Re-Writing The Book: InVasion, Month 4 (Coup De Tat)

The first three are here.

What if the InVasion hadn’t failed?

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 coup de grace: 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 and 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 you really 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: Aug. 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 your champion. 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.

To be continued …

Quick message to my fans: I can’t entertain fan suggestions for RTB anymore. I’m sorry to have to cut them off, but circumstances have forced me to do so. I will elaborate in a few weeks, but for now, let’s just say that I have far too many for me to ever get to, and I don’t want to lead you all on. 230+ is more then enough. Thank you all for your inspired ideas.

A few quick pimps, as I’m short on space …

Kurtis always gets one. And hi to Bonto and Matt, the other illustrious members of the gang.

Lambert pimped me, so I pimp him. And he wrote a decent piece, too.

Eric always gets a pimp too, for being a decent guy. Yes, despite his curmudgeony attitude, he can be a cool guy.

One for my fellow IP Forum mod (why haven’t you joined yet? You got no excuse!) Hatton. He’s a funny guy, keep an eye on him.

Coates named his column after a Douglas Adams book. I haven’t read the book, but I love DA, so it deserves a pimp.

D’Errico loves metal.

If you haven’t checked out Moodspins yet, why not? Great new writers, plenty of IP people doing new and different stuff … including me! And the moodspins (the italics are necessary, but I don’t know how to do italicized HTML links) column is interactive, so interact, damn you!

We have passed the halfway point of our grand saga … only three chapters remain, but what is ahead of us is the most action-packed of all … can the WWF and WCW topple Heyman’s extreme uprising at Unforgiven? How will WCW and WWF co-exist in the face of this common enemy? Or will the Lunatic Fringe continue to steamroll the buffaloed promotions? And with Chris Jericho and Raven having declared themselves hostile independents, how will they stand in the face of overwhelming numbers? 14 days sees Month #5 …