”

With Heyman and Spike at ringside, and the APA at the announce booth, Edge & Christian find themselves with enemies on all sides as they take on The Dudleys. Heyman’s machinations make sure the match is fought under “extreme” rules, giving the Dudleys the license to maim and cheat their way to retention of their belts, and the match is barely begun before Spike is causing problems. Chairs and tables, a harkening back to the TLC match at WrestleMania 17 only months before (seemingly, years), are brought into the match to tear the challengers apart, but Edge & Christian refuse to lose. When Spike tries to hit a Dudley Dog through a table on Christian, though, the tide finally turns as Christian throws Spike into Bubba, and then delivers a spear into D-Von. The tag brings in Edge, who cleans house, including launching Spike over the top rope like a frisbee. Heyman watches in horror as Edge cleans house, and Christian comes back in to help Edge steal the 3-D to drive D-Von through a table. Bubba gets hit with an Unprettier onto a chair, and Edge and Christian make simultaneous pins for the victory and the WWF Tag Titles. Heyman can only stand, slack-jawed at his own plan backfiring, while the APA remain expressionless. The unexpected victory throws a monkey wrench into the Tag Title defense at No Mercy, but (with the consent of Jericho’s contingent) Commissioner Regal solves the issue by keeping the original match of The APA vs. The Dudleys and adding Edge & Christian for a triangle match.

Even with the belts around the waist of supposed insurgents, the morale booster is incredible for the WWF, and the effects are immediately visible. When Angle comes to the ring for his submission match against Tazz, he is more spirited then anyone in the WWF has been in months. When the match begins, he shows a new level of enthusiasm and aggression, countering Tazz’s every move with smart, amateur-based mat wrestling. Even when he is on the defensive, Angle is dictating the pace of the match, making Tazz work for every move, suplex and counter he can land. When Tazz lands suplexes, Angle is right back up in the fight, ready to hit one of his own in reply. It takes a low blow to finally stop Angle’s freight train of offense, but no matter how much offense Tazz unloads upon the Olympian, none of his submission moves get a peep from Angle. When Tazz finally goes for the Tazzmission, Angle reverses it into an Angle Slam, turning the tide back in his favor. Tazz tries to stop it, but Angle cannot be stopped, and soon enough, the Ankle Lock is on. Tazz holds out as long as he can, but the pain becomes too much to bear, and the WWF finds itself on a roll with Angle’s submission victory over Tazz … and the even more positive news of a guaranteed interference-free WWF Title match in 3 days.

Rhyno stomps to the ring, his confidence from his recent track record only exceeded by his manic edge, ready for his confrontation with Jericho. The clash of the two aggressive superstars marks as one of the most physical matches in Smackdown’s history, with both men looking to not just win but cripple his opponent on the way to No Mercy. Rhyno’s strength advantage gives Jericho his strongest test in months, but Jericho’s speed and experience allows him some advantage in return. But what neither can expect or counter is the intrusion of Steve Austin, who stomps down to ringside with an obvious chip on his shoulder. The ref tries to hold Austin back, but Austin shoves the ref out of the way and blasts Jericho with a vicious-looking Stunner. Austin gives Jericho a couple of birds and drops out of the ring, walking back to the aisle … until he stops and looks back and sees why the bell hasn’t rung: Jericho kicked out. Austin stomps back to the ring, but Rhyno blocks him from attacking Jericho. Austin tries for a Stunner, but gets pushed into the ropes and cut in half with a Gore. Rhyno celebrates his taking down of Austin by posing, but neglects to keep his eye on the wily, and recovering Jericho, who hits a bulldog. Jericho wastes no time in bouncing off the ropes and hitting a crisp Lionsault, getting him the three-count and giving Rhyno his first loss since winning the WWF Title. Heyman, up on the stage, is sheet-white, his jaw almost on the floor with horror at seeing his unbeatable monster beaten … while Austin, having rolled out to the floor, looks up at Jericho … a man on a mission who claims to be on a mission to bring the WWF back to glory and flush out the poison … a man who has just beaten the monster no one else in the WWF could touch … a man he will meet in three days, in a match where, very likely, the fate of the company will hang in the balance.

Part VI

What if the InVasion hadn’t failed?

Our story continues at No Mercy, where the WWF and WCW find themselves at the barrel of a gun held by the Lunatic Fringe; for the WWF, dissension within the ranks threatens kill the WWF without Heyman lifting a finger. In WCW, the possibility of the corruption of Booker T and DDP threatens to derail the company’s progress in re-establishing themselves. All three groups head into No Mercy knowing that if they don’t score some victories, there may be no survival …

No Mercy: Oct. 21st, 2001

Announcements are made regarding the two matches that, due to recent events, are under a cloud of confusion; the WWF Tag Title match is turned into a three-way dance, with both The APA and The Dudleys (still in the match courtesy of Paul Heyman threatening an anti-trust lawsuit if the original match contract that included The Dudleys was altered in favor of removing them from the match). But the other match in question, the two-falls US/Intercontinental defense against Kane and Dean Malenko … Heyman’s statement of a “match-time decision” does nothing to clear up the issue.

No Mercy’s first match is the WCW Tag Title defense of The Impact Players against WCW’s muscle-for-hire team of Kronik. With singles’ victories in the books against their smaller foes, Kronik looks to have the upper hand in every way as the match begins. And, knowing the team’s tendency to rely on Lita for extra help, Kronik neutralize the Extreme Diva with Molly Holly at ringside. Even the extreme rules of the match work against the IP as Kronik return every weapon-aided attack back on their opponents, damaging them further. But the sheer power and dominance of Kronik loses out to the numbers game, as Steven Richards and Jerry Lynn help turn the tide to the Impact Players, and give the Fringe the victory in the evening’s first match. But the victory is a hollow one, as Chavo Guerrero and Billy Kidman help run off the Fringe contingent, and WCW stands tall in the ring.

The titanic no-disqualifications clash between the Big Show and Undertaker follows. With no DQ’s, it gives the titans a license to maim, but neither man makes a beeline for weapons and objects; for both men, the match is about making the other suffer. Both Show and Undertaker use their surroundings and the ring itself as their weapons, throwing and dropping and slamming the other against the barricade and the ringposts. But unlike before, ‘Taker doesn’t call on his brothers or his friends in the WWF to come to his aid. When Big Show kicks out of a choke-slam, ‘Taker tries not to show his worry, but gets greedy and attempts a Last Ride. Big Show’s bulk proves too much, and a choke-slam later, Big Show finally gets a pinfall over the American Badass.

Mike Awesome’s chance for revenge on the Fringe follows, as Heyman ushers Tazz out to the ring for their encounter. Heyman curses Awesome all the way to the ring, reminding Awesome how he lost to Tazz in under two minutes a year before, and how it took another guy to help him beat Tazz in 1999. Awesome ignores Heyman’s taunting and goes after Tazz with a fire and a tangible need to prove himself with a decisive victory. Initially, Tazz’s mat wrestling and arsenal of suplexes give him an early advantage, but Awesome’s power and deceptive speed prove a great advantage in establishing dominance over the Human Suplex Machine. Slowly but surely, Awesome’s offense gains momentum until he seems an unstoppable steamroller. Sensing the end, and a defeat, is near, Heyman creates a distraction while Tazz grabs a cinder block from under the ring and breaks it across Awesome’s head. Tazz slaps a Tazzmission on the unconscious Awesome; when Awesome shows no signs of coming to, the ref has no choice but to call the match for Tazz.

Edge & Christian enter the ring and give the crowd an extra five seconds on their normal five-second pose so they can savor the “magifiosity” (as Christian puts it) of their WWF Tag Titles. The crowd loves them, but their fellow WWF superstars Faarooq and Bradshaw do not, and deliver plenty of cold glares across the ring. The hostile glances are a precursor to the lack of teamwork in the WWF side of the match, a weakness the Dudleys exploit time and again with cheating and double-teaming that goes un-countered by the third team. But while the APA won’t lift a finger to save the reigning tag champions, they do stop the Dudleys from pinfall attempts on Edge & Christian, lest the belts fall into even worse hands then the pair of slackers they currently rest in. But between the lack of teamwork between the WWF teams, and the lack of rules for being a triple threat, the Dudleys are able to overcome the odds and score a Spike-and-Heyman-aided pinfall on Faarooq for the victory and the WWF Tag Titles. The Dudleys make tracks for safer ground, celebrating the regaining of the belts, leaving Edge & Christian and the APA to duke it out against each other until security pries them apart.

With ECW’s sudden streak driving morale back into the toilet, the arrival of RVD, on crutches and with Heyman in tow carrying RVD’s two belts, sinks it even further. Heyman grabs a microphone as RVD waves to “his fans”. “Ladies and gentlemen,” says Heyman in a mock mournful tone of voice, “it is my burden to inform you that Rob Van Dam, your United States and Intercontinental Champion, is unable to perform tonight due to the injuries he sustained on Smackdown. I hate to disappoint you, the paying public, of the privilege of seeing the most captivating athlete ever to grace a wrestling ring, but-” Explosions and a sea of red light cut off Heyman’s patronizing speech. Heyman cowers in fear of the Big Red Machine, who replies to Heyman’s excuses by attempting to chokeslam the rotund manager. RVD drops his crutches and charges Kane; the ref immediately signals the timekeeper, and the match begins (the first fall announced as the fall to determine the United States Champion) as Malenko races down to ringside to join the action. Immediately, RVD tries to fall back on the leg as a reason for mercy, but neither man will have any of it and spend the next several minutes punishing and pounding the living hell out of RVD. RVD has to scramble out of the ring to get even a moment of recuperation time, but Kane and Malenko close in around him and continue to deliver the pain. But when RVD is fully laid out and ready for the taking, Kane prevents Malenko from taking the pin. Malenko starts to go at it with Kane, using his speed and technical wizardry to fell the big man. Kane fights back with raw power, but with RVD coming to, both men stop the bickering and refocus on RVD. Once he is put down, Malenko goes back after Kane, dedicating his attack to Kane’s legs. With Kane on the mat and hurting, Malenko returns to RVD and manages to cinch in the Texas Cloverleaf. Heyman tries to reach in and pull RVD to the ropes, but Malenko drags RVD to the middle of the ring; before Heyman can make it in with much-needed assistance, RVD taps, giving Malenko the US Title. The second fall begins immediately, and Malenko tries slapping on the Texas Cloverleaf again. Kane manages to get to his feet and hobbles over to break up the submission move before RVD can tap out again. RVD rolls out of the ring and collapses on the mat while Kane, still favoring a leg, works over Malenko with hard blows and thunderous slams; but none of the abuse can keep Malenko’s shoulders on the mat for three. A chokeslam turns Malenko into a rag doll, but the impact sends his body flying out of the ring and crashing onto the arena floor. When Kane gives chase, RVD pushes Kane into the ring post and takes over the match. RVD dazzles Kane with a blur of kicks and high-speed, high-impact offense, keeping the big man off his feet and unable to get any kind of comeback put together. After several near-falls, RVD finally goes for the Five-Star Frog Splash to end things, only for Malenko to come back from the dead and shove RVD off the top rope. RVD still collides with Kane, although not exactly as planned, and Malenko follows him down with a precision elbow to the heart. Malenko throws an arm on RVD and, to the shock of the crowd, the ref gets to three, and Malenko wins the Intercontinental Title on top of the US Title.

Austin eschews the normal four-corner pose when he enters the ring for his match with Jericho, his eyes, normally fireballs of piss and vinegar, cold and lethal. It is the only thing he and Jericho have in common, as Jericho is all business as he approaches the ring, too. When the bell rings, the two iconic unofficial leaders of the WWF lock in a staredown. Austin is the first to budge after almost a minute of silent scorn traded in glances, going for a kick in the gut; Jericho catches the boot, sweeps out the other leg and goes for the Walls, but Austin twists out. A few more attempts at a quick finish end up in more stalemates, and the match quickly descends into a barroom brawl. Austin ends up getting the advantage, and presses it with stomps, kicks and a hailstorm of fists. But despite the hellacious mugging, Jericho rises to his feet with every blow, refusing to lay down for Austin. Austin drags Jericho outside, using the ring steps, posts, barricade and anything else he can find to aid in battering Jericho into unconsciousness without getting disqualified, but Jericho’s resilience and pride help him kick out, many times before two. Austin tries bickering with the ref, but it gets him no favors, and Austin returns his attention to Jericho with a stiff paintbrush. Jericho’s eyes go wide with surprise and rage, and suddenly, Jericho comes to life in a blur of punches. Austin retreats to a corner, but Jericho is on top of him, pounding wildly on Austin’s head and body; the ref tries to pry Jericho off of Austin, but Jericho will not be stopped. The ref starts a five-count, but gets as far as four before Jericho whips Austin into the other corner and follows with a clothesline. From there, Austin spends the rest of the match on defense or running for his life; any move he gets is a counter from which Jericho comes back almost instantaneously. Even a Stunner isn’t enough to stop Jericho, who kicks out and comes back just as strong and fiercely determined. Austin plays his one last card to save face, and throws Jericho into the ref, sandwiching Earl Hebner between Jericho and the turnbuckle. Austin leaves the ring and makes a beeline for the locker room, but stops halfway down the aisle when he doesn’t hear the bell or the ring announcer; Jericho is talking to the ref, convincing him not to go for the DQ and let the fight play out. Austin paralyzes with fright, a deer in the headlights of Jericho, coming down the aisle like a runaway freight train. Austin’s paralysis finally breaks, but not soon enough, and Jericho is drag Austin back into the ring. This time, when Jericho tries for the Walls, Austin cannot resist, and despite his best efforts, cannot withstand the pain and taps out. Jericho keeps the hold on just a little longer, long enough to hear Austin beg to be released; Jericho drops Austin’s legs and leaves the ring immediately, looking back only once at his handiwork without a trace of pride.

With Austin and his loyalists coming up empty-handed in their matches for the evening, the pressure on Angle is high as he steps out for his WWF Title confrontation with Rhyno. Without the benefit of aid from any Fringe members or Paul Heyman, the expectation that it is Angle’s time is not unfounded, and he approaches the ring with that confidence. Rhyno, too, approaches with determination and confidence, but paranoid glances give away his worry over the loss of his safety net. Nevertheless, Rhyno wrestles with the same ferocity he is known for, combating Angle’s technical prowess with raw power, but Angle’s experience in both the professional and amateur ranks gives Angle the edge. Angle’s only problem is keeping Rhyno off his vertical base long enough to work on the leg and ankle for his Ankle Lock, as Rhyno drags himself to his feet every time Angle unloads on him. But an Angle Slam attempt gives Rhyno the opportunity to take the offense, hammering Angle with his high-impact maneuvers. Slowly, a pattern emerges in Rhyno’s offense: moves targeting Angle’s previously broken neck. Angle does his best to get in some counter-offense, but more and more, the neck becomes weakened, and the simplest maneuvers become a chore. When Rhyno tries for a Gore, Angle dodges and creates his window of opportunity, and hits the Angle Slam …. but is too weakened to capitalize fast enough, and only gets two. Both men struggle to their feet and exchange punches, starting a back and forth series of moves and counters and near-falls for both men. A piledriver attempt by Rhyno is reversed by Angle into the Ankle Lock, but Rhyno reaches the ropes after a few agonizing moments of suffering. Rhyno gets on his feet again, and Angle tries to pull him off for another Ankle Lock, but Rhyno manages to puts the brakes on and connect with a devastating-looking piledriver. The crowd gasps when Angle gets a shoulder up at 2 and 7/8ths. A powerbomb high on the back gets another fraction from 3, so Rhyno drags Angle to his feet, throws him into the ropes and makes the charge for the Gore … only for Angle to use a drop toe hold out of nowhere, sit up and slap on the Ankle Lock yet again. It is a full two minutes before Rhyno breaks the hold by reaching the ropes. Angle tries to go for the ankle again, pushing Rhyno back into the corner. Rhyno batters Angle’s neck and back to stop his offensive onslaught, then delivers the coup de grace of the match; a sickening piledriver off the second turnbuckle that sends Angle into seizures. Rhyno stills Angle long enough to get an exhausted and hard-earned three-count to retain the WWF Title, another crushing defeat of the WWF’s ranking elite by the upstart champion, and another in a chain for the evening.

With the streak of success the Fringe is on, it only underscores the tension riding into the WCW World Title match. Heyman comes out by himself, but sits to one side of the ring, in between the designated corners for Booker T and DDP, who come to a very mixed reaction when they are introduced. Conversely, Ric Flair is given a hero’s welcome, and The Rock is shown a fair amount of respect, despite his employer. When the match begins, the foursome pair off into two groups, with Booker and The Rock squaring off and Flair taking on DDP. After a bit, Rock and Flair switch places, until Booker and DDP, frustrated with their lack of traction against their opponents, bail. Heyman is right there to counsel the two, who stand neither listen nor shove Heyman away, but stand still and collect their thoughts …. until Flair, living up to his “dirtiest player in the game” moniker by Pearl Harboring Rocky. Booker and DDP watch as Rock and Flair go at it; when Rock gets the upper hand and puts Flair on the mat, Booker and DDP swoop back in and attack both men, taking full control of the match. Heyman cheers on his potential new clients as they dominate Rock and Flair, connecting with punishing move after move … but the alliance disintegrates when DDP hits a Diamond Cutter on Flair and goes for the pin; Booker breaks up the count, and DDP and Booker get nose-to-nose. Rock rolls up the distracted Booker, but gets a two-count, and the fight is back on. Rock manages to make a comeback against Booker, and Flair reverses a second Diamond Cutter attempt to launch his comeback. The crowd eats up the stereo face comebacks, especially when Rock and Flair both go for leg submission moves (Flair a figure-four, and The Rock a Sharpshooter); when Rock and Flair notice their synchronicity, Rock nods, and both men give out a “Woo!”, then lock in their moves. Booker manages to escape by grabbing the ropes, but Rock doesn’t let up, hitting hard and fast, hitting punches and clotheslines and a belly-to-belly suplex. But a thumb to the eye stops Rock in his tracks, and Booker scores with a Book-End. Booker goes for the pin as Flair cranks back on the figure-four; the ref hesitates, waiting to see if Page will tap; Page tries to hold on, so the ref goes down for the count. When the ref’s hand hits for the third time, Page starts tapping. The ref signals for the bell; Booker is on his feet, hands in the air, while Flair releases the hold, one hand in the air in triumph. When the ring announcer proclaims Booker T the new champ, Flair’s eyes bug out, first in anger, then in horror. Flair gets up as Heyman crawls in the ring to celebrate the victory, stealing the belt from the timekeeper’s hands to present it to Booker himself. “On behalf of the Lunatic Fringe and myself,” proclaims Heyman, “allow me to be the first to congratulate you on your victory, and officially welcome you to-“

The words die in Heyman’s mouth as Booker’s hand wraps around Heyman’s throat. Booker tears the microphone out of Heyman’s hand. “I never saidnothing bout joinin’ your group, Paul Heyman! Yo’ ass just got-“

DDP gets to his feet and lays a hand on Booker’s arm, shaking his head. “We may not like how Old Man Flair or The Crock got in on our business,” DDP says through deep breaths, “but the last thing we’d ever do is sell ourselves to a piece of scum like you!” Heyman stands slack-jawed, staring at Booker and DDP. When he tries to form a rebuttal, all he gets out are stammered consonants and vague vowel sounds. It is The Rock who clears the fog for Heyman; “If The Rock’s crystal clear on what he’s just heard, The Rock thinks they’re telling your fat, monkey ass to get the hell out of their ring!”

Heyman blinks a few times, still too surprised to form a word, until Flair takes the air from his lungs with a shot to the groin from behind. Booker and DDP grab Heyman on either side and deposit him on the arena floor with a rough toss through the ropes, much to the delight, and relief, of the fans. Rock and Flair offer handshakes to their opponents, but Booker and DDP, ever pragmatic and still bitter about the mere presence of their opponents, take their leave.

The ring announcer begins the announcement for the final “special main event” as the Hell On Earth cage descends and ring techs bring about wheelbarrows and boxes full of various objects and weaponry. In addition, Tommy Dreamer brings with him a shopping cart with even more implements, but even more horrific then what is supplied by the WWF: a metal rake, a ball peen hammer, spools of barbed wire, and an amorphous burlap sack that evokes memories of the Undertaker/Mankind Hell In A Cell or the Cactus Jack/Triple H Street Fight. But Dreamer has no confidence in the eyes, no steeled determination in the lines of his face; only the look of a man on his way to certain doom. Conversely, when Raven approaches the mammoth steel structure, he shows the same certainty of a sealed fate … but, for possibly the first time since a young Scott Levy descended into his inner darkness and emerged as the tormented Raven, an untouchable serenity surrounds him like an aura. When the ref signals for the bell, everyone holds their breath for all hell to break loose … but neither man make a move. Dreamer stands in his corner, knuckles white as he clinches the ropes, while Raven reclines in his corner, waiting like some patient Zen master. Finally, Dreamer steps into the abyss and makes the first attack, and the ballet of bloodshed gets underway. It is only minutes before weaponry is employed; first, a chair, which stops Dreamer’s onslaught for a few seconds. The Singapore cane, a snowshovel, a stop sign and a 2-by-4 all get brought into the mix, battering bodies, breaking bones and busting Raven and Dreamer wide open. Dreamer is the first one to taste the stinging pricks of the barbed wire cell, plunging chest-first onto the barbs when he leaps at Raven, who moves out of the way; Raven sinks the barbs in further with whacks to the back with a steel chair, drawing groans from the crowd. But the horror is only begun, as the two combatants proceed to drag everything within reach in their quest to destroy the other: tables, the barbed wire, the 2-by-4 lit on fire, and the hammer turn the match into a window upon Hell’s battlefield, the two combatants forever locked in a war that will only end with death. Dreamer draws a nine-count on Raven from a blow to the head with a steel chair wrapped in barbed wire, which puts the advantage firmly in Dreamer’s blood-soaked hands, but nothing he does will keep Raven on the mat. Dreamer goes so far as to use a cattle-prod (another of his hidden weapons brought to ringside in his cart) to try and electrocute Raven into unconsciousness, once while against the barbed wire of the cell wall. But Dreamer’s mistake comes when he tries to impale Raven with a rake; Raven dodges and hits Dreamer in the nuts, giving Raven the chance to come back. Raven brings the house on Dreamer, including a vicious Raven Effect on the barbed wire steel chair, but Dreamer answers the count. Finally, Raven opens the sack of thumbtacks, pouring them all over the barbed wire chair. Raven positions Dreamer on the turnbuckle, sitting down, then climbs up, puts him in a front headlock, and delivers a DDT from the turnbuckle onto the chair. Raven manages to get his feet at 8, but Dreamer is motionless in a rapidly growing pool of blood long past the match-winning 10-count. Paramedics carry both men out of the arena on stretchers to a rousing standing ovation to give the WWF a symbolic victory over one of the Fringe’s top men to close out the evening.

Nitro: Oct. 22nd

After a recap of Booker’s successful reclaiming of the WCW Title the night before, Nitro opens with a celebratory display of fireworks and the promise of a huge night for WCW, with Big Show facing off against Mike Awesome for the first crack at Booker T, Molly Holly versus Lita, and a WCW Tag Title defense by The Impact Players against surprise opponents.

But the music of The Rock cuts off the announcers, and the People’s Champ marches down to the ring. The crowd gives the former WCW Champion shows the same respect to The Rock as he had shown to WCW since winning the title with a standing ovation. Rock allows the crowd to get it out of their system, then speaks. “The Rock realizes this is Nitro, this is WCW, but The Rock just wants to make one thing perfectly clear before The Rock heads back to Smackdown this Thursday, and to do that, The Rock needs a few people to come to this ring. The Rock wants Booker T, The Rock wants Arn Anderson,woo!, Ric Flair, and The Rock especially wants Shane O’Mac himself in this very ring!”

Arn and Flair come out together and shake hands with Rock while they wait for the other two. Booker comes next, suspicious eyes regarding The Rock with a cautious loathing. Finally, after a few more seconds, Shane McMahon comes out to a standing ovation. Bashfully, Shane approaches the ring, shaking hands with his commissioner, his champion and his in-ring “general” before acknowledging The Rock. Rock and Shane eye each other for a few long, silent seconds before Rock speaks, firstly looking right at his rival, Booker T. “The Rock didn’t come out here to say how he deserves a shot at that belt, Booker. The Rock wants you to know that last night, you proved yourself the better man, and The Rock is letting that slide.” Rock looks at Arn and Flair. “The Rock doesn’t need to tell these people what kind of men Ric Flair and Arn Anderson are. The Rock just wants the two of you to know how honored The Rock felt to be in the ring with the Nature Boy, how honored The Rock was to represent WCW as its champion, even if some people didn’t want The Rock here.” Rock gets back to Shane. Rock removes his sunglasses. “You’ve done a good job, kid. Hell of a lot better then your daddy. The Rock … no, no no, Iwant to apologize for trespassing. You have my guarantee, you will never see The Rock in WCW again. And when The Rock gets back to Smackdown and the WWF, you have the word of The Rock that all those jabronis who wanna keep trying to lay the smack down on WCW, The Rock’s gonna lay the smack down on them like only The Rock can!” Shane nods, then a smile breaks out on his face; Shane extends a hand, and Rock accepts it. Rock again shakes hands with Flair and Arn, then extends a hand to Booker; Booker keeps one hand on the title slung over his shoulder, the other at his waist. Shane, Arn and Flair urge Booker to be the bigger man, but Booker regards them with the same contempt that he does Rock. Rock shrugs it off and gets in one last set of poses for the crowd before walking to the back for the final time at a WCW event.

Booker’s bad attitude gets him in more hot water with the administration when Arn approaches Booker about going to Smackdown as part of a summit between the WWF and WCW. Booker spits on the idea, and proceeds to launch into a tirade; “You forget bout the Bookerman and call in your buddy Ric when you need someone to beat Rocky,” he opines, “but you look my way when I beat The Rock? You must think I’m some kinda sucka!” Booker walks away after giving Arn the finger, leaving Arn’s plan in tatters.

Meanwhile, in the ring, Molly Holly steps into the ring with Lita, but quickly falls prey to Lita’s friends in The Impact Players, who feel no remorse about abusing Molly. The disgusting display of violence draws out Kronik, Sean O’Haire and Chuck Palumbo, who rescue Molly and drive off the Fringe contingent, but Molly takes away bruises””both physical and mental””from her encounter with the Extreme Diva.

Malenko defends his newly won United States Title against Billy Kidman in a blockbuster, high-flying encounter reminiscent of the Cruiserweight division. Malenko’s experience and technical skills prove too much for Kidman to get past, and Malenko ends up drawing the submission victory over Kidman with his Texas Cloverleaf. Afterwards, Kidman offers Malenko a handshake and a hug and introduces him to the crowd as the new, and rightful, WCW United States Champion. Malenko takes the microphone, choking up a bit over the “Dean-O” chants. When the crowd’s chanting subsides, Dean addresses the crowd. “I’ll never be able to tell you all how much that meant to me,” he says as he holds up the WWF Intercontinental Title, “just as I’ll never be able to express what it means to me to hold this title.” Malenko pauses, looking at the belt. “So many legends have worn this belt, and I am very proud to be among their company …” Malenko sighs. “But this is a WWF championship, and I am a WCW wrestler. It’s not right of me to claim a title from a company I no longer work for. That’s why I will be going to Smackdown alongside Arn Anderson to give the Intercontinental Title back to its proper owners.” Malenko’s selfless act is met with strong support from the crowd and WCW’s administration … but not so much with DDP, who tries to talk Malenko into keeping the belt to humiliate the WWF. When Malenko rebuffs DDP’s idea, DDP tries to intimidate the second-generation star. Malenko only has to direct his icy cold glare deep into DDP’s eyes to make his stance clear; DDP watches Malenko walk away, his lip snarled up, obviously seething.

Big Show and Awesome unload with the power moves in their battle to be the #1 contender, going at each other like two angry rams butting heads. The two mammoth athletes throw everything they have against one another, all the while Booker, Flair and Arn watching on monitors in the back. Awesome’s speed helps him take the advantage, and he presses it with high-impact aerial maneuvers and a hit-and-run mentality that leaves the bigger man dazed and confused. But the unexpected Diamond Cutter from DDP on Awesome alters the course of the match, and Show “earns” the title shot. Arn clinches his jaw and rubs his eyes in frustration, while Flair vents his by yelling and upending the monitor. Arn tries to calm Flair and remind him that, even if people dislike the leadership, they’re still playing for the WCW team, but Flair reminds Arn of how they came to get people like Molly, Big Show and Dean Malenko, and what a disgruntled employee can mean to a company … like Chris Jericho.

The Impact Players come out for their defense against a team of mystery opponents. Justin Credible gets on the mic and reminds everyone how they have beaten almost every combination of people in WCW, and that no one will unseat them as long they (or WCW) are around. But the music of Booker T and DDP kills the remaining words in Credible’s throat dead as can be. Booker and DDP overwhelm their stunned adversaries, dispatching of the loudmouth Credible in a few seconds, and drilling Lance Storm shortly thereafter … but neither man goes for the easy pinfall. Instead, Booker gets on the microphone as he keeps Credible from getting into the ring with kicks to the head, while DDP keeps up the pain on Storm. “Ya see, WCW is a well-oiled machine, and me, the Bookerman, the five-time, five-time, five-time, five-time, five-time WCW Champion, and Mr. Diamond Dallas Page, we the strongest pieces of the machine! WCW don’t need Ric Flair to win this war … WCW don’t need Dean Malenko or Mike Awesome to win this war … and WCW sure as hell don’t need no help from some sucka like The Rock! What WCW needs is a kick in the butt, and DDP and me are the guys to do it!”

Booker hands the microphone to DDP and goes to work on Storm. “Hey! Paul Heyman! How’s it feel to feel the bada-bing-bada-bang! We played you like a cheap fiddle, Paul Heyman. We used you, sucked you in and spit you out, and you fell for the whole thing! We’re the new face of WCW, Paulie; we ain’t like the scum in WWF … we take care of our business, and getting rid of you and the WWF is at the top of our to-do list!” DDP leans against the ropes and makes the come-here gesture with his finger to the camera. “C’mon, Paul. C’mon, WWF. If you want some, you don’t have to look very hard … I always deliver the most bang for your bu-“

DDP’s words cut off as a swarm of Fringe wrestlers break through the security detail around ringside and storm the ring, overtaking Booker and DDP like a tsunami. All the while, Heyman laughs maniacally at ringside as the entire Fringe dissect the WCW team and keep the rest of WCW at bay. “Ooh, big words, Page!” Heyman says in between cackles. “Big words, Booker! Did you think I was ignoring WCW? I’m sorry if I didn’t give you enough attention over the past few weeks. But I’m all ears now; what would you like to say?” Paul holds the microphone towards the ring mockingly. “You see, Booker, I don’t need the WCW Championship to run this two-bit dog-and-pony show into the goddamn ground! WCW lives only as long as I allow it to live … and since you just had to get my attention and royally piss me off last night … why, I think it’s time I snap my fingers and put this old horse out of its misery once and for all. I think it’s time I do what Vince McMahon couldn’t, and kill this piece of crap for good! Go ahead and have your precious little summit on Smackdown, Arn! I hope you’re picking out caskets, because I got news for you: come Survivor Series, there’s gonna be a funeral!

Smackdown: Oct. 24th

The first Smackdown after No Mercy opens with Austin holding court with his allies and subordinates in their locker room. Tonight, Austin promises, the WWF will get rid of a weak link, and the loyalists will continue to root out the poison of Heyman and the WCW invaders on their way to restoring Vince McMahon’s One World vision. The plan for the evening includes a six-man tag with the APA and William Regal against the entire Dudley clan, Austin taking on Tazz and The Undertaker and Kane going after Rhyno and RVD. JR and Michael Cole update the fans on the condition of Raven and Tommy Dreamer, stating that they will both miss some time as they heal from their blood-soaked encounter, but, starting tonight, the WWF will regain the full-time presence of The Rock. Neither the announcers or Austin elaborate on the mysterious “summit” mentioned on Nitro, save to say it will occur; attendees and subject matter are shrouded in secrecy, even to the ranking WWF elite.

The teamwork of the Dudleys prove a better-then-expected match to the experience of The APA and Regal, casting a shadow of doubt on Austin’s vow to restore the WWF’s dignity. In the end, the match is thrown out when a chair shot from Spike on Bradshaw (which does no more damage then a rock would to an armored car) starts a chain reaction that draws out all six people into a crazy, audience-invading brawl. Authorities have to break apart the brawl and reestablish order. The unsatisfying no-contest helps neither side advance their campaign, but for the WWF, anything less then an advance is a loss.

Likewise, Austin’s match against Tazz ends up on providing more bitter fruit then sweet; Austin takes advantage of a biased WWF ref and the extreme rules atmosphere, but the Human Suplex Machine will not stay down for anything. Finally, Austin hits the Stunner, which sends Tazz out of the ring and onto the floor. Austin walks off, giving his double-fingered celebratory pose as he marches down the aisle, trash-talking with every step … until the referee declares Tazz the winner by forfeit. Austin storms back in the ring and argues with the ref, but the ref refuses to reverse the decision; Austin gives him a Stunner, hits another one on Tazz, and stomps off, still barking like a rabid dog, but no longer boasting like before.

Dean Malenko comes out, sans music or entrance video, dressed immaculately in a suit and tie, the Intercontinental belt carried proudly under his arm. When he gets to the ring, Regal almost sets a land-speed record in getting down the ramp and into the ring. Malenko offers a hand, but Regal sneers at it. “The faster I can rid this ring of your filth, you miserable little toerag, the better. Now hand over our property before I slap the white off your teeth!”

Malenko glares at Regal for a moment; for a half a heartbeat, Regal’s eyes burst open, wide as planets, his body tensing for the inevitable strike against him by the invader. Regal’s jaw drops when Malenko proffers the belt. Regal reaches for it timidly; when his fingertips touch the leather, he grasps it and reels it back in, as quick as a snake striking out of its hole. “Now then,” Regal says with a snarled lip, “remove yourself from my ring before I’m forced to throttle you back to that pathetic hog-sty you call a wrestling company.”

Malenko turns to walk, pauses, then turns back and gets right in Regal’s face; Regal’s eyes go wide again, his skin draining of color. “You haven’t seen the last of WCW tonight, William.” Malenko holds the moment for a bit longer, letting Regal sweat … then backs off and walks away, waving to the fans as he leaves.

The only bright spot for the loyalists comes in the form of ‘Taker & Kane’s match against Rhyno and RVD. Rhyno, still spent from the previous night’s epic encounter with Angle, is slower and shows the first real signs of vulnerability. But if there is a weak link to the Fringe team, it is RVD, who wrestles with a short temper and an obvious distraction: his humiliating double-loss the night before, which the crowd is all too eager to remind him with the rousing chant “You lost twice!” The distraction helps ‘Taker & Kane keep the Fringe team split, leading to a pinfall of RVD by ‘Taker. But Rhyno folds Kane in half with a ring-shaking Gore after the pin, and helps his partner out of the ring as Undertaker tends to his fallen brother.

The final segment of the evening begins with the announcer welcoming “WCW Commissioner Arn Anderson and associates” to the ring; “and associates” turn out to be Ric Flair, Dean Malenko, Big Show and Kronik. The loyal WWF crowd receives the WCW partisans with mixed emotion; on the one hand, the representatives have been the least vocal against the WWF. But they are still the enemy, and plenty of the crowd treats them as such. Nevertheless, Arn “and associates” show no disrespect when they get the microphone; “Shortly after No Mercy,” says Arn, “I was approached by representatives of the WWF who want to bring this conflict to a head. WCW has never been about attacking the WWF, or looking to kill the WWF; we believe there is enough room for healthy competition between two companies, as there was in the 90’s. So, with that in mind, we have come here to meet with these individuals, right here in front of the world, to settle the issue once and for all.” Arn lays the microphone on the table and awaits the arrival of his counterparts.

The WWF delegation arrives in groups: first, Edge & Christian, followed by The Hardys. Lastly, two men stride out onto stage together, a shocking sight all things considering: The Rock and Chris Jericho. The tension from their run-ins at and after SummerSlam is still evident, as they walk distantly and show little acknowledgement for one another. The crowd doesn’t care, though, and treats the returning Rock and the conquering rebel Jericho as royalty as they walk down the ramp. When they get to the ring, the players shake hands. Arn and Flair sit down on one side of the table, with Jericho and Rock on the other. “The WWF wants to end this useless, pathetic war,” says Jericho. “We have a common enemy in Paul Heyman, and we have a common purpose: putting on a great show for the fans. What-“

The sound of breaking glass interrupts the meeting, as Austin and his retinue rush the ring. Arn and Flair stand up, backing off as Austin, Regal, ‘Taker, Kane and the APA give them looks that, if they could kill, would put WCW in their graves 5 times over. But Austin passes right by WCW and gets in Jericho’s face. “Didn’t I whup your ass last night?” he barks. “Didn’t I shut your mouth good enough, or do you need a little more of ol’ Stone Cold?”

Jericho snickers, the first sign of emotion other then raw determination on his face in months. “Last I checked, Stevie-boy,” Jericho says, “the only one counting lights last night was the WWF’s big, bad hero Stone Cold.” The smile disappears from Jericho’s face as quick as it appeared, and the cold-blooded killing machine is back; the color in Austin’s face vanishes. “Now get your sorry, loser ass out of my ring before something bad happens. We’re busy keeping the WWF from being run into the ground by your stupid mistakes; we don’t need you compounding it.”

Austin eyeballs Jericho for a moment before looking at Rock. “And what the hell are you doin’ at this table, Rock? You belong over here with us. You’re a champion! You’re a leader!” Austin says the final sentence to Rock, but looks at Jericho. “You’re a real star!”

Malenko steps over to interject, but Flair holds him back. This gets Regal’s attention, who says with a devilish grin; “Does Dean need a keeper to handle his battles for him? Why don’t you run along home, like you did a couple years ago, and rid this industry of your existence?”

“Hey!” Flair yells. “Dean Malenko is a Horsemen! When you deal with one Horsemen, you deal with The Horsemen! You wanna try your crap with me,Lord Willie? Bring it on! Bring it on!”

Arn steps in the middle of them, trying to calm everyone down, but doesn’t see Regal rearing back for a sucker punch that connects with Arn’s jaw. Everyone in the ring freezes for a moment; Austin’s group braces for the inevitable brawl, Jericho’s bunch prepares to spring in as a mediator, and WCW gears up to launch the retaliatory strike. What no one expects is Kurt Angle to get in the middle of it all. “Hey, everybody, hold on a second! Wait a minute!” Angle takes a deep breath, his arms held up to keep everyone at bay. “It seems to me we all need to just back up and cool off before we go doing something stupid. I mean … c’mon … I’m wearing my Gold medals here, its not like I’m even ready to fight!” Almost everyone glares at Angle as if he were not a human but a six foot tall chicken. Angle shrugs, totally oblivious. “What? Listen, all I’m saying …” Angle turns to Flair and puts both hands out. “Mr. Flair … I think the WWF and WCW can come to terms-“

Austin grabs Angle by the shoulder and hauls him around. “Mister Flair? Ya see, this is the kind of crap that makes me sure I made the right decision. Ya walk to the ring with your silly sparklers and your stupid medals, and you dance around like a sissy boy, and you cry when you win … but last night, you lost. You couldn’t beat that punk Rhyno and get our belt back. And now you go and look at that old man and say ‘Mister’?” Angle tries to speak, but Austin gives Angle a small slap. Angle’s eyes go wide and, without thinking, he lunges, taking Austin to the mat. Immediately, Austin’s cohorts are on Angle, punching and kicking; WCW and Jericho’s group move into action, cutting through the Austin group to pry the two fighters apart. Before anyone can think twice, the brawl becomes a free-for-all, three groups all vying to drive the other out of the ring. Only the laughter of Heyman filling the arena stops them in their tracks. When he appears on the stage, he has a smile is a mile wide, and as phony as a 3 dollar bill. “Oh, po’ babies, why are you fighting?” he says mockingly. “Are we not getting a-wong? Did someone take your toys?” More mad laughter, thorugh which heyman tries to get off a few words. “The thing is … it’s just …” Heyman stops to let his laughing jag finish. “The thing is, it’s almost not even fun anymore to knock you guys around! You’re so pathetic, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel … with a cannon! So, seeing as how all of you seem intent on … how did you put it, Arn? … ‘bringing this to a head’ … why don’t we all get together and hash this out at Survivor Series, so we can get rid of the both of you in one night? That sound fair? The Fringe versus WCW versus WWF … that is, if the WWF can pick three people without tearing each other’s throats out!”

Nitro: Oct. 29th

In addition to the Booker/Big Show WCW Title match, and a grudge match between DDP and Flair, Mike Tenay and Scott Hudson announce two huge No Mercy rematches: Awesome versus Tazz (no disqualifications) and Malenko defending the US Title against RVD.

Arn walks to the ring, his head down, sporting a nice shiner from the cheap shot from Regal the previous week. The partisan crowd welcomes the returning leaders with open arms. “Sometimes, in life, a man has to walk a road he doesn’t wanna walk,” begins Arn. “And usually, that road leads to a place the man doesn’t wanna go. Last Thursday, I began that walk. I don’t know where this road will lead, because it’s a gamble.” Arn takes a deep breath and sighs; he looks into the crowd for reassurance, but nothing seems to lift the obvious weight off his shoulders. “This past weekend, negotiations for a final confrontation between WCW, the WWF and Paul Heyman’s group were finalized; Survivor Series will see the three companies battle it out inside the confines of the WarGames cage.” The crowd lights up at the mention of the beloved, classic WCW match; Arn, though, tries to shush the crowd. “Please, please, quiet down. The importance of victory in this is not for bragging rights, and this is the gamble I spoke of, because the winner …” Arn sighs again; when he speaks, he isn’t even able to look up at the crowd. “I have agreed to gamble the existence of WCW on the outcome of this match.” An audible gasp rips through the arena; the announcers can barely form complete words. “If WCW wins, our future will be assured, and WWF will abide to a peaceful co-existence truce. If we should fall, though, to either of our opponents, WCW will be abolished. After the three sides have had a week to decide on the three wrestlers they will choose to send into WarGames, we will sign the contract here, live on Nitro, next Monday. I am confident our boys will be able to bring home the victory, and keep this comp-“

Booker T’s music drowns out Arn’s emotional words. The champ, belt over his shoulder, walks to the ring with a look of disgust on his face. He skips posing for the crowd and gets right to business. “Peaceful co-existence? You mean you got the enemy in a corner, and you gonna let him walk? You Arn Anderson, a Four Horseman! When your enemy is down, you don’t let him get up and walk, you kick his butt!”

“We’re not looking to kill them off, Booker. We started WCW with the intention of peaceful competition, and we’re gonna keep it that way.”

“To hell with that! WWF is tryin’ to kill this company! Paul Heyman is trying to kill both us and WWF! And you wanna let WWF live? The hell is wrong with you?”

Arn steps toward Booker, getting right in his face. Arn taps the belt with a finger, then points at Booker; “Just cause you hold this doesn’t make you the boss, Booker. I speak for Shane McMahon on this. You only speak for yourself.”

Booker and Arn lock eyes for a few silent seconds, neither budging so much as an eyelash. Booker finally breaks the moment, nodding slightly. “Maybe you right. But we’ll see come next Monday, boss.” Booker leaves Arn before he can respond, the words hanging in the air like a threat.

As RVD makes his way to the ring, it is announced that he will also be on the Fringe team in WarGames. But Arn makes sure to spoil RVD’s good spirits by announcing that, since the US Title is no longer in possession of the Fringe, it will be defended under traditional WCW rules. The restraints on RVD’s extreme style visibly infuriate the already agitated “Mr. PPV”, and the emotions cause much distraction when he squares off against Malenko. RVD tries to channel his anger and embarrassment into retaking the US Title, but Malenko is able to take advantage of RVD’s short-sightedness and mistakes, and gets a pinfall victory over RVD. RVD flips out after the loss, attacking the referee and vowing to all listening that he will deliver the winning pinfall and prove himself as “Mr. PPV” at Survivor Series.

The Fringe manage to extract some revenge with a ambush of Kronik in the parking garage, led by the Impact Players, that cancels a scheduled #1 contender’s match between Kronik and the Natural Born Thrillers. With an empty slot in the schedule, Arn sticks the IP in the match, with a unique twist: the IP will represent Kronik and the #1 contendership stipulation will continue. The stipulation puts the IP in a strange position of not wanting to lose the match and look weak (and having to face the explosive NBT), but not wanting to win and earn a title shot for Kronik either. A few Fringe members act as bait for more of the NBT to come to O’Haire’s & Palumbo’s aid, and the resulting melee draws a no-contest.

WCW’s luck turns for the better with Awesome’s rematch against Tazz, as the former WWF Champ finds his black-sheep status wearing away with several of WCW’s wrestlers coming out to shield the ring from Fringe interference. Without the Fringe sticking their nose in the match, Awesome finds it easier to fight against Tazz’s arsenal of suplexes and submission maneuvers. Awesome polishes off Tazz with an Awesome Bomb for a clean pinfall. Afterwards, Awesome vows to do WCW proud at Survivor Series, whatever his role may be, and promises to get even with DDP.

Before his match with DDP, Flair grabs the microphone for a few excited words. “Last week, I was at Smackdown, and what happened? The Nature Boy got in a fight with the WWF Commissioner, William Regal!” The crowd boos at mere mention of the WWF’s crooked Commissioner. “Big Willie! Lord Regal! Woo! Walkin’ around in a cheap suit from K-Mart, wishing you could be half as cool as The Nature Boy! Woo! Buddy-boy, there’s a reason WCW dumped you; you don’t got what it takes to walk in the footsteps of the greats! You gotta suck up to others, and then …” Flair’s voice drops suddenly, getting cold and lethal. “And then, you gotta take a cheap shot at a retired man, my best friend, Arn Anderson. The WCW Commissioner, and a better man then you could ever dream of.” Just as quick, Flair’s blood starts to run again, his face turning red all over again. “You wanna fight, Slick Willie? You wanna beat up on an old man? Beat on me! Beat on me! Come try and do what everybody who’s anybody in this business has tried to do for the past twenty years, come try to stop The Nature Boy Ric Flair! Everybody who’s anybody has stepped through them ropes has faced me, and you know where they are? They ain’t here, and they ain’t Ric Flair, 16-times World’s Champion! To be the man, you gotta beat the man … nobody’s been able to beat me, yet, Slick Willie, and you ain’t gonna be the first! Woo!” Flair’s exuberance carries over into the match, giving DDP more to handle then he expects. DDP has to bail from the ring and slide back in to get Flair off his game plan and take the advantage in the match, but Flair makes DDP earn every inch of offense he gets in. When Flair is able to retake the advantage and gets the figure-four, DDP tries his best to fight it off, but Flair keeps the pressure on hard enough to prevent a counter or a legitimate escape. Three times, DDP falls back onto his shoulders and is almost counted down; finally, DDP sits up and blatantly strikes Flair in the crotch. The ref calls for a DQ as Flair loosens the hold, clutching at his aching groin. DDP stumbles away, too concerned with the pain wracking his body to bother caring about the announcer calling Flair the winner … or Mike Awesome coming up from behind and laying him out in the aisle. Awesome throws DDP around until Flair tells him to lay off; Awesome lets DDP drop to the ground and backs off, but not without a warning to catch up to DDP on another day.

Booker’s defense against Big Show finishes the evening, and proves to be as big a challenge as the man himself. Booker has to adjust his plan of attack to combat Big Show’s size and raw strength. Booker finds the challenge of Show more then he expects, and resorts to a low blow to fell his massive opponent for a three-count. The crowd, seeing Booker’s more blatant, whatever-it-takes methods coming out, give the announcement of his victory a rousing boo that startles the five-time WCW Champion. Booker gets on the microphone and excoriates the audience. The audience’s boos turn to cheers when Big Show stands up, surprises Booker and hits a ring-shaking choke-slam. The crowd goes nuts for Show driving Booker into the mat, so crazy they don’t initially hear Arn come out. “Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen.” The crowd gives Arn a courtesy applause, then quiets down for him; Show leans on the ropes that look up the aisle. “I thought now would be a good time to let everyone know who has selected to represent WCW in the WarGames match. Shane McMahon and I have discussed the issue in depth, listened to a number of wrestlers petition and offer their services, and have selected the people we feel would be best suited for this endeavor. Team WCW will consist of Diamond Dallas Page … Booker T … and the Big Show!” Big Show’s eyes narrow to slits; he turns and looks at Booker, stirring on the mat, unaware that his future entails partnering with a man he just robbed of rightful shot at the WCW Title. Show grins as Arn says; “Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you your winners of WarGames 2001, Team WCW!”

Smackdown: Nov. 1st

A taped announcement from the office of William Regal opens Smackdown. “Good evening, World Wrestling Federation fans. Tonight, the WWF will make two announcements: one concerning the Intercontinental Title, and one to introduce the three-man team that will represent WWF in the WarGames match at Survivor Series and destroy both the WCW and the ruffians in the Lunatic Fringe. The choices were given careful consideration, and it is the hope of everyone in the WWF that the announcement of our three choices will bring to an end the bickering and in-fighting that has come up due to the actions of a few bad apples.” Regal takes a deep breath, a malevolent sneer spreading across his lips. “And, on a personal note, to Mr. Flair, I notice that your company has chosen not to send you into WarGames. I find this most telling of your status in the company. With the destruction of WCW a mere two and a half weeks away, might I offer you a position in my administration? I’m always in need of a good gopher!”

Smackdown gets underway with a #1 contender’s match for the WWF Tag Titles, pitting the Hardys against the APA. All three Dudleys take up residence at the announcers’ table to watch as the Hardys, out-weighed and out-powered by a fair bit, use stick-and-move offense and seamless teamwork to blindside the APA. Straight power wrestling (and downright cheating) put the APA back on the offensive, but Faarooq’s arrogance that the outcome is assured leads to a Matt Hardy comeback. The Hardys dismantle the APA’s attack, isolating Bradshaw long enough for Jeff to get the pin with the Swanton Bomb. The Dudleys give their congratulations to the victors, as well as condolences to the losers, by ambushing them and putting Jeff and Bradshaw through tables.

Austin meets with Undertaker in the locker room to tell ‘Taker he has it on good authority that the WWF’s team will be himself, Undertaker and Kane. Undertaker, preparing for a match with Kurt Angle later on, likes what he hears … but Jericho, having overheard it in the doorway, comes in and begs to differ with the supposed team selection. Jericho points out the laundry list of failures from Austin, Undertaker and Kane in high-stakes matches over the past several months, and their leadership having helped spark the schism in the roster. Austin ignores it and dares Jericho to keep running his mouth when it’s two-on-one; Undertaker steps in and suggests turning the main event into a tag match so they can show Jericho who deserves to be in WarGames and who deserves to watch from home.

The schism rears its ugly head even more so when Edge inquires about the fate of the Intercontinental Title. Regal tells Edge he has plans already in place to fill the vacancy: an 8-man tournament, with X-Pac facing Hardcore Holly, Crash Holly facing Test, Raven facing himself, and Kane facing Albert. Edge reminds Regal of his status as the last IC Champion before RVD won the belt, and asks if he will get any consideration in this. Regal, doing a lousy job at expressing sorrow, tells Edge the tournament is already set to begin with two of the opening round matches tonight. Edge comes around the desk and shoves Regal into the wall, threatening to ruin every single match in the tournament unless he gets what is rightfully his … and, if that won’t do it, a trip to Linda McMahon’s office will follow. Regal acquiesces, putting Edge in Albert’s spot against Kane … and making it no disqualifications, and happening immediately.

Kane quickly adapts to the new rules, throwing Edge around like a dodge ball, and pounding on him with everything he can find that isn’t nailed down. But Edge refuses to stay down, and drops Kane with a blatant, but legal, low blow. Edge seizes the opening and takes Kane down with fast-paced offense and his knowledge of chairs. Regal watches from the stage in horror as an implant DDT on the chair puts Kane down and out for the three-count, putting Edge in the second round to take on Test, who downs Crash Holly in under two minutes.

The distrust between Angle and Jericho is almost palpable as they make their way to the ring for their match against Undertaker and Austin. For the first time since his metamorphosis, Jericho looks rattled and weak in the ring, his focus split between fighting Austin and Undertaker and waiting to see if the other shoe will drop with Angle. Angle exonerates himself tremendously, coming to Jericho’s aid when needed, and attacking his former comrades with the aggression of a pit bull. When Angle gets the tag, he cleans house with suplexes and surprisingly strong brawling skills, until Austin stops him with a thumb to the eyes. Regal comes down to the ring with the still-dazed-from-his-loss Kane to witness Angle being punished for his “transgressions”, but miraculously, Angle fights back and lays out Austin long enough to get the tag. Regal distracts the referee while Kane tries to interfere, but The Rock rushes down to ringside and throws Kane into the steel steps while Jericho overwhelms Undertaker with a strong second wind and a bottomless well of rage. Austin interrupts the pinfall attempt, which draws in Angle, who takes Austin to the outside, leaving Jericho alone with ‘Taker. A low blow leads to an attempt at the Last Ride, but Jericho punches out of the finisher, hits the Lionsault, and gets the three. Jericho grabs a microphone and, through gasps for air, stands over ‘Taker and says; “Now who deserves to be in the cage?”

Suddenly, Jericho collapses forward, a victim of a vicious assault from behind by Rhyno. Tazz and RVD use chairs to drop everyone, while Rhyno concentrates on punishing Jericho with a series of devastating piledrivers before finishing with a Gore that hits so hard, Jericho starts coughing up blood. Heyman strolls down the ramp, putting an arm around Regal’s shoulders and says with the biggest crocodile smile he can muster; “In case you couldn’t guess, that’s team … and, oh, look! They’re beating the living hell out of both of your teams!” Heyman straightens Regal’s tie, gives him a couple obnoxious but soft slaps to the cheek and says; “I guess, come Survivor Series, I’ll be the one getting a new gopher! See ya at Nitro, Willie!” Heyman laughs as he leads his team away from the ring, leaving six broken men strewn about the ringside area.

Nitro: Nov. 4th

The meeting of the WCW, WWF and Fringe teams to officially sign the WarGames contract for Survivor Series is at the center of Nitro, but one question remains as Nitro begins: who will the WWF send as their representatives? And, to settle their issues before they head into WarGames, Arn signs a tag match between Booker T & DDP against Big Show and Mike Awesome.

The evening gets off to a good start for WCW, with the O’Haire & Palumbo faction of the NBT squaring off, and defeating, the Fringe team of Jerry Lynn and Steven Richards. An attempted ambush by the Impact Players and Lita draw out Kronik and Molly Holly to drive off the Fringe contingent. The IP lead their friends back down the aisle, tail between their legs, until Bryan Clarke grabs the microphone and calls them out for cowards. Brian Adams concurs, and dares the IP to put the titles on the line next week, but the NTB intercede, declaring a rightful claim to a title shot as well. Arn comes out and puts forth a settlement: a 10-person elimination tag at Survivor Series, with Kronik, Molly and the NTB against the IP, Lita, Richards and Lynn, where, if Team WCW can defeat Team Fringe, The Impact Players will put up the WCW Tag Titles on the following night’s Nitro in a triple threat against both the NBT and Kronik.

Booker barges in on Arn as he is squaring away some final details before the contract signing. Arn tries to push off Booker for later until Booker tosses a ream of paper on the desk. Arn looks at it, then up at Booker. “What’s this?”

“Dat’s a contract,” Booker says. “For me to take this”””Booker drops the WCW Title on the desk”””to the Fringe. I ain’t signed it, cause I don’t wanna.”

Arn’s eyes narrow to slits; he crosses his arms and looks Booker in the eye. “So why are you giving this to me now?”

“Cause you need to know how serious I am about things. You willin’ to risk WCW … you willin’ to risk dat belt, the belt your buddy Ric has worn like 22 times … on the backs of me, and Page and that big lug Big Show … but you ain’t askin’ for nothing in return!”

“That isn’t what WCW is all about, Book”””

Dat’s what war is all about, Arn! You wanna put dat much weight on me, make me and Page and Show fight for dis company … but you don’t espect dem to do the same?” Booker puts his hands on the desk and leans forward. “I don’t wanna fight for a compn’y dat don’t wanna fight for me … specially when you didn’t even ask us in WCW if we wanted ta gamble our lives.”

Arn is stoic in his posture, his face a chiseled mask of stone, betraying not a single emotion. “Why don’t you cut the crap, Booker, and just what it is you came to say?”

Now Booker’s eyes narrow, his lip snarling at the corner ever so slightly. “Either you get them suckas to put up their future like you did to us, or I grab me a pen and sign join up wit Team Fringe.”

Arn snorts. “So I’m supposed to bow to your blackmail threat? Booker says ‘jump’, and I’m supposed to say ‘how high?’ How does that make me look, Booker? In the eyes of the fans … in the eyes of Shane McMahon … in the eyes of the boys? How does it make me look if the WCW Commissioner bows to a blackmail threat from one of the boys who’s got his jock in a knot?”

Booker picks up the WCW Title, throws it over his shoulder, then grabs the contract, stuffs it in a pocket … and grabs a pen from Arn’s desktop. Booker tucks in it his pocket and says; “How do you think you looked to the boys when you put up WCW without asking dem, Arn?” Booker walks out of the office without another word, leaving Arn in quiet consternation.

A steel cage surrounds the ring for a by-request, non-title grudge match between Malenko and RVD. RVD enters the steel cage first, a preview for him of his role on Team Fringe in 13 days. Malenko steps through the door, looking at the unforgiving steel that surrounds them, an embodiment of the finality the match represents to their feud. Unlike the prior week, RVD is focused and, inside the steel cage, allowed to unleash his extreme style. Malenko, by contrast, has to adjust his highly technical style to keep up with RVD, especially when RVD uses the steel cage as a partner in battering down Malenko. But RVD gets greedy and tries a Five-Star Frog Splash off the top of the cage and comes up empty; Malenko, bleeding from his impacts with the steel, drags himself to his feet and begins the task of finishing off RVD. Malenko introduces RVD to the steel, bloodying him up before locking on the Texas Cloverleaf and getting the tap-out, a great thumb-in-the-eye on the way to the contract signing and WarGames.

If there was any hesitation on the part of the audience in regards to Booker T’s and DDP’s recent actions, their introduction during the main event tag match erases all doubt; the crowd vociferously boos DDP and the WCW Champion as they come down the aisle. Conversely, Big Show gets a hero’s reception, and Awesome, once a despised traitor, is given a warm welcome by the crowd. Booker and DDP no longer try to deny their non-favored status, resorting to every dirty trick in the book to try and fell the two big bruisers. But all the cheating in the world doesn’t stop the aggression of Show and Awesome and their quest to up-end the self-appointed spokesmen for WCW. Show gives his future teammates no mercy in manhandling them as if they were small children, while Awesome uses his unorthodox offense to wear them out. The teamwork of Show and Awesome rivals long-time partnerships, but they can’t match the deceitfulness of DDP and Booker, who use diversion to set up the illegal use of brass knuckles by Booker to get the pinfall (with his feet on the ropes, no less) on Show.

The ring is set up with a luxuriant red carpet, the ring ropes removed to make way for a large horseshoe-shaped table. A cadre of lawyers precede the representatives of the respective companies, standing on the arena floor in the corner of their clients. Paul Heyman leads his three representatives to the ring first, acknowledging the crowd’s overwhelming hatred for him by enthusiastically waving like the grand marshall at a parade to the jeering audience, then seating himself at the center of the table as if he were king of the realm. Arn and Flair come out next to a thunderous applause, despite having Booker T and DDP in tow; Heyman smiles extra-wide, noticing Arn is a man short. “Where’s the um …” Heyman sticks his arms out, his face falling slack, his eyes as dull as day-old dishwater; he lets out a gutteral groan and forces his voice down into a low growl. “Me smash … me eat whole buffet table!” Heyman laughs uncontrolably at his own joke, his crew joining in (except for the still-pissy RVD).

Arn glares at Booker, who shows no sense of remorse about his actions. “He’s getting tended to by medics.” Arn turns back to Heyman. “He’s not needed for this. Booker and DDP are sufficient witnesses.”

Heyman shrugs as if to say suit yourself, then sits back and puts his feet on the table, waiting for the announcer to welcome the WWF delegation.

But no one comes through the entrance. The music continues to play while Heyman twitches his feet, looking even more malevolently gleeful then before. Finally, a gaggle of voices can be heard, and seven arguing men come out in a cluster, each trying to shove or provoke or prevent the person standing nearest him. Regal is the only one not tied up in the human battlefield of Austin, Undertaker, Kane, Jericho, Angle and Rock; he rushes to the ring, looking back at the tangle of fighters in disgust. “Don’t you have any bloody security in this god-forsaken hellhole?” he opines to Arn. “Don’t just sit there, do something! Get those ruffians away from our proceedings!”

Flair grins. “What’s a matter, Big Willie? Ain’t you got control over your boys?” Regal goes to say something, but Flair gets right in his face and cuts him off with an ear-splitting “Woo!” that makes Regal’s face twist and contort in revulsion. Flair starts to provoke Regal, daring him hit take a swing until Arn pulls him back and tells him to take a seat. Regal flashes Flair a dirty look, mocking him being reigned in like a child. Flair seethes, his hands balling into fists, but, with Arn there, Flair resists the urge to take the WWF Commissioner’s head off.

Finally, the arguing gaggle make it into the ring, although they almost up-end the table with their pushing and shoving. Arn steps in and helps Regal separate the two groups, with Regal holding back Austin, ‘Taker and Kane, and Arn keeping Jericho, Rock and Angle at bay. All six continue to shout at each other across the ring until Arn and Regal bellow at the top of their lungs for them to shut up. When they finally do, Arn says; “Okay, I’m gonna ask this, and I’m gonna ask it once.” He turns to Austin’s party, and for a brief second, the cool, razor-sharp glint of the Enforcer creeps back into Arn’s eyes. “And I swear by the Good Lord Almighty, if you much as breathe too loud, I’llpersonally wrap my tire iron around your head, you got that? Am I clear?” Regal’s charges eye Arn suspiciously, but stand down and keep their mouths shut. “Now, Chris … what the hell is going on?” Jericho glares over Arn’s shoulder, only for Arn to physically grab Jericho by the jaw and redirect his attention to himself. “Don’t look at them, look at me. What is going on?”

Jericho sloughs off Arn’s grip and steps back a second, composing himself. “Arn, it’s real simple,” he says. “Those guys do not represent the majority of the WWF locker room, they don’t represent the company’s best interests, and they don’t represent the fans. And even if they could come close to doing oneof those, they can’t beat a housefly with a shotgun! These are the men who’ve wanted to eradicate you since WCW came back, the guys who tried to bury me and Raven and anyone else who didn’t agree with them!”

“Aw, he’s full of crap!” whines Austin. “Listen to him! He’s as-“

Arn’s head whips around as if it were on a swivel. “What did I tell you about keeping your mouth shut?”

Steve glares right back, refusing to be cowed by Arn. “Do you know who I am? My name is Stone Cold Steve Austin, and I-“

Rocky cuts off Austin with a barrage of verbage; “Am a cousin-kissin’, knuckle-draggin, beer-suckin’, trailer-livin’ whiny bitch!”

Undertaker tries to get past Regal, but Regal catches him by the arm and hauls him back, then looks back at Rock with a scowl. “Can’t you keep your bloody trap shut?”

“No more then your momma can keep her legs shut!” replies Rock. Regal’s scowl gets even nastier, but Rock scowls right back.

Suddenly, Heyman stands up, straightens his tie and says; “Ladies and gentlemen, we seem to have encountered a roadblock on the way to Survivor Series. I, for one, did not come to this god-forsaken no man’s land you call WCW just to watch a bunch of spoiled WWF brats bicker like school children. And,” he says, looking at Arn, “I certainly didn’t come here to take away someone who stabbed me in the back already … although I do share his opinion that the WWF should be confident enough and willing to put up the future of their company in this match … I know I’m willing to, because that’s how confident I am. Obviously, we can’t expect the WWF to agree to terms for the match, when they can’t even be bothered to name a team! So, therefore, I have a solution … it’s not the best solution, but I think it’s fair. Why don’t we give the WWF time to sort out their issues, decide on terms and a team, and sign these contracts Thursday, on Smackdown?”

One by one, each party gives a reluctant consent to the idea. Heyman grins wide and gives an exaggerated nod. “It’s settled then! Thursday, on Smackdown, after the WWF deliberates, we’ll reconvene …” Heyman walks out of the ring, trailed by his charges. At the foot of the steps, Heyman turns, his _expression grave. “To sign your death warrant!” Heyman cackles madly as he walks away, leaving the two WWF parties glaring at each other in the WCW ring … until Booker and DDP jump Austin’s party, igniting a massive brawl between all three teams that closes out Nitro.

Smackdown: Nov. 8th
The second attempt at a contract signing, and the incumbant speculation about the team and acceptance of the all-or-nothing stipulations, dominate the air of Smackdown. Intense deliberations by the board of directors and the owners are mentioned, with heated debate in favor of both teams driving a wedge in the boardroom as sharp and divisive as in the locker room. Amidst the turmoil, there is still a wrestling show to put on, and 2 more quarter-final matches in the Intercontinental Title tournament remain, as well as a “unique” challenge by the Dudley family for the WWF, and a to-be-determined main event.

RVD comes out first, a chair in hand, which he sits down on in the middle of the ring. He lets the crowd and everyone else watching sweat out a few silent minutes before finally speaking. “I was the first man to hold the WWF Intercontinental and WCW United States Championships simultaneously. And for some reason, I got left out of the tournament for the IC Title. Me! Mr. Pay-Per-View! The former champ, being denied my rightful rematch. So I am here tonight, and I won’t leave this ring until I get what’s coming to me.”

The Rock’s music fills the arena, sending the crowd into an instant frenzy. Out comes The Rock, dressed for battle, microphone in hand. The Rock paces across the stage like a lion in a cage, never taking his eyes off RVD. “Who … the hell … are you?” RVD opens his mouth, but Rock cuts him off with predictable (but rousing) “IT DOESN’T MATTER WHO YOU ARE!” The crowd chants “Rocky”, which he soaks in until it dies off. “All day long, every damn day, The Rock has to hear it from somebody; ‘I’m Booker T, I’m the f-f-f-f-five-time WCW Champion!’ ‘My name is Stone Cold Steve Austin, and I’m a stump-dumb redneck!’ Now, The Rock has to hear it from …” Rock waves in the air, as if trying to conjure RVD’s name. “Whoever the hell you are, Rip Van Winkle, Dick Van Dyke, Martin Van Buren, Chevy Van … it just doesn’t matter, because the fact of the matter is you’re just another jabroni, taking time out of The Rock’s show, whining and moaning, and The Rock has had it up to the top, to the tippy-top of The People’s Eyebrow, of jabronis like you! So what The Rock’s fixing to do now … The Rock, he has the ear of the company, and he has the ear of the people. If you think you can get past The Rock right now, in The Rock’s ring, on The Rock’s show, then maybe, maybe, you got a shot in getting into that tournament.” RVD starts to protest, but Rock silences him. “Arent you the one who just said you’re Mr. Pay-Per-View? The Rock remembers you guaranteeing victory at Survivor Series … if you can win WarGames, surely you can beat The Rock!”

Rocky charges the ring and is up on his feet and swinging before RVD can even register the sudden turn of events. A referee races down and rings the bell in time for RVD to eat a spinebuster. RVD bails before Rock can connect with the People’s Elbow, which throws off Rock’s momentum, and RVD takes control by throwing Rock into the stairs. But as fast as RVD can strike, Rock counters, drilling him with a Rock Bottom and the pin. RVD throws a fit, kicking and swearing and yelling at the ref while Rock heads back to the locker room amidst the cheers of the fans.

Regal comes to the ring, clad in his nice suit, nose up in the air as always. “Before I address my match tonight, I have words for someone.” Regal looks directly at the camera, raw hatred and fury oozing from every pore. “Ric Flair … I am sick of your wise lip, I am sick of your attitude and your feeble attempts at pretending you have any sort of class. It is time someone showed you exactly what your position is in this industry, and I am the gentleman to do it. Therefore, I put forth to you a challenge for Survivor Series … your …” Regal chuckles disdainfully. “Your pathetic figure-four against my superior Regal Stretch. We shall see who the true gentleman and distinguished statement of wrestling truly is.” Regal exaggerates a mournful sigh. “Now then, onto pressing matters, namely my match against Raven in the tournament. All attempts to contact Mr. Raven have been unsuccessful. Therefore, this referee right here will ring the bell and, should this Raven person not show up in 10 seconds, he’ll be counted out and I shall advance.” Regal sets the mic on the mat and puts his arms behind his back, a smug smile on his face as the ref starts the count. The sudden cheering of the crowd never registers with Regal as anything other then applause for his impending advancement in the tournament … and, therefore, he never sees Raven come through the crowd and slide into the ring. When the referee stops counting, Regal notices and turns his sneer towards Earl Hebner … and right into a kick in the gut and a lightning-quick Raven Effect DDT. Raven gets the pin and disappears into the crowd again while the ref checks on the unconscious Regal. The sudden victory moves Raven into the semi-final to face Hardcore Holly, who defeats X-Pac in his quarterfinal match.

Like on Nitro, the ring is draped in a red carpet and an ornate U-shaped table. By agreement, the respective leaders keep their retinues at bay (save for the lawyers), leaving Heyman and Arn to traverse the aisle alone, to the table in the ring of the enemy. Arn and Heyman sit in silence as they wait for the WWF’s chosen representative, of whom there has been no clue given.

When “No Chance In Hell” cues up, almost everyone in the building gasps simultaneously; the deposed Chairman, Vince McMahon, steps out, with his wife Linda walking right beside. Arn smiles just a little, but Heyman is apoplectic. “Y- y-you can’t do this!” he screams. “He … he’s banned! He’s not allowed … what the hell …”

Vince steps up to Heyman, leering over him like a tower over an ant. Heyman does a respectable facsimile of the “McMahon gulp”, but before Vince can do anything, Linda puts a hand on his arm. “Sit down, Vince.” For a panic-stricken moment, everyone in the arena sees Vince’s hands ball into fists and his lip curl up in a rabid-dog snarl; another brawl seems assured … until Vince suddenly grabs a chair and sits down. Linda stands behind Vince, one hand on his shoulder. “I assure you, Paul, everything is above-board.” Linda sighs and looks at Arn. “The board of directors has agreed to accept your terms, Commissioner Anderson; the WWF will, like you and the Lunatic Fringe, gamble its future on the outcome of the WarGames match at Survivor Series. This is why Vince is here; as part-owner, the board of directors felt he had a right to witness the proceedings, provided he had no hand in them. I trust there are no objections?”

Arn shakes his head silently, confidently; Heyman is too stunned to do much but give a slow, stupid single shake of the head.

“Good. Our lawyers have taken the liberty of re-drafting the contract to fulfill these specifications. There are copies for the both of you to provide your lawyers for their approval, of course”””

“Wait!” Heyman stands up. “You expect us to sign a contract when you haven’t even named your team? What kind of scam are you running, lady?”

Vince’s entire body tightens, and he starts to stand up. Linda pushes on his shoulder until he acquiesces. “I assure you, Paul, there is no scam here. I have not mentioned the team yet for one reason …”

The music of Chris Jericho cues up and the crowd goes nuts. No sooner has Jericho stepped out then The Rock’s music comes on, and he joins Jericho on the stage; immediately following, Angle’s music ushers him out, and the three walk down the aisle together as Heyman flies off the handle. He jumps up out of his seat so fast, the chair flies out from beneath him. “What the hell is going on, Linda?” Heyman circles around and approaches Linda, his eyes wild with rage. “What the hell scam are you pulling, you double-crossing bitch?”

The H is barely past Heyman’s lips when Vince leaps from his seat; he wraps his hands around Heyman’s throat and shoves him into the nearest corner, muttering under his breath. “YOU SHUT YOUR GODDAMN MOUTH, YOU MISERABLE”””

Jericho, Rock and Angle, seeing Vince flip his lid from the aisle, race into the ring and pry Vince off of Heyman. Heyman clutches at his throat, coughing and vowing a lawsuit. Jericho and Angle hold back Vince while Rock deals with Heyman. “The Rock says you need to pick up your chair, sit your one-too-many-cheese-crust-pizzas ass in it, know your role and shut your mouth!” Heyman opens his mouth, but Rock pantomimes a closing mouth with his hand a couple inches from Heyman’s nose. Heyman’s teeth clack when his mouth shuts; he rights his chair and plops down, too stunned to say or do anything. “Now, The Rock says you’re going to keep your mouth shut while we explain this for you. Next Sunday … WarGames … big match. WWF on the line. WCW on the line. Fringe on the line. You got Booker T, you got Rhyno, you got DDP, you got Austin, you got Undertaker, you got all the big names! But there’s one thing missing, one piece of the puzzle all of you forgot, one group all of you super-smart, suit-wearing monkeys forgot … the people.” The crowd starts to chant “Rocky”, but Rock holds up a hand to silence them. As soon as they do, Rock gestures to Angle.

“First of all, Mrs. McMahon, let me just say that I think you’re a fabulous lady. Mr. McMahon, you built this company into the powerhouse it is. Mr. Anderson, you’re a freakin’ legend! And Mr. Heyman …” Angle falls silent; everyone looks at him, waiting for him to finish the sentence. “Anyway, what The Rock said is true; everyone has been so busy fighting and hurting and bickering that the one group of people, the fans have been forgotten! Mr. Jericho has been fighting for them since day one, and since Rock came back, so has he. It took me a while to see the light, but daggummit, I did! The people made me their Olympic hero, and they look up to Rock and Jericho too! They don’t wanna see that go away! That’s why we’re here tonight.”

Jericho picks up, his voice as cold and lethal as a razor blade. “The bottom line, as one of your boys would say, Vince, is that you guys wanna fight to the death? You wanna throw this business in the sewer? You wanna kill this industry? Over our dead bodies.” Jericho turns to Rock and gestures to Rock; Rock produces a ream of papers from his shirt and tosses it on the table. “That’s our new contract. Linda, we officially volunteer you to pick Austin’s team as your team … but WarGames will no longer be a three-way dance. That contract right there, that turns WarGames into a four way match … Team WWF versus Team WCW verses Team Fringe … versus The People’s Team.” The crowd goes nuts; Heyman’s eyes are wide as dinner plates, the opposite of Vince’s narrowed slits. Only Arn and Linda show no emotion; they merely study the scene, watching and listening. “The terms are simple; if we win, we call the shots. No mutually assured destruction; no dissolution; no unemployment. We will fight for the people, and if we win”””

Rock raises a hand. “When The People’s Team wins.”

“Right, when we win, we will do right by the people, and accede to their wishes.”

The lawyers come into the ring and discuss the development with their clients. Arn is the first to speak, pledging full support for the stipulations. Linda follows suit, leaving only Heyman, who is too taken aback from the chaos of the past few minutes to offer much of anything in the way of a cohesive opinion. Jericho leans down, getting nose-to-nose with Heyman. “This is not up for negotiation, you pompous jackass. Either agree to the terms, or watch us tear through every last damned one of your soldiers and send them to the hospital. Take your pick.”

Heyman looks at Jericho, then behind him, at Angle and Rock, stoic but grim, three angels of death. Nothing but air comes out the first time Heyman tries to speak. “C’mon, jerky, speak!” says Jericho, giving Heyman a light slap on the cheek. “You can do it!”

“F-f-fine … you …” Heyman can’t manage anything more; he scribbles a barely legible signature. Linda and Arn put their pens to the paper, making official the historic highest-stakes match in wrestling history.

“Now, one more thing …” says Jericho. “Kurt and Rock didn’t come tonight ready for a fight, but I damn sure did … and I think the people would like a preview of WarGames. So, how about you all do right by the people for once and give ’em something … say, a fatal-four-way … me, Austin, Rhyno and Booker?” All three parties quickly agree, signing the biggest main event in Smackdown history.

The entire Dudley family come out, unscheduled according to JR and Michael Cole. D-Von speaks first; “Ohhh, my brother, the WWF is on the run! The power of the Fringe, with the combined strength of the Dudley family … ohhhhhhh, testify, my brother!”

Bubba Ray takes the stick. “There ain’t a tag team we haven’t beaten! The Dudleys have no competition left, and frankly, we’re bored as hell! So we got together and thought up a great idea … we call it The Dudley Challenge. The WWF can send out any three guys to face us … if any of them can beat us, that guy wins the Tag Titles!”

Bubba Ray tosses the microphone away as JR and Cole speculate about who will take up the challenge. Christian is the first out of the curtain, racing to the ring as if his ass were on fire. Jeff Hardy starts down the aisle, but the APA come from behind and lay him out, laughing as they stroll to the ring, leaving Jeff on the ground, holding his head. Neither see Matt come up from behind and clock Faarooq in the back of the head with a chair and speed by, taking up the space next to Christian. Bradshaw’s jaw, but with the spot claimed, there is nothing he can do but take up the final spot on the team. Bradshaw’s resentment almost turns him into a fourth teammate for the Dudleys, doing everything he can to derail Christian’s and Matt’s attempts at victory. The teamwork of the Dudleys overwhelms the mismatched trio, but when Christian and Matt manage to isolate Spike, Saturn comes down to stop the shift in momentum. Edge races down to even the odds, and Jeff and Faarooq shake out the cobwebs to join in, and with the Fringe’s insistence on Extreme Rules, the ref can’t throw out the match. In the chaos, Matt lands a Twist Of Fate on D-Von while Bradshaw connects with the Clothesline From Hell, occurring in simultaneous pinning attempts. With no hope of restoring order, and all track of the legal men gone, the ref has no choice but to count both pinfall attempts, both of which go to three. The crowd is happy to see the Dudley family lose the belts again, but the ramifications quickly become apparent: members of opposing teams now co-hold the belts. Bradshaw tries to take the belt from Matt, who responds with a shove and, as quick as the blink of an eye, the two teams are brawling with each other. Authorities clear up the brawling, but the announcers opine that the future of the WWF Tag Titles look no better in the possession of people who hate each other then they were on The Dudleys.

The referee finds it all but impossible to get the fatal-four-way main event under any sense of control. Booker and Austin are the first two in the ring and waste no time getting to brawling, and no one takes a step out to the apron when Rhyno and Jericho get to the ring. None of the wrestlers even bother trying for a pinfall, too focused are they on just pounding the living hell out of each other. The ref calls for the match to be thrown out, but before he can do anything, he, along with everyone else in the ring, is overrun by Fringe forces, who pulverize everyone save for their teammate. The WWF Champion leads the team in running through the three competitors as Heyman mocks the three team captains and their respective groups. “Is this what you wanted, gentlemen? Is this how you wanted things, Linda? Arn? Vince? If you wanna screw with Paul Heyman, there’s one thing you have to remember: I’m already a broken man. You drove ECW into the ground and virtually stole the money right out of my pockets. A man with nothing to lose and a thirst for vengeance is the most dangerous man on earth; you’ll do well to remember that come Survivor Series!”

Nitro: Nov. 12th

The final Nitro before Survivor Series begins with a taped message from Shane McMahon, seated in his office. On the walls surrounding him are various pictures from matches, promotional posters of events, and photos of wrestlers. “Good evening, everyone,” he begins, “and welcome to a very special edition of WCW Monday Nitro! As you can see, I am in my office, surrounded by memories of WCW’s great legacy. I have every confidence in the world that Booker T, The Big Show and Diamond Dallas Page will be victorious in this, WCW’s greatest hour of need. But it would be foolish not to acknowledge the challenge ahead of us, standing in our way of survival. For us to be successful on Sunday, we must not only present a unified team, but we must draw upon the strength of WCW’s spirit of unity, and its defiant legacy. It is in that spirit that tonight, in addition to the normal fantastic wrestling you’re accustomed to seeing each and every Monday Nitro, we’ll be airing flashbacks to classic matches and moments in WCW’s history. I encourage you to tape this broadcast, to preserve it for your library, so may relive these historic moments at your leisure. And, from the bottom of all our hearts, we thank you, the fans, for supporting World Championship Wrestling.”

Flair comes out, decked out in an impeccable three-piece suit. “Did I hear someone say that tonight was a celebration? Woo!” The crowd woos back, which makes Flair smile. “Cause it ain’t a celebration without The Nature Boy! Woo! Sunday! Survivor Series! And … heh heh heh … Big Willie Regal … you wanna piece of The Nature Boy? You think you can go toe to toe with Ric Flair? Buddy boy, you ain’t got the jack to even lace my boots. You put on a cheap suit, and you walk around like you’re some kinda champion, but Slick Willie … there’s only one man who styles and profiles … a wheelin’, dealin’, kiss-stealin’, limousine-ridin, jet-flyin’ sonofagun! You’re nothing but a cheap copy, a phony, a fraud, and come Survivor Series, WAP!” Flair smacks one hand with the other, his eyes so wide, he looks as if he surprised himself. “I’ll smack the white right off your teeth! Woo! Now then!” Flair’s rage subsides just as quick as it bubbled up; he smoothes out his lapels and smiles as big as the Grand Canyon. “If this is a party for WCW, then there’s a guy back there who means just as much to WCW as I do, and he needs to get his butt out here!”

Arn Anderson comes out, dressed as smartly as Flair. Flair and Arn embrace, drawing a standing ovation from the crowd. Fighting back real tears, Flair speaks, his voice low, almost inaudible if not for the microphone; “Three years ago, I was in a place in my life where I didn’t know if I could be the Nature Boy anymore. I’d been thrown out like the trash, just another old man who didn’t have crap to offer the rest of the business. Three years ago, I was driven out of this company and turned into a shell. This man, this man right here, he brought me out of my darkness. I wouldn’t be standing here today if my best friend, Double-A Arn Anderson, hadn’t brought me back.” Flair turns to Arn, shakes his hand and thanks him, which turns into another embrace. While they are embracing again (with tears coming down the cheeks of both men), Dean Malenko comes into the ring and embraces both men. The crowd is at a fever pitch for the near-complete reunion of the final roster of the Four Horsemen.

Malenko takes the microphone, composes himself, then begins. “Arn, Ric, you know there is no one more then me that respects what the Four Horsemen stand for, and what they meant to WCW. WCW stood for wrestling excellence, and the Horsemen stood head and shoulders above them all. The Horsemen were the elite force in professional wrestling.” Malenko takes a deep breath, closing his eyes, as if composing himself. “And it’s time they ride again.”

Arn’s and Flair’s eyes almost pop out of their sockets. Malenko doesn’t let the reaction intimidate him; he holds up the four fingers, his face set into a stone mask of determination. “This was the sign of the most elite unit in the history of wrestling, the beating heart of WCW for more then a decade. And if you truly want WCW to succeed beyond Survivor Series, it needs us.”

“Well, that’s all well and good, Dean,” Arn says. “But you’re forgetting something; there’s only three of us in this ring, and I’m not exactly in fighting shape. There can’t be a Four Horsemen without four men.”

Malenko nods. “I know, Arn. Three years ago, when I was trying to get you to wake up to the need for the Horsemen, you questioned me, you said I didn’t get it. You owned up to your wrong; you said I did get it. Do you still trust me that way?”

Arn nods. “Of course, Dean.”

“Then can you trust me when I say I believe I’ve found men that exemplify what it means to be a Horsemen? The desire to be the best, the need to compete at levels other men only dream of, the persistence to go on, despite injury or personal risk … the qualities that make a man a Horsemen. I believe I’ve found two men who fill that void.”

“Dean-o,” says Flair, “you know we trust you to the ends of the world.”

“Then allow me to introduce to you two guys who I think can live up to the Horsemen standards.” Malenko begins to address both Flair, Arn and the crowd. “The first man has held two different World Titles in his career, as well as numerous other championships. He’s tougher then nails, he’s a fighter, and at Survivor Series … well, this man has impressed me enough that I think he deserves a shot at the United States Championship. Ladies, gentlemen, and esteemed friends … Mike Awesome!”

Awesome comes out to a surprisingly positive reaction. Flair and Arn regard him with a little skepticism, chatting to each other, but not saying a word outright; when Awesome gets to the ring, he shakes hands enthusiastically with Arn and Flair, but neither of the elder Horsemen look entirely thrilled. Arn and Flair look to each other to speak, but Dean takes them both off-guard. “I know, you’re skeptical. But I want each one of you to look deep in your heart, and think back to who you’ve allowed to wear the mantle of Horseman. Think of how many people the Horsemen took in who once stood as enemies of the organization. Think of the deceits, of the destruction that the Horsemen have rained down on in their day … and then you think about this man, Mike Awesome. There was a time when The Four Horsemen were respected not for their achievements or their legacy, but because they struck fear into the hearts of their opponents. Everything that The Four Horsemen stood for when they first came together, this man stands for now.” Malenko can see that the arguments, while true, aren’t sinking in like he wants them to; he takes a deep breath, then says; “Remember what you said to me three years ago, Arn? In case you forgot, I took the liberty of having this prepared.” All eyes direct to the screen, where a snippet of footage from the historic Horsemen reunion cues up. “I’ve been out here yakking for the last ten years about what it meant to be a Horseman,” says an Arn a few years younger; “Work ethic, respect for the business, respect for each other, respect for the people that came before us, and while I was yakking the last year, and the last couple of months, you were out there fighting the fights for the Horsemen. You exemplify what a Horseman has always meant.” The clip ends, and Malenko turns back to Arn and Flair. “If I exemplify what a Horsemen has always meant, shouldn’t I be able to recognize it in someone else?”

Awesome steps forward and asks for the microphone from Malenko. Malenko surrenders it, and Awesome speaks with an obviously heavy heart. “I know I made mistakes over the past few months,” he says. “I screwed WCW, and Paul Heyman screwed me back. I got what I deserved, and I have been punished. But I’m done being punished. I’ve done everything I can to make it up to people. Now, I wanna get back to what I came to WCW for in the first place: to be the absolute best.” Awesome holds up the four fingers. “This is the best of the best. There’s nothing better.”

Flair and Arn debate for a moment; finally, Arn steps up to Awesome. “Tell you what, son. If Malenko says you’re something, there must be something to ya. I’m not gonna lie and say me and Ric not a hundred percent on ya, but the word of Dean Malenko means something to us, so we’re gonna take that into consideration. How’s about this; you two, you guys may be fighting at Survivor Series, but tonight, we want to see you as a team. You two show us how it’s done … Mike, you show us how you think a Horsemen gets it done, and if we like what we see …” Arn completes the sentence with the four fingers, which draws a nod of approval from Malenko and Awesome.

Ric starts in right after, looking to wrap things up, but Malenko taps him on the shoulder. “Ric, I got one more person.”

“Dean, we go back, buddy. But you gave us a big piece to chew on tonight. Can it wait?”

Dean shakes his head. “You won’t need to think about this at all. As a matter of fact, I think, if anything, this’ll help you make up your mind even faster. He’s not a hundred percent right now, but when he is, he’ll be the best damn Horsemen you ever seen, cause he already knows what it’s like to be one.” Tenay and Hudson are totally buffaloed at who it could be; the music answers everything, and Chris Benoit comes to the ring. Huge smiles break out on the faces of the men in the ring. Benoit is welcomed with hugs and a thunderous standing ovation. When Benoit gives the four fingers, Arn and Flair give it back with a tear in their eyes, giving the official stamp in making the reunion a relaunching of the dynasty.

Horsemen highlights are liberally sprinkled through the evening’s remembrances, all leading up to the big main event, pitting Malenko and Awesome against Booker and DDP. The teamwork of Booker and DDP is a lot more concrete then that of Malenko and Awesome, relative strangers to tagging with each other, but the desire for Awesome to prove himself to Arn and Flair, and for Malenko to prove his judgment accurate, drives the team beyond what Booker and DDP can handle. The duo has to resort to cheating to keep their opponents from overpowering them, but with every passing moment, Booker and DDP find themselves losing traction. Facing certain defeat, DDP resorts to a blatant low blow to draw a DQ … only for Arn to come out and insist the match restart until there is a legitimate winner. Unfortunately, no sooner does Arn return to the dressing room then Team Fringe comes out and goes after Booker and DDP. Flair and Arn come out of the back, brandishing a chair and a tire iron respectively, while Awesome and Malenko come to the aid of Booker and DDP with only their bare hands. The unified force of the Horsemen is enough to drive the Fringe group from the ring (although the referee had long since thrown out the match). Booker and DDP regard the Horsemen with disdain, refusing the offers of handshakes and well-wishes for Sunday. When Flair lays a hand on DDP to turn him around and yell at him for their disrespect, DDP pulls a Diamond Cutter out of nowhere. Booker and DDP quickly exit the ring, running like scalded dogs down the aisle, laughing all the way. Arn grabs a microphone, so angry his hands are shaking. “Nobody wants to see WCW survive more then me, but you two … you disrespectful ingrate bastards … you better damn well hope you lose on Sunday, because if there’s a Nitro next week, the two of you are looking at a long night with the Horsemen riding up on your asses!”

Smackdown: Nov. 15th

The final Smackdown before Survivor Series begins with a taped package that announces, like Nitro, the night will be mostly dedicated to revisiting the glory of the World Wrestling Federation’s run on television; footage of Superstars, Wrestling Challenge, Saturday Night’s Main Event and Raw are promised, revisiting the most cherished memories and controversial moments.

The semi-finals of the Intercontinental tournament provide the main course of new wrestling for the evening, with the finals to occur at Survivor Series. Edge’s match against Test goes first, another challenge against a bigger man. Edge utilizes his speed to overcome the challenge and easily dispatches Test with an Edgecution. After the match, Christian approaches Edge with a request for a title shot should Edge win the Intercontinental Title.

“Dude, why would I wanna do that?” Edge says, almost insulted at the idea. “You’re my brother, I don’t wanna fight you!”

“Yeah, but like, you got the shot at the Intercontinental Title … and I wasn’t even the tournament … you’re the King Of The Ring … throw me a bone, homeslice!”

Edge gives his brother a friendly clap on the shoulder. “Don’t sweat it, man. Your time will come!” he proclaims and walks away, leaving Christian more then a little perturbed.

Regal comes to see Matt Hardy and encourages him to forfeit his half of the Tag Titles as a sign of harmony and willingness to do the right thing. Matt scoffs at the idea and insists he will defend the titles until he and Bradshaw lose them. Regal tries to explain that he has signed a Survivor Series-style match for the event, with The Hardys teaming with The APA against the Dudley family and Perry Saturn, and that it would go a lot smoother if the titles were on one team instead of split between two. When Matt asks Regal if he’s asked the same of Bradshaw, Regal laughs, as if the idea is too ridiculous to warrant a real response. Matt stands up and tells Regal what he can do with the “command”; Regal responds with a sneer and warns Matt there is a price for insolence. The price, he finds out when he comes out to defend the Tag Titles, is to defend against his own brother, partnered with, of all people, Christian. Bradshaw and Christian are all too eager to get into the fight, but Jeff and Matt are hesitant to cross paths. Unfortunately for Regal, his plan doesn’t pan out, as Bradshaw flattens Jeff with the Clothesline From Hell for the pin. Christian wigs out, throwing a full-blown temper tantrum at the loss, but no one pays attention with Matt getting into it with Bradshaw. Faarooq comes out, but is held back by security, a contingent of whom is sent to the ring to break up Matt and Bradshaw. All the while, watching in their dressing room, The Dudleys laugh at the sight of their opponents tearing each other apart.

Following that is the final semi-final match in the tournament, pitting Hardcore Holly against Raven. Per Hardcore Holly’s request, the match is fought under hardcore rules, but he quickly finds himself in over his head with the extreme veteran. Raven has no qualms about taking hardcore beyond its normal limits, and within minutes, Holly is begging for mercy. A quick DDT on a chair stills Holly’s tongue and puts Raven in the finals against Edge at Survivor Series.

After a final video package, Austin, Undertaker and Kane come to the ring, each looking fiercely determined. “There ain’t no need to for us to come out here and worry ’bout what if crap,” Austin says, “since everybody knows we’re gonna whoop ass like nobody’s business come Sunday; Kane’s gonna beat the stupid right outta, and back into, them WCW pieces of garbage … Big Evil here’s gonna stomp them ECW trash back to Philly … and me, well, I done stocked up last night, went to the store and bought me three full-sized kegs of whoop-ass: one for Rocky, one for that idiot Kurt Angle, one extra-special keg for Chris Jericho. But, ya see, come next Monday””and it’ll be next Monday, since we’ll be getting Raw back, you bet your ass””after we beat everybody’s ass and walk away the winners, we’re gonna have couple problems on our hands … see, first of all, we’re gonna have Rock, Jericho and Angle still around. Any ideas, guys?”

Kane merely chuckles while pounding one fist into his other hand. Undertaker rubs his chin, as if the issue requires deep thought, and answers in a gruff tone; “Who says they’re walkin’ outta the cage, Steve?”

Austin lets loose with a deep belly laugh. “HA! That’s a damn good point. So, I guess maybe the one or two of you stupid sons of bitches out there who still like them-” The crowd cuts in with a spontaneous “Rocky” chant; the threesome look around the arena in silence, sneering at the audience. “Chant it all you want,” Austin says with a devilish grin, “cause we’re gonna send Rocky back to Hollywood in a wheelchair.” The crowd responds harshly to this, but Austin doesn’t care in the slightest. “The bottom line is, y’all better get your fill of ’em this Sunday, cause come next Monday, you can bet your ass they ain’t gonna be in no shape to show up to anything ‘cept an emergency room!”

The music of The Rock cuts in; Rock almost runs to the ring, but instead of fighting, he just gets in the face of Austin. Jericho and Angle come right behind, each one a step behind Rock on either side of him. “For over two years, two years, it’s been Rock and Austin, Austin and The Rock.” Rock holds up two fingers right in Austin’s face. “Two years! You beat The Rock at WrestleMania 15, and you had to suck Vince McMahon’s ass to beat The Rock at WrestleMania 17. You had to get that piece of monkey crap Triple H to help you beat me the next night.” Rock holds up the fingers again. “Two years! Two years, I’ve had to listen to your mouth. Then, I come back this summer, and suddenly, there you are, acting like you never bashed The Rock in the head with a chair, acting like you and The Rock were a-okay. The Rock has had enough, Austin, so let The Rock make one thing perfectly, absolutely crystal clear.” Rock brings his mouth up next to Austin’s ear, keeping the microphone nearby so it can pick up what he is whispering. “You’re done here.” Rock comes back in front, still right in Austin’s face. “You’re through. Booger Evil or whatever stupid-ass nickname he has this week, he’s done. The Big Red Retard, he’s done. Commissioner Monkey Anus, he’s done, every damn last one of you is done here. The boys don’t want you anymore; Linda McMahon don’t want you anymore … why else do you think she let Jericho and The Rock and Angle into WarGames? The people don’t even want you here anymore. The next time you cross The Rock’s path, The Rock will make damn sure you get shown the door. And that’s, as you say, the bottom line …” Rock whips off his sunglasses and glares deep into Austin’s eyes. “… because I say so.”

Austin turns away, then turns back, going for a sucker punch; Rock blocks it and fires back, triggering a six-man fracas … and, watching from aisles in the crowd sit the Fringe and WCW teams, smiling.

Survivor Series: Nov. 18th

The video package for Survivor Series is a tour de force of the history of WWF, WCW and ECW, showing classic footage dating back to Gorgeous George, up through Terry Funk, Bruno Sammartino, Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Sting, Bret Hart and current stars. Freddie Blassie gets the last word of the piece, a haunting proclamation that “In war, there are no winners; only survivors.”

WCW’s Survivor Series inter-gender elimination match is the first out of the gate, pitting the Fringe team of Jerry Lynn, Steven Richards, Lita and the Impact Players against Kronik, Sean O’Haire, Chuck Palumbo and Molly Holly. Both teams send their women in first, but Lita quickly tags out to Richards when Molly unloads on her with a blur of offense. Molly responds by tagging in Bryan Clarke. The switch marks the beginning of a long period of pain for the Fringe team, who lose Richards in short order to a High Times from Kronik, followed by Lynn falling to a double-team from the Natural Born Thrillers. Upon those two eliminations, the IP force Lita back in, and the WCW team puts Molly back in. With the women, the Fringe finally get an elimination, thanks to Lita using the ropes during a schoolboy. But without another female to wrestle against, Lita finds herself stuck in a land of giants, and quickly tags out to Justin Credible. Credible begs for mercy from Brian Adams but gets none, and Credible is thrown around the ring by one person after another. It is only when Palumbo, looking to set up the Jungle Kick on a downed Credible, gets blasted by a super-kick from Lance Storm that the Fringe finally catch a break and eliminate a competitor. Adams jumps in, looking to pick off the weakened Credible, but Credible scores with a low blow the referee doesn’t quite see, allowing a tag to Storm. Storm uses his freshness and speed to stick and move, and the help of Credible and Lita on the outside occupying the other two helps when he manages to cinch on the Canadian Maple Leaf, forcing Adams to tap out. Storm is up on his feet as the next person, O’Haire, gets tossed in by Credible (after being hit in the head with a Singapore cane behind the ref’s back). But when O’Haire manages to drop Storm with a clothesline, he tags in Clarke, who cleans house on the IP and plants Storm with a pumphandle powerslam for the three count. Credible, upon realizing he is all alone (aside from the absolutely useless Lita), begs for mercy; Clarke gives him none, pummeling him like a boxer would a speed-bag. Lita goes for a misguided save attempt by slapping Clarke as he has Credible over his shoulder for a powerslam; Clarke merely feints lunging at her, sending her scurrying back to the apron. Clarke drills Credible, then tags in O’Haire, who hits the Seanton Bomb and the pinfall. Lita stands on the apron, too horrified to move. Clarke and O’Haire just stand in the ring, smiling, reclined in the corners. Lita drops down to the mat and backs away; when the ref reaches 10, the announcer declares WCW the winner and, per the results of WarGames, a WCW Tag Title match on Nitro for both the NBT and Kronik.

The second of two Survivor Series matches occurs next, with an unannounced stipulation: it is a tables match. With no tags and no rules, the violence is barely containable, and the refs have to officiate at a distance, lest they find themselves becoming unintentional victims. Spike Dudley is the first to go, a victim of a double-powerbomb by the APA over the top rope to a table on the floor, but the Fringe team quickly even up the sides by putting Faarooq through a table with a 3D. Jeff is the next victim, put through a table with Saturn’s Moss-Covered 3-Handled Family Credenza, but the WWF makes it 2-on-2 when Bradshaw hits the Clothesline From Hell into Saturn while propped up against a table in the corner. But an attempt by Bradshaw to powerbomb D-Von into a table is reversed into a back body drop, and, weakened from one fall through a table makes him easy prey to be hit with a 3D through another, leaving Matt alone. Matt fights valiantly, but the numbers game proves too much and, soon, he too falls victim to a 3D to give the match to the Dudleys. JR waxes about how ominous the loss is for the WWF, and what the fate of the Tag Titles will be if the WWF is annihilated at the evening’s end.

Edge and Raven exchange a handshake before they square off for the vacant Intercontinental Title, but both watch the other with a cautious eye; for Edge, the unknown factor is Raven’s condition””how much may be real, how much may be played up to sucker him in. For Raven, the unknown is having to adjust his nature hardcore style to something more constrained … all the while keeping his opponent off balance, and keeping an eye out for Edge’s brother Christian … or the missing Tommy Dreamer. Edge is surprised by Raven’s ability to keep up with the wrestling, but is disheartened that Raven isn’t in as bad a shape as he’d hoped, giving Edge a tougher fight then he expected. And to Raven’s surprise, Edge proves a tougher competitor then he expects, taking the high-impact, brutal punishment he dishes out and never stays down. When the ref gets sandwiched in an errant clothesline attempt by Edge, Raven resists going to the plunder and sticks to wrestling, and connects with the Raven Effect. But Christian comes down to the ring and smashes Raven in the head with a chair, then drapes Edge over Raven. The ref stirs enough to see the count and issues a very slow three count. Paramedics come down to check on Raven, but as the ref raises Edge’s hand in victory, Christian blasts Edge with the chair. Christian grabs the Intercontinental Title, puts it on the back of Edge’s head and delivers another gruesome chair shot. Christian smiles a sickening, almost demonic smile and grabs a microphone as the paramedics now split to check on both men. “You still think my time’s coming, brother? I told you I want a title shot … do I get one now? I gave you the Intercontinental Title on a silver platter … what do I get out of it? Do I get to experience His Majesty Edge’s generosity now?” Christian throws the chair down, his face a twisted mix of rage and self-satisfaction as he walks away, looking back at his handiwork.

The music of the Four Horsemen cues up, and Arn walks down to the ring wearing a striped shirt. On the way, he stops to say hello to Chris Benoit, seated at ringside, then gets in the ring. “Ya know something, it occurred to me the other day … normally, we don’t go having the Horsemen fight each other. But, as this was Dean’s idea, as a way for Mike to prove himself once and for all, I figured it’d only be fitting if a Horsemen officiated this little shindig. But if the Horsemen are gonna fight each other tonight, then we’re doing this under Horsemen Rules. It’s real simple; there won’t be rope breaks, and there won’t any be count-outs. I ain’t gonna tolerate steel chairs or garbage cans, but I expect the two of you to go toe-to-toe, just like the Horsemen have always done, and don’t stop until you put your opponent down for the count.” Arn gives the four-fingered sign, held high above as Malenko and Awesome come to the ring for their showdown. A handshake between the two starts the match, which has both men pulling out every trick in their respective books, including some new ones to get the upper hand. For Malenko, due to his size, it is a new viciousness and dedication to working over the legs, all the while staying within the lines of Arn’s Horsemen Rules. For Awesome, the goal becomes to wear down Malenko with as much high-impact offense as possible without crossing the line into disrespect. Whenever Malenko gets a moment of offense, he goes right for the legs, hitting dropkicks, leg drags and anything else he can to keep the big man off his feet; the plan alters Awesome’s ability to effectively assert his size advantage. Awesome’s fatal mistake comes when he tries a top rope splash, but the weakened leg gives out and he crashes to the mat. Malenko, battered and weak, pulls himself up and puts on the Texas Cloverleaf. The positioning, near the corner but with Awesome facing the middle of the ring, puts him in a horrible position to try for the ropes, and, with no place to go, Awesome has to tap out. Malenko and Arn help Awesome to his feet; Malenko shakes Awesome’s hand, as does Arn, who says; “There isn’t any shame in tapping out, Mike. The better man isn’t just the winner of the match; it’s also the man who comes back to fight again. That’s what the Horsemen are all about.” Arn holds up the four fingers; Awesome, still trying to catch his breath, nods and offers up a return four-fingered gesture, and the three walk back to the locker room together to the ecstatic cheers of the crowd.

By contrast, though Regal puts forth a gentlemanly air, he displays none of it against Flair, using every dirty-handed trick he can to gain the edge; from the moment the bell rings, Regal starts in, hitting Flair in the back of the head as he takes off his robe, and using the robe to immobilize Flair to beat on him. In between cheap shots, Regal waves to the crowd as if they actually like him, ignoring the negative reply the audience gives him. But the second time Regal waves to the crowd, Flair chop-blocks Regal to the mat. Flair goes right to work on the legs and, like Regal did, stops to acknowledge the crowd, but with a strut and a “Woo!” that is responded to in kind. Flair continues the punishment on Regal until he blocks an attempt at the figure-four by putting a foot on Flair’s ass and shoving him head-first into the turnbuckle. Regal shakes out the cobwebs and goes on the offense, punishing Flair with throws, suplexes and stiff shots to the head. When Regal locks on the Regal Stretch, the crowd expects the legend to fall to the obnoxious WWF Commissioner, but Flair manages to reach the ropes to break the hold. Regal goes right back on the offensive, dragging out the punishment as long as he can without trying for a pinfall. But when Regal backs up Flair into a corner, he paint-brushes Flair, which suddenly sparks a second wind. Flair explodes out of the corner and takes Regal down to the mat, hitting him with a blizzard of lefts and rights. Regal tries to bail when he comes to realize there’s no real counter to Flair’s rage, but Flair catches up with Regal and throws him into the steel steps. A pair of shinbreakers on the steps follow, and Flair tosses Regal back in to slap on the figure-four. Regal holds on as long as he can, but with Flair giving him no slack to go for the ropes and the pain almost making him black out, Regal has no choice but to tap, giving the Horsemen a clean sweep for the evening. Flair shakes hands with Benoit on the way back to the locker room as the crowd gives him a rousing ovation.

The mixed announcing team recaps the modified WarGames rules: a man from each team starts the match, with a new wrestler coming in five minutes later (the order determined by a random draw prior to the event), and further wrestlers in two minute intervals. The Match Beyond begins when all four teams are complete, with submission or surrender the only way to lose, with one modification; instead of one-decision-to-the-win, it is elimination rules, with the last team standing the winner. For the WWF and WCW, a victory will lead to abolishment of the Fringe and the absorbing of the opposing company. For the Fringe, a victory eliminates both the WWF and WCW. For the so-called People’s Team … JR and Tenay can only speculate, as even the contract’s language stipulates (albeit in far more formal legal language) that the People’s Team will “call the shots” should they win. The risk of the anonymous winning conditions has both sides nervous, considering Jericho’s mercurial track record of late … but as the cage lowers, both announcers state the obvious: it is far too late to back out now.

The steel enclosure lowers from the ceiling, not only surrounding the twin rings but giving space on the arena floor for movement, like an over-sized Hell In A Cell. Kurt Angle and Steve Austin, the first two to enter, start fighting before they even get to the ring. DDP, no friend of either man, follows right behind but hangs back, content to let the two beat the living hell out of each other … until Tazz, the fourth starter, comes in and goes after him. By the time the five minute opening period has elapsed, two of the men, Austin and Angle, are already bleeding, and Tazz is busy throwing DDP head-first into everything he can find to try and open him up. The door opens, and the crowd holds their breath as they wait for the music to clue them into the next fighter … who turns out to be Booker T. Booker immediately comes to the aid of DDP, throwing Tazz into the cage wall. Inside the ring, Angle pushes Austin off when he tries a Stunner and connects with an Angle Slam. Angle slaps on the Ankle Lock, torquing it as hard as he can; after a couple of particularly vicious twists, Austin starts to tap, but without complete teams, the submission does no good. Austin’s luck changes when the next person in the ring is Kane, who gets Angle off of Austin with a vicious chokeslam. Austin and Kane double-team Angle while Booker and DDP double-team Tazz until the two minutes elapses, and Rhyno is the next person in. Rhyno cuts Austin in half with a Gore en route to Tazz; when Kane tries to stop him, Rhyno kicks Kane in the gut and lands a spine-shattering piledriver. Rhyno then changes rings, grabbing Booker and throwing him into a steel ring post. Tazz manages to stop DDP with a drop-toe-hold into the bottom turnbuckle, leaving them the only people standing … until Angle makes the mistake of getting to his feet. Rhyno and Tazz switch rings and stalk the Olympic hero until the horn sounds and The Rock joins the match and takes out Tazz from behind. Rhyno charges Angle, who is all too ready for another piece of the Man-Beast. As the Fringe and the People’s Team clash, Austin finally manages to stir and stumbles into DDP in the next ring, and the two start to brawl. The horn sounds again, and the final member of Team WCW, The Big Show, enters the ring, making a beeline for Austin. Show throws Austin aside like a bug, but Kane comes up from behind with a low blow that drops the giant. Booker clocks Kane with a kick to the jaw, and Team WCW uses their numbers over Team WWF, while The People’s Team has their way with the Fringe team. Kane is chokeslammed off the top rope by Show, while Austin is scraped across the steel cage, turning his already-bleeding cut into a gusher. Reinforcements come in the form of Undertaker, completing Team WWF; ‘Taker grabs DDP and introduces him to the many steel surfaces around the rings, from the posts to the steps and the cage. With the reprieve from the two-on-one beating, Austin manages to score some hits on Booker. The horn sounds for the next participant, the man who promised victory, Rob Van Dam. RVD’s first attack comes from behind, a double-springboard (using the two opposing sets of ring-ropes) missle dropkick to the back of The Rock. The Fringe uses their numbers to turn the tide back in their favor, with RVD helping to turn Rhyno’s devastating piledriver into a spike, sending Angle into a fit of convulsions. Tazz whips out his arsenal of suplexes on Rocky, and for good measure, RVD connects with a Five-Star Frog Splash. The horn sounds for the final time, and Jericho comes in like a man on fire, hitting everyone standing between him and his teammates; Austin, Big Show, DDP, Rhyno and RVD all get a piece of Jericho as he fights to come to the aid of his teammates. Just slightly drowned out by the noise the crowd makes as Jericho sets the ring on fire is the announcer, officially declaring that The Match Beyond has now begun.

Jericho rallies his troops against the Fringe team as the bell rings, signifying the start of The Match Beyond. In the other ring and outside, the people Jericho hit as he blew by come to again and immediately look for the living symbol of the rebellion. Big Show is the first to come after Jericho, but RVD steps in the way, trying to use his fast feet and martial arts to fell the human tower; Show shoves RVD away like a mosquito, but RVD keeps coming back. Austin and DDP are the next to filter through and, as their teammates see what is going on, the rest of them follow suit. Rhyno goes after Jericho, but Angle and Rocky pull themselves up and come to his defense; within moments, similar scenes unfold with RVD and Tazz, quickly revealing a unique position: every member of the Fringe stuck facing three people apiece. Outside, Heyman screams at his men to toughen up and beat back the “weaklings”, but the three teams quickly see their opportunity and press the numbers advantage. Before long, the fight turns into a downright mugging, with the Fringe team being thrown around, bloodied and battered at an almost inhumane pace, until Angle secures the Ankle Lock on RVD. Jericho grabs the other ankle and twists while Rock gets down on the mat and talks smack on RVD’s face until it becomes too much to bear and RVD taps. The explosion of applause is both joy and relief that soon mutates into a rousing chorus of “Na, Na, Hey, Hey, Goodbye” as the Fringe team are rudely shown the door. Heyman screams denials and curses at everyone on earth until RVD finally crosses his path; Heyman slaps RVD and goes to choke him, but RVD shoves him off and buries a boot in Heyman’s gut. The rest of the Fringe see RVD’s abuse of Heyman and descend upon the source of their failure, but RVD, hobbling as fast as he can, gets lost in the sea of the audience.

Back in the ring, the teamwork disintegrates immediately, with people striking anyone that isn’t a team member. Austin and Rock finally cross paths, trading punches until Austin tries for a Stunner that Rock reverses into a Rock Bottom, but the follow-up Sharpshooter gets broken up by Undertaker. Booker tries to capitalize and put the hurt on Rock, but Angle breaks it up, beginning a chain of attacks and counter-attacks as each group tries to one-up the other. Jericho smartens up and grabs a chair from under the ring and starts waffling people until DDP catches him from behind and drops him with a Diamond Cutter. Kane brings in the steel steps, trying to crush Jericho, but Big Show kicks them back in Kane’s face. Big Show uses his size to throw people around the ring and to the outside, sending Angle into the cage like a torpedo and throwing Austin half-way across the ring onto the steel chair. Undertaker and Rock work together to put Show on the mat, but the teamwork stops as soon as Show falls, and Booker drops Undertaker with a shot to the nuts. Booker quickly moves over to Austin, wrapping the chair around his head and starts stomping on it. Within seconds, Austin is coughing up blood, but Booker continues, repeatedly stomping until deciding to just stand on it. Kane struggles to his feet to try and intercept, but Jericho and Angle pounce on him, while Angle teams up with DDP to cut off Kane. Booker stomps on the chair a couple more times until, finally, from under a curtain of blood and a face turning blue from lack of oxygen, Austin taps and whispers a surrender. The small contingent of WWF partisan fans boo, but the rest of the crowd goes nuts with excitement. Officials swarm in and usher Kane and Undertaker out and pull Booker off the chair so medics can assist Austin out of the cage.

When the cage door shuts again, the six remaining fighters measure each other, not a single one of them not bleeding. Big Show is the first to lunge into the fight, met by The Rock; DDP squares off with his old nemesis Kurt Angle, and Booker and Jericho collide. The fists fly and the blood pours as the six fighters, wracked with exhaustion and unimaginable levels of pain, reach into the very bottom of their tanks and unload everything they have, using the environment and every implement therein for unseen levels of brutality. Booker and DDP attack with uncharacteristic ferocity, while Big Show relies on size and strength as his advantage; but none of them expect the will of The People’s Team to be so strong. Nothing the WCW team can do keeps Jericho, Rock and Angle down for too long, no matter how much blood is lost or how bad the blow. Jericho manages to plaster DDP with a chair and, with Angle and DDP occupied, assists Rock in sending Show out of the ring; the tandem introduce Show’s head to the metal crossbeam in the cage wall, which drops the giant like a dead tree. With Team WCW’s big gun on the arena floor, bleeding and unconscious, Rock and Jericho get back in the ring and team up on Booker. DDP plants Angle with a Diamond Cutter and goes after Jericho with the chair. He sets up Jericho on the top turnbuckle and goes for a super-plex, but Angle pops up like a jack-in-the-box, races up the turnbuckles and unleashes an Angle Slam from the top. Booker tries to seize upon Angle, but Rock intercepts and takes Booker off his feet with a Rock Bottom. Jericho comes off the top with an elbow onto DDP as Rock slaps on the Sharpshooter on Booker. Jericho puts the Walls Of Jericho on DDP, but neither he nor Booker will tap out. But Big Show comes to, bleeding profusely and dizzied, and sees his teammates in no man’s land and signals the surrender. The crowd noise almost drowns out the announcer proclaiming The People’s Team the winner of WarGames. Officials and paramedics come in to check on the wrestlers, but Jericho grabs the announcer’s microphone. “Tomorrow …” he says, gasping for breath, his voice a barely audible rasp. “Nitro … tomorrow … revolution …” With the heat of battle gone and the need for adrenaline gone, the strength finally drains from Jericho and he falls to his knees. The crowd chants “Jericho!” as he sits on his knees in the aisle, letting the applause wash over him … and, with the applause, the sense of relief and vindication … and, most of all, the knowledge that the war is over.

Epilogue: Nitro: Nov. 19th

The Impact Players’ WCW Tag Title defense against the NBT and Kronik is announced, but, aside from that, only one other thing is announced for Nitro: appearances by Kurt Angle, The Rock and Chris Jericho, to discuss how they plan to “call the shots” as a condition of their WarGames victory.

Shane McMahon stands in the center of the ring as the opening fireworks blow off. Once the noise is gone and the smoke clears, Shane announces; “First off, let me welcome to the ring three people; firstly, my parents, Linda and Vince McMahon!” The McMahons comes out to a vicious round of boos; Vince regards the audience with sanctimonious scorn, while Linda just walks with him, knowing the hatred expressed by the crowd is really directed at her husband. When they get in the ring, Shane grasps his mother’s hand and kisses her on the cheek, but an offer to shake hands with his father is rudely rebuffed by Vince crossing his arms. Linda tries to urge Vince to do it, but Vince is steadfast; Shane tells Linda not to worry about it, and moves on with the introductions. “I’d also like to the man behind the Lunatic Fringe, Mr. Paul Heyman to join us in the ring.”

The response to Heyman is so overwhelming, the negativity seems mere moments away from turning into a lynching. Heyman yells at the crowd as he walks down the aisle, which incites the audience to get even more rowdy. Finally, Heyman just gives up and walks to the ring, standing as far away from the McMahons as possible, arms crossed and a sneer chiseled into his face.

“And last but not least,” proclaims Shane, “the winners of WarGames at Survivor Series 2001, The Rock, Kurt Angle and Chris Jericho!” The threesome come out to the music of Jericho, their unofficial captain, and are treated to a respectable, if not entirely warm, reception from the partisan WCW crowd. The trio shake hands with Shane and Linda, while Vince and Heyman keep their hands stuffed in their pockets; Angle responds to this by hugging Vince anyway, drawing a look of confused disgust from Vince. Meanwhile, Shane says; “Gentlemen, we have assembled to hear your terms; you have the floor.”

Angle takes the stick first, all smiles and bright eyes. “Ya know, since I first talked to Chris Jericho a couple weeks ago, and understood where he was coming from, I’ve felt a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. I was being stupid, following around Austin and Undertaker and those guys; those guys didn’t care about me, they only wanted to use me for their purposes. And their purpose is to keep the business the way it is: with them, on top, forever. They don’t care about seeing this business grow; they’d rather drive it into the ground, then let someone else have a shot. That’s why the first thing we’re doing is stopping these guys in their tracks. Effective immediately, there will be no more wars or hostilities between WWF and WCW. Anyone who willfully invades the other federation will be fired instantaneously, no second chances. No more wars; this country is big enough for the WWF and WCW to exist, side by side.”

Angle hands the mike to Rock, who knows better then to expect a “Rocky” chant from the crowd. “The Rock isn’t gonna waste your time with what The Rock always says, cause The Rock knows you don’t wanna hear it. The bottom line is this: we came here with an agenda, and The Rock’s gonna move right along with Point #2 on the agenda: WCW and WWF, all by themselves, what they’re gonna do now that the war is over.” Rock steps up to Linda and Vince, takes off his sunglasses and turns his gaze to Vince. “Rock is gonna make this simple, so simple, even your diseased monkey’s brain can understand it, Vince; your buddy, Willie Regal? Gone. New Commissioner, this Thursday on Smackdown. You wanna get Raw back? Ask TNN to give you another show, cause Nitro stays Nitro.” Rock turns to Shane. “As for you and WCW … until WCW’s ready to put on their own, the pay-per-views are shared … just keep your people out of the way of the WWF people, and vice versa.” Rock turns away, then turns back and gets right back in Vince’s face. “Oh, there’s just one more thing, Vince, just”-Rock’s voice gets quiet, a gravelly, lethal whisper-“one more thing. The world may be big enough for two wrestling federations, but the World Wrestling Federation … it ain’t big enough for The Rock and Steve Austin. Thursday … Rock … Austin … one last time, no interference … Austin wins, and The Rock goes to Hollywood forever … The Rock wins …” Rock grins, backs away, then points at Shane McMahon. “If The Rock wins, you got yourself a new superstar, Shane.” The crowd explodes as Rock tosses the microphone to Jericho; Linda and Vince both turn several shades of white, horrified at the guaranteed prospect of losing one of their biggest assets; Shane, meanwhile, cracks a world-class shit-eating grin, even as the crowd breaks out into a “Rocky” chant after all.

Jericho pauses, looking to the crowd, who has quickly taken to The People’s Team’s messages of live-and-let-live. The “Rocky” chant melts into a “Y2J” chant; Jericho just lets it die off before breaking his silence. “Oh, and Vince? One more thing. You know how the board suspended you indefinitely? Allow me to put a timeframe on that, jerky: hows about forever?”

Vince’s eyes go wide, blazing like suns gone supernova. “You can’t do that to me! I’m Vince McMahon, dammit! I made this industry! You wouldn’t have a job if it weren’t for me! You-“

I can do anything I want, Vince. Remember; we call the shots now. We won that last night. And while you may have helped this industry become what is it today, the bottom line is this is still a wrestling business, not the Vince McMahon show. This business is bigger then you, and now, it’ll finally have the chance to prove it.” Jericho shoves the microphone in Vince’s chest and starts to walk off, until Heyman crosses the ring, rips the microphone out of Vince’s hands and starts yelling. “What the hell was that? Was I invisible, or …” Sudden realization dawns on Heyman. “Are you … are you letting me slide?”

Jericho pauses, looking at Heyman and grinning. Finally, he comes back, rips the microphone away from Heyman and says; “No, Paul, I’d forgotten about you simply cause you mean that much to me.” Much of the audience, including Shane and Linda, laugh at this; Heyman does not find it as amusing. “But since you seem like you just gotta know … I was gonna do this by courier, since you really aren’t worth the time.” Jericho bats around Heyman’s tie playfully, like a cat with a mouse. “Them contracts your Fringe boys have with the WWF and WCW? Nullified. They’re free agents. They can sign anywhere they want.” Heyman looks confused, cocking his head sideways like a dog. “Let me break that down for you in real simple terms, Paulie: they’re fired! Every last one of them!”

“Y-y-y-you can’t do that! Just cause you won last night doesn’t mean you can go firing people! That wasn’t part of the deal! It wasn’t part of the d-

“Plead your case to the boards of WCW and WWF, Paulie, cause we don’t give a rat’s ass. Bottom line: if you can somehow manage to convince the WWF and WCW to keep on your wrestlers, and if you can somehow keep them from being hunted down like dogs in the locker room and beaten into a coma … if we ever …” Jericho looks over to The Rock.

And The Rock means ever!” he adds.

“Thank you. If we ever see Fringe members teaming up, ganging up, forming a faction, or sharing a cup of coffee … their ass is suspended. No more Fringe, every last one of them … done. Gone. No goodbyes, no final matches together, no farewells.” Jericho turns to Shane and adds; “Except for The Impact Players. They will run out their title reign … then, they break up.”

“That’s not fair! You can’t just-“

“We can, we have, it’s done. As for Van Dam and Dreamer … well, they’re technically free agents, since you never bothered to actually sign then to a WWF contract or anything, so … good luck finding them jobs. And while we’re at it … good luck finding yourself one, Paulie … you’re fired.”

Epilogue: Smackdown: 22nd

The Austin/Rock career-direction match headlines the first Smackdown in the post-InVasion era, but coming on the heels of the earth-shattering news from Nitro’s conference with Jericho, Rock and Angle, the fans and the company know the night will be something special.

To that end, no sooner have the fireworks opening the show ended then Jericho’s music hits. Y2J comes out and panders to the crowd for a couple seconds from the stage before saying; “Ladies and gentlemen … are you ready? Are you ready to meet your new commissioner?” Jericho swings his arm like a windmill before finally pointing towards the entrance … but the screech of breaks and a simple set of power chords tell the crowd who’s coming out before Mick Foley steps through the curtain. The site of the hardcore legend is a heartwarming and thrilling thing after the months of darkness and corruption from the reign of William Regal. Foley waves to the crowd gamely, gives the cheap-pop thumbs-up as he walks down the aisle. “Thank you,” he says, “and let me just say it is great to be back in the WWF … back as your commissioner … and back in the great town of Fayetteville, North Carolina!” After the requisite cheap-pop, Foley waves to Jericho. “And a special thanks, to Chris Jericho, to Kurt Angle and to The Rock, for bringing me back to the World Wrestling Federation. And tonight, tonight I’ve got ahuge surprise for everyone! That’s right … tonight … in this very ring … not only will you see Stone Cold Steve Austin face The Rock with their careers on the line, but the special guest referee …” Foley pauses, drawing out the moment; faint chants of “Foley” cue up, but Foley shakes his head. “No, not me … the Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels!”

In the back, a man in a suit walks through the halls, asking for directions to the Commissioner’s office. Trish Stratus tells him the Commissioner is in the ring, which prompts him to bark; “I didn’t ask for a status update. Where is his office?” Trish points him in the right direction, and when he gets into Foley’s office, he takes a seat, waiting for the new Commissioner. Foley returns to his office after the commercial, surprised to see the stranger in his office. “Good evening,” he says, offering a hand. “my name is Jay Barnes. I am the proxy representative on the board of directors for EHKS Holdings.”

“If you’re looking for Linda McMahon, she usually isn’t at the shows. Her office is in Stamford, Conn-“

“I am well aware of where Mrs. McMahon’s office is, Mr. Foley.” Barnes lifts his briefcase and drops it on Foley’s desk, unsnapping the clasps; Foley (and the camera) take notice of the logo emblazoned on the black leather: a bright white square, enclosing four letters, printed in a sloppy typeset and in out-of-proper-sequence sizes. “As I said, I am EHKS Holding’s representative on the board of directors; I would know where the headquarters is.”

Foley raises an eyebrow, taken aback by his rude guest. “So, then, what can I ask brings you to a live WWF event, Mr. Barnes?”

“The men who make up EHKS Holdings are on their way to the event tonight, and expect the proper welcome to be given.” Barnes pulls out a file folder and hands it to Foley. “When those gentlemen arrive, I expect nothing but the utmost respect shown for them. These men have made extraordinary arrangements to appear here tonight, and are eager to take a hands-on approach to the company after the past several months of mismanagement.”

Foley chuckles. “We don’t give special welcomes for the McMahons, sir, and as far as mismanagement goes, you can blame Vince and my predecessor for that. And, frankly, we’re in the middle of a show; I’m a little too busy. If you’ll excuse me, I have some things to attend to.” Foley gets up and leaves, leaving the representative sitting in the chair.

The introduction of the three participants in the main event sends the crowd into overdrive, positive for Rock and Shawn, negative for Austin. Foley comes down, causing yet another thunderous pop and recaps the stipulations and the restrictions that there is to be no interference on behalf of either man from their respective camps. Rock and Austin listen to all these while standing in the middle of the ring, nose to nose, staring at each other without saying a word. When Foley finishes, Shawn signals for the bell, and the fists start flying. For the next 20 minutes, Rock and Austin go at each other like two hungry men fighting for a scrap of food. Shawn allows a shocking degree of leniency, letting choking, closed fists and exposed turnbuckles occur without repercussion. When the action spills to the outside and Austin manages to drop Rock with a throw into the ring post, Austin gets in Foley’s face; Foley stands his ground, barking right back for Austin to get in the ring. But when Austin tries for a kick to set up the Stunner, Rock catches Austin and plants him with a Rock Bottom, the second of the night; the People’s Elbow follows, and connects, but only gets two. A third Rock Bottom follows, and that gets the three, and the crowd explodes like a volcano. Foley slides in the ring and shakes the hand of his old friend Rock while Austin rolls out of the ring, cursing, kicking and swinging wildly at anything within arms’ reach … including Jay Barnes. Officials scramble to check on the EHKS representative, but Austin, having nothing left to lose, slides back in the ring. While Rock and Shawn are busy playing to the crowd and celebrating, Austin drops Foley with a Stunner. Austin lingers long enough to see the faces of Shawn and Rock … until Tazz comes from behind and blindsides Austin with a chair. Austin goes down in a heap, leaving Rock staring at the return of one of the Fringe’s premier members. Rock tries to go after Tazz, but a voice cuts through the arena, a very familiar voice.

“There’s no need to do that, Rocky,” says the voice. The owner, a pudgy, balding short man in a Yankess ballcap, comes out onto the stage. “Tazz is, once again, a proud employee of the World Wrestling Federation! He’s just helping flush out that WCW scum!”

Heyman comes down the ramp, the crowd utterly shocked. Heyman, however, is all smiles. “Don’t look so surprised, Rock. You’ve grown up in this business; you should know, or at least heard about guys like me. We’re never down for very long. We find ways to keep coming back, especially when you’ve got help …”

Heyman looks back towards the entrance, and if the unexpected sight of Heyman wasn’t enough to send the crowd into shock, the sight of Eric Bischoff stepping out onto the stage causes every jaw in the building to drop. Bischoff blows kisses and gestures wildly, an echo of the deluded leader of the nWo years before. A smattering of jeers begins to circulate as people begin to realize he was introduced by Heyman … but the confusion is still too thick for people to make much sense of anything.

Bischoff gets to the ring as Tazz throws Austin into the steel steps, splaying open the cut that had been closed with butterfly clasps from the battle at Survivor Series. Bischoff shakes hands with Heyman, which turns into a hug, cementing him in the mind of the crowd as an arch villain … but Rock and Shawn are frozen in place, unable to take their eyes off the surreal sight of Bischoff and Heyman in a WWF ring, hugging like old chums. “You know what I liked best?” Heyman says. “EHKS Holdings. Everybody wondered … what did it stand for? Who were these new owners? Nobody knew! You wouldn’tbelieve the rumors I heard in these halls …” Heyman holds up a hand; “Get this, Eric; someone actually thought it meant ‘Eric, Hulk, Kevin, Scott’! How do you like that?”

Eric lets loose with a mighty belly-laugh, which Heyman picks up on. Foley, the cobwebs finally shaken loose, pulls himself up to a vastly different tableau then before his Stunner. Rock’s paralysis finally breaks and he grabs Heyman by the lapels; Shawn grabs Rock by the shoulders, trying to get him to move away. “Don’t you get it, Rock? They own us! They own the WWF!” Rock dismissed Shawn with a gesture … until Shawn nearly takes off Rock’s head with Sweet Chin Music. Foley staggers forward, totally confused. “What … Shawn … how …”

“Walk away, Mick,” says Shawn. “Just walk away before you get hurt.”

“Take his advice, Foley,” says Bischoff. “You’re better off if you just walk up that ramp, get on a plane back to Long Island, and stay there. If we could pull the wool over the McMahons and the entire wrestling world and execute this stunning hostile takeover, what do you think we can do to you?

Mick never looks away from Shawn. “But, Shawn …”

“Mick, you know as well as I how ruthless, how much of a rotten bastard Vince McMahon is. You know the pain and suffering Vince McMahon has put people through in his career.”

“I’ve had enough of this,” Heyman says. “Get him.”

Foley whips around, in time to see Rhyno slide into the ring. Foley looks to the ramp, hoping against hope for help … only to see armed security forming a human wall in the entranceway. Mick turns toward Rhyno just in time to be cut in two by the Gore. The reigning WWF Champion pounds his chest triumphantly. Heyman, Bischoff and Shawn laugh with self-satisfaction. Heyman claps Shawn on the shoulder. “Thank you, Shawn! Thank you for helping make this possible! You see folks, it was Shawn Michaels who was our inside source, who let us know when to make our moves! And when the time was right, we sprung our trap and Vince walked right into it … the Loyalty Agreements, suspending people, waging war on WCW, getting suspended …everything he did made our job easier!”

“Vince,” Bischoff says, “there is no more a hated man in this business then you. Vince McMahon: the man who buried the NWA. The man who slowly bled the AWA dry. The man who stole WCW out from underneath me, the only man who ever gave a rat’s ass about the company! The man who kept ECW in business as long as there was talent to steal! Vince McMahon is a cancer to this industry, and with the help of Shawn Michaels, we formulated a plan to excise the cancer in this business and heal it once and for all! What we’ve done … the deception, the lies, the secrets … everything has been for the good of the business, and the good of the fans! You wanted to see RVD in the WWF, and by god, we brought him to the WWF! You wanted to see Raven and Tommy Dreamer wrestle in the big time … you wanted to see The Rock take on Booker T … you wanted to see the greatest war in the history of our sport, the Monday Night Wars, explode in this very ring? We brought it to you! When has Vince ever done as much for you as we have over the past few months?”

The crowd’s incredibly hostile reaction is lost on the trio in the ring, who act as if they’re conquering kings receiving a warm welcome home; Bischoff gives the crowd a double thumbs-up. But it is Shawn, the traitorous employee, the backdoor for the real invasion, that has the last words; “Don’t you worry, Vinnie Mac, don’t you worry … all this chaos is just temporary. We’ll have this company in working order in no time … after all, we got a vested interest in it, don’t we, boys?” Bischoff and Heyman laugh as Shawn leans on the ropes in front of the camera. “With me, Eric and Paul, the WWF couldn’t be in better hands.”

The end

Written by

Guilty of creating Rewriting The Book and The Greatest Night In The History Of Our Sport, and publishing them somewhat infrequently. Father of three, husband, avid gamer, lover of 90's MTV animation. Available for podcasts and children's birthdays at jed316@msn.com.

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