It's March 26th, 2001 again. We're 6 days away from Wrestlemania X-7, and 2 days away from the biggest purchase in the history of sports-entertainment and wrestling. The WCW had just been bought by the WWF. It's 9 pm, and you're turning on Raw. What do you see? You see Vince McMahon, with a bigger smile on his face than a Loony Tune. Something sinister is in the look in his eye, as he gleefully informs us that he has bought the WCW, and that certain talents (see: Buff Bagwell, Dustin Runnels, Jeff Jarrett, etc.) are going to be GONE.
This was the WWF's glorious day of victory. They had done it. They had killed their competition, crushed it, run it into the ground, and destroyed it. Now true, the WCW had in many, many ways screwed itself over with their poor management and inability to create stars or stay as current as the WWF. But most of the WCW's failure came from dropping the ball
The WWF had disputably been the most entertaining wrestling company since that point, and rode their wave of momentum straight into Wrestlemania. The timing could not be better. You have your two most popular stars going head to head in a feud that was getting hotter and hotter as the days went on. You have no competition; you can do absolutely anything you want to do. So what do you do?
The WWF, at Wrestlemania, turned their most popular wrestler, Austin, heel, and sent their second most popular wrestler, The Rock away the next night to be gone for four months. The question becomes "Why?" Why do the things the WWF has been doing lately? Why turn Steve Austin? How does this all relate to the ratings?
Truth be told, the WWF booking crew is booking to amuse themselves right now. Whereas Vince Russo had a not-so-charming affinity for the perverse, the WWF booking crew, specifically Stephanie McMahon, has an alarming tendency to make themselves the focus of the programming. How else does one explain the fact that the McMahon saga continues on today, despite the fact that they are technically already "over", and that wrestlers who have been given power, such as commissioners and champions, still lay at the beck and call of one of The Four? How does one explain that most champions in the federation(s) are only marginally over, if that, while, rather than getting airtime, or personalities, or more time to garner their own heat, whether that be positive or negative, night in and night out, we have more Shane, more Stephanie, more Vince, and more Linda?
The Austin heel turn completely flew over the head of John Q. CasualFan. It may be hard for most smarks (professed or not) to understand, but marks do not understand the concept of a heel turn. They don't understand that turning heel keeps people from getting stale (sometimes) and gives them different areas to explore their personalities. They don't voice their opinions on who they think is getting old generally, they just stop watching. Your average internet fan is likely to make his or her voice heard, whether by reading columns he or she agrees with, writing on message boards, writing the WWF themselves or writing their own columns. For the average fan that tunes in to see what old Stone Cold is going to do next, if Stone Cold begins acting like a "wuss", all of a sudden, maybe they don't care anymore. Most people online will tell you it took months to properly turn Steve Austin heel, and that despite fans' attempts to cheer him. The WWF essentially shoved the turn down peoples' throats. Would they have done such an irrational and stupid thing if they still had competition from WCW?
Admittedly, the WWF has listened to fan reactions in some cases, such as giving Rob Van Dam the ball after his incredible reception with the hardcore, and then the casual fans. Yet, this was not the same courtesy extended to talents like Billy Kidman, who was also beginning to get over as a face before his injury (to which JR replied "This ain't the ballet"), or Kanyon, who was incredibly over before they dropped the ball with him. People like Booker T and DDP have been relegated to feuds that either were demeaning or abusive to their careers. Booker T's feud with the Rock simply showed that Booker didn't have what it took to defeat the Rock, despite his claiming to be "the most electrifying man in sports-entertainment", and stealing the Rock's catchphrases, drawing major heat. His feud with the Undertaker, while not bad, would have only been serviced by Booker going over the Undertaker at No Mercy. Booker T was also nowhere to be seen during any portions of Alliance-led rallies or actions, save a very few. Page was done absolutely no service by being squashed repeatedly by the Undertaker on live television and pay per view. In most of these cases, legitimizing these
One would have a legitimate point in asking why Shane McMahon would ever hate his father enough to buy a company they helped put out of business together. Or why Stephanie would ever want to buy ECW, as she barely ever acknowledged its presence, and the WWF had already stolen and popularized (i.e. bastardized) most of their original concepts and talent. One would have a legitimate point in asking why WCW talent or ECW talent would stand so ready to follow whatever Shane and Stephanie wanted them to do, when WCW and the WWF hated each other about as much as two companies can (and thusly I would expect their wrestlers would too), and the ECW stood against everything the WWF stood for. It makes blindingly little sense (seriously, you'd go blind trying to understand it). Somehow, we're led to believe that a group of renegades and hungry young men and women would follow the limp-wristed advice of Shane or Stephanie, and do whatever they asked because of what? They hold their paychecks? And how exactly is the Alliance earning revenue again? Let's move on.
Turning the ECW/WCW Alliance into a group of jobbers and jokes led by a couple of disgruntled silver-spoon brats was perhaps, in retrospect, the worst possible move that the WWF made. Rather than allowing actual talented wrestlers take the lead and break out as stars, the WWF chose to go with something that the fans would find easier to swallow. The
But no no, not by proxy, because the WWF continually pounded into us that these guys were a bunch of losers who couldn't even keep their own federations alive. We were constantly reminded that Booker T "sure as hell wasn't Ric Flair", perhaps the single dirtiest champion the WCW or WWF have ever seen. We were constantly reminded that this disorganized mess wasn't in any way, shape or form superior to or on par with the premier WWF talent. And "premier" is the right word, of course, for who chased off people like Booker T, Sean O'Haire, Chuck Palumbo, Billy Kidman, Rhyno, Tommy Dreamer, and Rob Van Dam but the cream of the crap WWF talent like Bob Holly, Bradshaw, Farooq, K-Kwik, Funaki, Jerry Lynn... and so on. You get the idea. If top tier, or midcard WCW/ECW talent is running for the hills by the threat of the WWF's jobber brigade, why should anyone be afraid of them?
The WWF definitely ran into some pitfalls that caused their ratings to fall, causing them to rush the Invasion before most top-level WCW talent would be off of Time-Warner contracts. The absence of The Rock, the injuries of Triple H, and the face Rikishi, were perhaps some snags that were encountered. Had the Undertaker's ride as the top babyface for the company been more successful, perhaps the WWF wouldn't have been forced to run with something radically different to attempt to save their declining ratings. Perhaps it's not right to use the Undertaker as the reason it was rushed. The point is simply that without competition, the WWF has begun to stagnate in complacency, to try things they never would have attempted before the injury of Triple H, and the absence of the Rock, but mostly before the fall of WCW.
However, a very strong case can be made that the WWF, following the abysmal failure of the defunct XFL football league, was looking for some market stability to share with their shareholders. A risky WCW or ECW venture, two companies who had driven themselves into bankruptcy, may have been extremely unfavorable to the WWF and their shareholders
It is hard to believe the Vince McMahon we all know and love to hate, would not shell out the cash necessary to hire back Goldberg, to hire Scott Steiner, to lure Sting back into the ring, to grab onto Ric Flair for life, wouldn't pick up Jeff Jarrett or Nash and Hall, and turn the WCW into a real force to be reckoned with if he really cared about the legacy of his new
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