When Bryan Alvarez and I decided to write The Death of WCW, he said something that I will never forget. After laughing about all the horrible stuff the company did to cause its own demise, we started to get down to business and really think about the company and its rich history. “You realize,” Bryan told me, “that as we write this, we’re both going to get very depressed.”
I was stunned. What the hell was he talking about? Had I agreed to do the book with a guy that was off his rocker? How on earth could I be depressed about a company causing its own death with a plethora of horrible decisions, stupid booking, and egomaniacs running it right into the ground?
As we worked on the book, I became all too familiar with what Bryan said. I AM getting depressed. It is so hard to watch these classic bouts with Ric Flair, Vader, Sting, the luchadores…and realize that style of wrestling is gone. That there is no longer any real, major league alternative to WWE. And while I have always been a WWE/WWF fan, I have learned just how much we are really missing out on over the past few months.
My depression was becoming severe. But it was about to be overcome with a much stronger emotion: raw, unbridled anger. Unfathomable frustration. And flat out hatred. For I was about to write the epilogue chapter of the book, in which we take a look at the aftermath of WCW going out of business. When Nitro was cancelled. And when the WWF bought the company and prepared the long awaited cross-promotion matches fans had been dreaming about for years.
And let’s make no mistake about it. The thought of WWF vs. WCW was something that fans had wanted since the two companies became the standard bearers for the wrestling industry in North America. Fans would debate who would win a world title showdown between Goldberg and The Rock. Hell, look at the Apter mags; a month didn’t go by when a fantasy showdown between the two leagues didn’t get ink.
It was the last thing wrestling fans believed was real, that innate hatred the two companies had for each other. And it was the one thing that every wrestling fan would be willing to plunk down their hard earned money to see: a once in a lifetime showdown between the WWF and WCW.
And as I write this, I cannot help but get even angrier than I was when I wrote the chapter. See, I’ve had time to think about it. And the more I think about it, the more pissed off and angry I get. My fingers fly over the keyboard in a fury, slamming the keys down harder and harder, as if seeking some type of release from what I am about to write. And there is no way around it other than to say that the WCW-WWF InVasion was the biggest disaster in the history of not only the WWF, but quite possibly the pro wrestling business as a whole.
Personally, and I want this to be go on record, I think Vince McMahon is an absolutely brilliant man. Over the years, I have seen him overcome odds, change with the times, and fight like hell to come up with a formula of wrestling that many, many people enjoy. Sure, over the past year or so, I’ve found the WWE product lacking. But I’ve been there before with him, and I’ve seen him come out the other side with something I really enjoyed. Men like Bret Hart, Steve Austin, Roddy Piper, Ted DiBiase, Shawn Michaels, Kurt Angle, Randy Savage…all were given their opportunity to shine under Vince’s leadership. Classic storylines like the Hogan-Orndorff feud, Austin vs. McMahon…those were done in the WWF. I’ve had more fun watching WWF programming than I ever did watching wrestling promoted by any other company, hands down.
I think that it is due to all the great times that his company has provided me that I get so agitated; it’s because I know they can do so much better, put out such a more entertaining product, because he has done it in the past. He knows how to do it. And when he doesn’t do his best, I get incredibly frustrated.
And never in my life was I more frustrated with the WWF than during the so-called InVasion.
Where to even begin.
Ok, so Vince McMahon and the WWF finally achieve the lifelong goal of being the only game in town. The purchase of WCW (and months earlier ECW) gave not only McMahon what he wanted, but also gave a glimmer of hope to wrestling fans. WCW had been a shell of its former self during 1999-2000 and was in DIRE need of being revamped and repaired. And if anyone could restore WCW to its former glory, it would logically be the guy that just made himself a billionaire by creating storylines and characters that sold out arenas and set television ratings records.
The final Nitro was an event in and of itself. I don’t think a single wrestling fan wasn’t on the edge of their seat March 26, 2001. And odds are that most of us fell out of those seats when Vince McMahon appeared on TNT, opening up the last ever WCW show, proclaiming that the fate of the promotion was in his hands. It was an event so unlikely that even the word “surreal” couldn’t describe. It was more powerful than that, it was more bizarre than that. It was more impossible than that.
By the end of that night, we all wanted to know what was going to happen to WCW. And then, as Vince, in a simulcast on both Raw and Nitro, threatened to shut their doors forever, who of all people should appear in the WCW ring but Shane McMahon. According to the storyline, Shane had purchased the company out from under his father’s nose. And according to Shane, WCW was about to kick the WWF’s ass all over again.
And that, my friends, is when we should have noticed that something was very wrong.
But we didn’t.
We didn’t because we wanted to believe. We wanted to believe that somehow, some way, this rivalry between WCW and the WWF WAS real. And we held onto that belief because now, finally, we were going to be getting WCW vs. the WWF.
That’s just what happened. WCW stars such as Lance Storm and Hugh Morris began to randomly attack WWF superstars like…Perry Saturn.
Hmmm…you know, maybe it’s just me, but if I was going to stage a massive invasion against the WWF, I’d probably start by attacking, I don’t know, The Rock or someone. It seems a bit anti-climactic that the long-awaited and much anticipated war between the WWF and WCW started with WCW midcarder Lance Storm going after WWF midcarder Perry Saturn. But that’s how it started.
Over the next several weeks, more midcard attacks would happen. This did little to establish WCW as a legitimate threat, but hey, we were finally starting to see the interpromotional war we’d always wanted. Now we just needed some big WCW stars to hit the scene. And over the next few weeks, both Booker T and Diamond Dallas Page showed up, giving the war some much needed star power.
The only problem was that these WCW guys were obliterated by the more established WWF superstars. Page, in particular, was pummeled every which way in his feud with the Undertaker. In fact, the poor guy got the crap kicked out of him so often, it was almost a relief when the feud finally ended…with Page being pinned by Undertaker’s WIFE.
Slowly, fans started to realize that this invasion really wasn’t much of an invasion at all. It was just WCW jobbers fighting WWF jobbers, and WCW superstars getting their asses kicked by WWF superstars.
Thankfully, Vince had the answer as to what was wrong with the InVasion. It was simple.
It needed Shane versus Vince.
Yes, what this WCW vs. WWF war really needed was more McMahons. Because the fans “didn’t care” about the WCW guys (because they were made out to look like idiots), they needed to have the focus on performers the fans did care about. Guys like Shane and Vince. The WCW workers, whom the feud should have been built around (because they were, you know, the guys WRESTLING) were shoved into the background as afterthoughts. Yes, they wrestled on the shows, but they were never really promoted as a real threat to the WWF. They were portrayed as pathetic losers.
Perhaps it was because Vince never really wanted to acknowledge that WCW was on equal ground with his own creation. He had, after all, refused to even acknowledge their existence on WWF television until the late 1990’s, when Nitro was beating Raw’s ass in the ratings. They were the only wrestling company to successfully compete with him, and not only that, beat him at his own game. It was a humiliation that a man of Vince’s fragile ego seemed unable to endure. Therefore, it probably shouldn’t have come as much of a shock that when he finally got the chance to pit the two companies “against” each other, that he had the WWF side completely annihilate WCW.
With WCW getting their ass kicked on a weekly basis, the booking committee came to the conclusion that something would have to be done in order to salvage the situation. And so began the next brilliant booking decision of the invasion.
In addition to WCW, Vince McMahon had also acquired the assets of ECW. Despite having given Vince a veritable blue print for his vaunted “Attitude,” ECW and its owner, Paul Heyman, didn’t have the funds to compete with McMahon or Bischoff on a national level, and both of the larger companies raided his talent or stole his best ideas more or less at will. By the end of 2000, ECW was in shambles, with Heyman bouncing checks to his workers on a weekly basis. The company collapsed, and McMahon, ever the opportunist, was there to pick up the pieces.
With the WCW invasion falling apart, McMahon knew something needed to be done to save the angle. Therefore, during a July Raw in Atlanta, an ECW faction was formed when Rob Van Dam and Tommy Dreamer showed up out of the blue. All the men on the WWE roster who had ever competed for ECW joined them. Heyman himself entered the ring, giving a spirited promo about how much he hated McMahon for stealing his concepts and his talent. He also claimed that ECW was going to join forces with WCW to form “The Alliance”, whose sole goal was to kick the crap out of the WWF.
This was truly a landmark moment in wrestling. This is what the invasion should have been all about: the two promotions that McMahon ran out of business had joined forces to form the “Alliance.” Their goal? Kick the shit out of McMahon and the men who drove them into bankruptcy. All was right again with the world.
Until, of course, the final two minutes of the program, in which the viewers at home were introduced to the new owner of ECW: Stephanie McMahon.
Yes, Vince’s daughter was brought to the forefront of the Invasion alongside her brother Shane. Again, the entire focus of the so-called “Invasion” was shifted away from what fans had been dying to see for years, which was ECW or WCW versus the WWF. This not only alienated the hardcore ECW fans who might have bought into the storyline, but also many long-time WWF fans who had been bored to tears already by the McMahon feudin’ family angle.
Over the next several months, the terms “WCW” and “ECW” virtually disappeared, and the name “Alliance” was used instead. This “InVasion” was becoming more watered down on a weekly basis, and was about to get even worse, as the Alliance was ready to import a new major star.
Goldberg? Ric Flair? Hulk Hogan?
No no no – those guys were all under Time Warner contract, and were “too expensive” to bring in. Please remember that.
No, the major star turned out to be Steve Austin. The guy who brought the WWF to the promised land, and the guy who was more closely identified with the company than perhaps any other superstar. But that’s who jumped ship, and hopped on the Alliance “bandwagon.” He would soon enough be joined by Kurt Angle, who had never competed for any pro wrestling company but the WWF.
So we had Steve Austin, Kurt Angle, Shane and Stephanie McMahon…and if you looked past all them (and it was hard to do since they got the majority of mic and ring time), then you just might have seen some guys from WCW or ECW (although, to be fair, in the case of the ECW guys, most of them had been with the WWF even longer than they’d been with their former employer).
In essence, the InVasion had NOTHING to do with WCW and ECW versus the WWF. It had NOTHING to do with what the fans had wanted to see for YEARS. It had to do with the same guys who had been main eventing for the WWF for years being in the main events once again.
Nowhere was this more evident than in the final showdown between the Alliance and the WWF at Survivor Series 2001, in which the loser of the match would be forced out of wrestling forever.
The first man introduced as part of Team Alliance? Duh – Shane McMahon. Next up was Austin, the man who was the embodiment of the WWF since McMahon introduced his “Attitude” concept in 1996. Then there was Angle, who had never competed anywhere but the WWF. Rounding out the team as afterthoughts were Booker T and Rob Van Dam, who were eliminated midway through the match so as not to take the focus away from anyone who, you know, hadn’t worked for the WWF the majority of their careers. And so, in the final match to determine the survival of WCW and ECW, the last two men in the ring were Austin and the Rock. Rock pinned Austin and WCW and ECW were gone forever. And t he first person they showed after Rock pinned Austin was naturally the embodiment of ECW herself, Stephanie McMahon.
In a final bit of irony, who should appear the very next night on Raw? Ric Flair. Over the next year, WWE would bring in not only Flair, but Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, and Goldberg as well: all the guys they “couldn’t afford” to bring in for the InVasion.
I don’t think words can express my incredible disappointment with the InVasion (although I just spent 2,000 of them trying). And I know that all of you feel the same way. This was to be our personal nirvana…a pro wrestling Woodstock we could tell our kids about.
It started as the angle that everyone wanted to see.
It became the one that no one wants to remember.