NWA Invasion – WWF, 1998
If you want chaos, this was the time. Less than a month before, the Montreal incident had occurred, causing Bret Hart, the British Bulldog, and Jim Neidhart) to head south to WCW. Almost unnoticed in this was the fact that the WWF had finally managed to steal one of their own back from WCW. Jeff Jarrett, a former Intercontinental champion, was coming back. Sure, he wasn’t a world champion, but it was somebody, right?
Jarrett made his return on Raw on November 17, announcing that he would be in the ring the next week. Unfortunately, Jarrett forfeited his match with Crush that night by refusing to wrestle. His meal and locker room were not suitable. That pattern continued for a month, where Jarrett would lose by forfeit, or might get a win here and there by a countout.
At the same time, Vince McMahon was turning into the evil Mr. McMahon beginning with his infamous “Bret screwed Bret” interview. He also decided to let one of his most… ummm… vocal employees do a backstage interview. That man was Jim Cornette.
Cornette had worked for WCW years before, and was not pleased by the way the company was run. As a matter of fact, it’s been reported that he after leaving, Cornette sent a black wreath to Jim Herd who was the president at the time. In October, Cornette had done a scathing interview about WCW and the NWO. He described Kevin Nash as a 40 year old teenager who had 6 moves, no mobility, and the timing to cover some of it. Scott Hall was a good wrestler but that was it. Syxx was just kept around because the other guys thought it was funny when he’d get drunk and puke on himself. This was remarkable due to the fact that McMahon had always just ignored WCW, which simply allowed Eric Bischoff to take whatever shots he wanted.
As you can imagine, WWF loved it. For the first time, McMahon (through Cornette) was saying he was fed up with WCW’s antics and was (finally) ready to fight back.
On the December 29 Raw, Cornette got the microphone again. This time the subject of discussion was different. Now Cornette, a known “old school” promoter, was discussing the lack of wrestling on wrestling TV. He ranted about tradition and its fading place in the WWF’s programming. Finally he said that the WWF was going to fall apart. The invasion was about to begin.
The next week, Cornette began his battle to restore tradition to the WWF. He brought in an NWA official for a match to conclude a (non-existent) tournament for the vacant NWA North American title which had just been vacated by Reckless Youth. Jeff Jarrett defeated Blackjack (Barry) Windham to win the belt after Cornette nailed Windham with his tennis racket.
At the next Raw, Jarrett didn’t have a match. However, Cornette did. He brought in his newest proteges – the newly-awarded NWA world tag team champions the Rock ‘N Roll Express, who were taking on Skull and 8-Ball from the Disciples of Apocalypse. Cornette thought his tennis racket had won the match, but the referee caught him and DOA won by disqualification.
On the 19th, Cornette’s team kept rolling forward as Jarrett successfully defended the NWA North American title against Blackjack Bradshaw (with a little help from his now-former partner Barry Windham). After this, Windham and Jarrett found themselves competing mainly in tag matches against teams such as the Legion of Doom and Bradshaw/Flash Funk.
On the 16th of February for the so-called “Saturday Night Raw,” the Rock ‘N Roll Express found themselves in a feud of their own. They retained the NWA tag titles after Robert Gibson was thrown over the top rope by the Headbangers, an automatic disqualifiction under NWA rules.
On the 23rd a losing streak continued. Jarrett was defeated by Ken Shamrock (at least it was a non-title match), and the Headbangers defeated the Rock ‘N Roll Express to become the new NWA world tag team champions.
Things changed on the March 2 Raw. Jarrett wisely decided that this wasn’t working and left the NWA contingent, returning to his old Double J gimmick, along with Tennessee Lee (WCW’s Colonel Parker) by his side. The NWA immediately announced the North American title vacant – a state it would stay in until August 1.
It took a month to start getting things on track again. During the interim, the Rock ‘N Roll Express were handed their walking papers on March 17, when Cornette’s new tag team destroyed them after a match with the Headbangers. The team? A repackaged Bob Holly and Bart Gunn calling themselves the New Midnight Express (Bombastic Bob and Bodacious Bart).
On March 30, the New Midnights brought the tag titles back to NWA country and Cornette dropped a bombshell. He brought out the NWA World Champion – legitimate tough guy Dan Severn who defended the NWA World title the next Monday night, dismantling Flash Funk with no problem.
It was all downhill from here. The New Midnights tanked and were finally broken up after Gunn defeated Holly in the Brawl for All tournament. The NWA had reclaimed the tag titles by August, when they were won by a team called the Border Patrol. The North American title had already been awarded to Mike Rapada, the Colorado Kid. Severn eventually quietly disappeared from the WWF as well, although he retained the NWA world title until March of 1999, when he lost it to Naoya Ogawa in Japan.
The NWA invasion was over.
The early 90’s had not been kind to the NWA. They had lost their primary TV outlet when Ted Turner bought WCW from Jim Crockett in 1993. Another shot immediately followed as Shane Douglas won a tournament for the vacant world title in 1994, only to have him immediately throw the belt down and declare himself the ECW world champion. Also, over the course of the 90’s, nearly every NWA title went through a period of inactivity.
This is a perfect parallel to the WCW invasion in 2001, only with even more flaws. To start an invasion, identifiable wrestlers are needed which, for the reasons listed above, the NWA was lacking anyway. Most wrestling fans knew the WCW guys. The NWA, on the other hand, not only lacked familiar faces, but most of the names like Ric Flair and Sting were under contract to WCW. The ones who weren’t, like Dusty Rhodes, Ricky Steamboat, or Harley Race, were retired from the ring. Of the ones they were able to get, Jeff Jarrett was by far the most fit. Windham was at least in his late thirties at the time. The Rock ‘N Roll Express were greatly deteriorated from their 80’s heyday. And as for the New Midnights – the less said, the better. All they were was another ego stroke for McMahon, where he had the chance to mock a duo that many wrestling fans consider one of the greatest tag teams of all time.
As far as the above comparison to the later WCW invasion, the match endings were definitely the same. In every match the NWA contingent would either lose or win by a racket shot from Cornette (not counting the occasional countout and DQ wins here and there). I believe that the only clean win the NWA team got was when the Midnights beat the Headbangers for the tag titles (and remember, the Midnights were just repackaged WWF guys). In order for an invasion to work, the invaders have to have definite wins, and they have to go defeat the promotion’s big guys. The closest the NWA got was Jarrett’s European title shot against Owen Hart. Forget about working with Steve Austin or the Rock.
In the end, this was just wasted TV time for the WWF and another black eye for the NWA. This was just like the WCW invasion 3 years later, only the black eye was given to the WWF by itself. The NWA, on the other hand, would begin to recover some of its lost prestige when NWA-TNA premiered in 2001.
Where are they now?
Jim Cornette is working with Ohio Valley Wrestling, the WWF’s development territory.
Jeff Jarrett is the NWA World Champion and one of the main stars in NWA-TNA.
Barry Windham appeared at the Wrestlereunion show in January 2005 in Tampa, Florida. He and Mike Rotunda reformed the US Express and lost to Outlaw Ron Bass and Larry Zbyszko.
The Rock ‘N Roll Express are still active on the independent scene – they also appeared at Wrestlereunion, where they teamed with the Fantastics to defeat a Midnight Express team made up of Sweet Stan Lane, Beautiful Bobby Eaton, Dennis Condrey, and Jim Cornette.
Bob Holly is still active in the WWE on the Smackdown side of the roster split.
Bart Gunn has returned to Japan where he competes under the name of Mike Barton.
Dan Severn is still active in mixed martial arts competitions. His website is at http://www.the-beast.com.
We head back to WCW for one of my personal biggest guilty pleasures of the Russo era.