Re-Writing The Book: InVasion, Month 5 (War, Part II)

The previous four chapters are available here.

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 ofâ??”

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 you ever-AND THE ROCK MEANS EVER-call yourself a pathetic old man again!” 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 absolute best 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 anything of 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.