Hell Freezes Over Part 1: The Month From Hell – A Personal Reminiscence

If right now at this moment WCW was a horse, I would shoot it and I would get a fresh horse. Or perhaps a better analogy would be if WCW was a building. Rather than remodel it, I would blow it up and start from scratch. – Eric Bischoff, in an Observer interview in 2000

The reason why WCW finds itself today in the embrace of Vincent Kennedy McMahon can be traced back to eight little words: “He beats the big guy with three superkicks.” With that statement, Eric Bischoff declared outright war. The Monday Night Wars isn’t just a statement of hyperbole; it’s a statement of fact. WCW decided to start armed combat. Not even they could foresee that it’d end up as wrestling’s equivalent of The Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich.

From a purely military standpoint, Bischoff and WCW conducted the perfect war for two years after that statement. They were able to get their opponent off-balance, forcing them into tactical mistakes like the Billionaire Ted skits. They unveiled a new weapon in the nWo, and then demonstrated that they knew exactly how to use it. When the opposition showed signs that they knew how to counter this, they unveiled another new weapon named Bill Goldberg. In 1997, they had everything in place necessary for total victory. But at the moment when this advantage could have been pressed into a win, things started to fall apart at such a rapid pace that we all stood by and wondered how it could happen.

WCW ended up committing mistakes on their own part that nullified their advantage on the battlefield. They let the field generals take complete control of the troops instead of having coordination with a central command structure, and let their egos get in the way (Hogan, Page, Nash). The central command structure performed actions that alienated the field generals (Waltman’s release). The field generals changed tactically-sound battle plans in order to suit their own requirements rather than that of the mission (Starrcade ’97, Goldberg jobbing to Nash). When major tactical weaknesses were displayed by the enemy, they failed to press their advantage (Bret Hart).

In addition to the sins of commission, they also performed sins of omission. They made the most deadly mistake imaginable for any army: they underestimated the enemy. When looking at the head of the opposition, all Bischoff could see was someone who was complacent and weak due to circumstances. He failed to remember that this was the man who had invented the tactics he needed to use. The thought that the enemy leader was merely sleeping and not dead never seemed to have occurred. Compounding that was the fact that the enemy’s weaponry was underestimated. Looking at the field generals lined up on the opposing side, all WCW saw was three midcarders that they’d let go and some guy who was overpushed and failed with the audience, certainly no match for their proven superstars and certainly without the potential to be anything more than additions to a list of failures promulgated by the WWF. Even the people at the enemy’s central command were ridiculed. The owner’s son and a guy who used to run a video store? Give us real competition, they said.

It only took one major tactical stumble by WCW to put themselves into a hole. Starrcade ’97 blew a hole in their flank. At first, the enemy was unprepared, even leaving the door open for WCW to correct that mistake courtesy of Bret Hart. But it was now WCW who was complacent. The sleeping giant was now awake and the enemy’s machinery was now cranked up to wartime requirements. Every tactical engagement from this point was lost for WCW. It took a long time to resolve, but the battle was lost at that point. Every desperate act cooked up by WCW failed, every battle plan nullified. Instead of a tactical retreat, they continued business as usual, thinking that things could be as they were when they were winning every fight. Even getting rid of the man who took them to war didn’t work. It was simply delusion, while all around them, the losses built and built.

Eric Bischoff decided to take a company to war that wasn’t ready for protracted combat. He didn’t have troops who were battle-ready or field generals adaptable enough and selfless enough to admit that there was a need to change and a need to adjust. His failure was to realize that when you declare war, there is the possibility that you might just lose. Monday on Nitro, the surrender ceremony takes place. And the question has to be asked: why was all this blood shed? That question can only be answered given time and distance.

I wrote that on March 25th, 2001, the night prior to the final Nitro. Everyone had their say that weekend on the subject, and I decided to take the approach of the Monday Night Wars being a real war. During that Month From Hell, it sure felt like one to me.

In actuality, it was more than a month. The period of complete and utter anarchy lasted from No Way Out on February 25th to Wrestlemania on April 1st. It’s a little over twelve hundred miles from Las Vegas to Houston. After it was over, every writer in the IWC felt like they forced-marched it.

Of course, our route from Las Vegas to Houston took us through Philadelphia, Stamford, New York, and Panama City, and the signs of devastation were there, all around us. Signs that, quite frankly, we couldn’t have even imagined a year before. They were there. We just weren’t looking in the spring of 2000. Yeah, Nitro’s and Thunder’s ratings were down, but they had Time-Warner in their corner, on their networks. Like they were going off the air any time soon. Heyman was quibbling with the management at TNN? Heyman quibbles with everyone. Besides, it’s a bunch of rednecks running TNN. They like wrestling and bloodshed, and ECW was providing plenty of both. It’d blow over. And the WWF? Yeah, they were relying a little too much on the same bunch of four guys. But, Jericho had just come in the previous August, and the Radz had just come over from WCW. Vince always takes time to incorporate guys from other feds in. Even Wight was getting a slow burn, and we all know how Vince Loves Big Guys. Give it time, we thought, give it time.

Little did we know our tranquil garden was Hiroshima on August 5th, 1945.

I’m not going to go over what happened in the previous year and a half to WCW and ECW in any sort of detail. Fucking Reynolds wrote a book on the former, and the sanitizied, sanctioned story of the latter is available on DVD at your local store. My contributions aren’t necessary. I will say, though, that we IWC writers spent most of 2000 laughing our asses off at how WCW was shooting themselves in the foot. We weren’t concerned with the fact that they might be on the edge of the precipice. After all, they survived the Mini-Movie Era. They survived Hogan running roughshod in 1995. They survived the Summer of Suck the previous year. They could survive Russo and the musical chairs of bookers when he wasn’t in power. We didn’t know anything different. Most of us weren’t writing in the late 80s when the territories fell apart with a rapidity that, in retrospect, seems terrifying. At least I had an excuse for that. I was in Germany at the time, so I didn’t have a ringside seat for the final destruction of the two feds that turned me into a wrestling fan, AWA and WCCW. So this wasn’t something I had experienced up close. We’d all have our noses rubbed in it like puppies being paper-trained.

I said that, given time and distance, we’d determine if this whole thing was worth it. I still don’t think it’s enough time or distance. I’ve been trying to dredge up memories of the Month From Hell. They don’t want to come. I’ve repressed it pretty well. It was intense trauma for me, and for virtually every other writer out there. We were watching the status quo that we’d lived with for a decade (or more if you lived in an area where there wasn’t a strong territory and all you got on TV in the late 80s was WWF and NWA) crumble with a rapidity normally reserved for skyscrapers hit by marauding passenger airplanes. Mindf*ck? Oh, yeah. Even more so than people thought. After all, those of us still standing after the firestorm had to leave for a new land, and no one had a roadmap of it, not even Vince. One can argue that, five years later, he still doesn’t. After all, he was the one who piled us on to the Partridge Family Bus and pointed us down the road, and his bitch daughter at the wheel started taking wrong turn after wrong turn until we ended up in the Yukon, or West Texas, or some other place with shitty roads and no geographic markers. And they say it’s guys who have a problem with asking for directions.

But when it comes down to the Grateful Dead Cliche we’ve been living since that March of five years ago, we have put enough distance behind us to recognize some things. The entire Month From Hell has five moments of Pure Clarity, moments that, in hindsight, were more important than the others, both for the short term and for the long term. Past, present, and future are all concentrated into those five moments. Their importance are, today, self-explanatory. They weren’t at the time. Let’s relive them, if you were there, or live them for the first time if you weren’t…

MOMENT ONE: FEBRUARY 25TH, 2001, THE NO WAY OUT WWF CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH, LAS VEGAS, NEVADA

TV wrestling is phallocentric soap opera for retards and intellectually lazy intelligent people who get off by cultural slumming. – Magical Truthsaying Bastard Spidey, Transmetropolitan

One of the saddest moments in WWF/E history occurred here. Yeah, Owen dying was tragic. Pillman and Eddy equally so. Wrestlemania 9 was traumatic. But they don’t compare to this. Why? Because this time, it was personal. And not just for me, but for the entire audience. It was a sign of a number of different things:

1) That WWF had no intention of letting one of its greatest homegrown assets, Kurt Angle, carry the ball.
2) That Vince, on the verge of Ultimate Victory, felt the need to pander to his audience because he felt Wrestlemania wasn’t “special” enough.
3) That Vince was going to push that no-talent wannabe actor down our f*cking throats just because the aforementioned retards pop for him.

Most people think that the Bitch of the Baskervilles’ most cynical act of booking in the first degree came this year with the Rey-Rey push. Those people don’t remember their history. The title swap from Kurt Angle to Flex at No Way Out 2001 makes Rey-Rey/Orton look as subtle as Restoration comedy. The simple fact is this: WWF/E has never felt that Kurt Angle is a major player, no matter how many title reigns he has, no matter how many high-profile angles he participates in, no matter how many great promos he gives. History, bitch that she is, has a tendency to repeat itself. What’s happening now in 2006 is a repetition of what happened in 2001. They have no confidence in Angle being able to carry a main-event at Wrestlemania. This year, he at least is allowed to participate in the main, but he (and the title he carries) is playing second fiddle to the abominable Rey-Rey/Orton necro-circus. In 2001, he wasn’t allowed that far.

Believe it or not, after Royal Rumble 2001, there was some excitement over the Wrestlemania main event. Wife-Beater had won the Rumble, Angle was champ. To us smarks, that was a damn f*cking sweet Wrestlemania Main Event. Wife-Beater could still wrestle a little, and Angle had yet to peak (or yet to suffer the panoply of injuries that have slowed him down). It was a match to look forward to. But apparently it didn’t have enough gravitas to satisfy Vince and Steph. It didn’t have the audience drawing power that was necessary for the inflation of the McMahon Ego, especially at a time when his nearest competitors were on life support. So, the title hot-shot happened, the first time they ever switched the title between Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania. The sad part was, I predicted it:

…exactly who will be facing Austin at WM? The only thing for certain is that it won’t be Angle; there’s no way they’re going to expose themselves to the fragile egos in that locker room by having someone main-event the biggest PPV in wrestling with less than eighteen months of TV experience. – c’est moi, January 23rd, 2001

Of course, I went on to predict a Wife-Beater/Trip title match at Wrestlemania, which would have been tons better than what we got, but not as good as a young Angle would have been in that role.

By the way, if I was right about their motivation back then, what’s been their excuse since? Who has Angle faced at WM since then? In 2002, he got Kane in an undercard match. In 2003, he finally got to main-event against Lesnar, and look what happened to him thanks to that lummox, not to mention the fact that he jobbed. In 2004, you could call it a main event since it was a title match, but it was third from the top, and again he jobbed, this time to Eddy. Last year, he was finally allowed to go over for the first time since that 2002 match with Kane, but it took an MOTYC with Michaels to do it. So, the pattern is clear: Angle only wins when there’s nothing on the line. Therefore, he’s going to drop the title at WM this year. And, God help us, it’ll be to Orton.

Kurt Angle is just one of numerous examples of their short-sightedness and idiocy in regard to personnel management and booking. 2005 may have been the year of the Rats Deserting The Sinking Ship for WWE (also known as the Sean Waltman Principle), thus giving everyone their first analogy to the Monday Night Wars and the current battle between WWE and TNA, but 2001 was the watershed year for imbecility. However, Keith did a book about that, and I’ll let him have the say on that matter. Besides, my focus is on the Month From Hell, and other than the inexplicable, idiotic, and cynical title switch, their booking for March 2001 was actually credible, since it set up what was, on paper and in fact, a quality Wrestlemania card. Angle recovered by having an MOTYC with Benoit at Wrestlemania, but, again, there was nothing on the line.

You notice I haven’t discussed the person whom the title was put on. Don’t worry, I’m saving that for one of the other moments.

MOMENT TWO: MARCH 5TH, 2001, MONDAY NIGHT RAW, WASHINGTON, DC: PAUL HEYMAN DEBUTS AS COLOR COMMENTATOR

Aldo Montoya?! ALDO F’N MONTOYA?!?!?! Paul, listen to us. We’re the Fans, Paul. We don’t care what he’s got pictures of. Just tell us that it was only a one-night stand between you and the donkey, and we’ll forgive you. But don’t give in to his blackmail. – me, April 2000

The Death of Extreme Championship Wrestling isn’t as sexy a subject as the Death Of WCW, and is in many ways overshadowed by the latter. Yes, WWE got a hit home video out of it, and thus the ability to create One-Night Stand as a yearly reminder of the Power and the Glory. But, really, has anyone gotten any entertainment mileage out of business malpractice and accountancy other than documentary filmmakers and Monty Python?

Justin Credible winning the ECW World Title in April of 2000 is regarded by many as the moment ECW hit the oil slick on the road leading to the edge of the ravine. It was a rare combination, though, of not only the person who won it, but the way in which he won it. At Cyberslam 2000, Tommy Dreamer had finally won the championship after numerous teases by beating Tazz (no, not Taz, but Tazz; Pete had already left for WWE before this). Then came P. J. with an immediate challenge, a That’s Incredible, and the belt. Ol’ Jockstrap-Head beating the incredibly-popular Innovator Of Violence right after he’d just achieved what many felt was his destiny? Boy, did that leave a bad taste in people’s mouths. The fact that they kept the strap on him until October just made it worse.

By that time, ECW was dead in the water. October saw the cancellation of ECW On TNN (in the wake of the arrival of WWF programming on that network a few weeks before). Their syndicated show was cancelled in December. Their last PPV was in January 2001. But there was still hope. It was publicly put out by Heyman that this was simply a period of retrenchment. They’d be back as soon as the money situation stabilized. And then all was quiet. It helped that the WCW Death Watch was on at that time, taking attention away.

But then came the first week of March. The week before, Stacy Carter had been fired from WWF, ostensibly because they had made booking plans for her that she didn’t agree with, she objected, etc. In sympathy for his then-wife, Jerry Lawler quit. Raw was short a color commentator. There was lots of speculation going on about who’d replace him, or if Ross would go to a one-man booth. This speculation, of course, would be another bit of history that would repeat late last year. We were all shocked to see Paul Heyman come down the ramp to join Ross. Shocked in a pleasant way, but shocked nonetheless. We all knew that Heyman had borrowed money from Vince to keep ECW alive, plus the ECW Invasion of 1997, so there was a close connection. But we honestly thought that Heyman was looking at ways of keeping ECW alive, trying to get a new TV deal, trying to find out a way to get Acclaim out of HHG (letting Acclaim get 10% of ECW was one of his worst business decisions, which is really saying something). We didn’t expect him on Raw.

And it was a surprise. It might be worth considering for a moment how the Big Boys were covering these stories, and what the rest of us in the IWC were doing. By this point, Meltzer and Keller were all over everything in regard to WCW. The number of new rumors they were putting up was increasing exponentially by the day. In the middle of March, some of us were literally checking the Observer and Torch sites every hour to see if anything new was put up, and very often, something was. This led to a disorienting glut of information that one had to work at in order to glean anything useful. But about ECW, there was very little. It ended up dying quietly. Except for its moment of death, which was punctuated by a Klingon-like howl on national television.

(By the way, what was 1bullshit doing? Hiding. Bob was on WCW’s payroll, so he wouldn’t say anything bad about them. Scherer was Styles’ buddy and had brought him into a financial position in 1bullshit, so the site wouldn’t say anything bad about ECW or Heyman. Only when their hand was forced, like being scooped by other sites on stories like the Page/Steiner blow-ups backstage at Nitro, would they publish anything derogatory toward WCW or ECW. And with very little news coming out of WWF, then as now, they became of little relevance during the Month From Hell.)

The second that Paul Heyman walked out on Raw, ECW was officially dead. It didn’t matter that bankruptcy wasn’t declared until April. The line had been crossed. Paul F’n Heyman, sitting next to Jim Ross on Raw. It wasn’t the most mind-bending image of the month, but it was still as disorienting and dizzying as Heyman, Vince, and Bisch being in the same ring during the build-up to One-Night Stand last year. It was instant history. Yet it’s overlooked as history because ECW’s demise was overlooked in the wake of WCW’s. But it was still a signal of massive change. ECW had pushed the envelope enough to force WCW and WWF to do the same. Now the Little Promotion That Could was no more. No one had faith in either Vince or whoever WCW’s new owner would be (the sale was a fait accompli at that point; we only needed the name of the buyer) to go to the Extreme. The entertaining, go-for-broke, do-anything days of WWF were now over. The end of those great cruiserweight matches in WCW was about to happen.

Like the Death of WCW, the Death of ECW is well-trod ground; the Scott Williams book is already out (and is deficient in some areas, as our reviewers have pointed out), and the official Thom Loverro whitewash will be out in late May, right in time for One-Night Stand. I have no real additional insights to offer except for one: we underestimated the late 1999-early 2000 talent raids on ECW. There was a difference that we only spotted in retrospect. Since 1995, WCW had treated ECW like the Vikings treated the abbey at Lindisfarne. Treasure stolen, monks raped, leave, wait a little while, come back. So WCW taking ECW wrestlers didn’t faze us. They’d always been able to restock. But the final raid was different. This time, WWF joined in, getting the Dudleys and Tazz, two of ECW’s crown jewels. WWF rarely raided ECW for talent. When they did, it was mostly for people who’d been established in other places before coming to ECW (and that paid off in spades with Wife-Beater and Foley). This was different. Fortress Heyman couldn’t stand up to two armies invading from east and south. The number of wrestlers taken during those last raids was enormous. It did ECW some root damage and led directly to things like Justin Asshole winning the world title. Of course, those raids were made easy because ECW was hemmorhaging money trying to produce the TNN show, for which they were getting very little in return, both in up-front payment and publicity.

So let’s play a little game of What If. Let’s say that the status quo had been maintained and that Heyman got a new TV deal on another network (let’s say it was the spurned USA, which is what a lot of speculation back then was leading to). It’s the summer of 2001, and WWF, WCW, and ECW still exist. With new cash from USA, could ECW have done what they’d always done and restock? If so, who?

First of all, Heyman would have been happier at USA. He’d have had people like Barry Diller and Steven Chao there at the time, mavericks like Paul E., guys who’d be simpatico. They’d be a little queasy over the violence, but they’d let him get away with more than the button-down rednecks at TNN would. However, there’d still be a request to tone it down slightly. So Heyman would have to keep up the excitement, just with a little less violence inherent. That means bringing in risk-takers, guys who’d put their body on the line. What better place to start than by having the monks of Lindisfarne pick up swords and get a little Viking ass of their own to rape? WCW’s cruiserweight division was loaded at the time with young talents, some of whom were dying on the vine. They could be had. First in their sights might have been two men who needed a little redemption after the disastrous Three Count gimmick, Shane (not yet Novocaine) Helms and Shannon Moore. They were veterans of the break-your-body-for-the-audience’s-pleasure OMEGA, so they had something to bring to the table. Steve Corino was always one of the brightest lights of the dying days of ECW, and there in WCW was the younger version of Corino, Mike Sanders. Buried in the low end of the WCW cruiserweight tag scene was a young guy, still a little green, but already an accomplished high-flyer who would follow the Way Of Extreme with no problem. You may have heard of him: A. J. Styles. Out in indyland, Christopher Daniels and Shark Boy already had made names for themselves, but wanted the flexibility to work anywhere they wanted (Daniels especially in Japan). Heyman would give that to them.

Pulling in those six guys would have given ECW an incredible nucleus to work with in the future. Imagine the card for Living Dangerously 2006 this month in that alternate universe. Instead of the X Division title being the prize, we could have had a Three-Way Dance between Styles, Daniels, and Samoa Joe for the ECW World title. Well, if they weren’t the object of raids by WCW and WWE.

MOMENT THREE: MARCH 6TH, 2001, AOL TIME-WARNER HEADQUARTERS, NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK AND TURNER BROADCASTING HEADQUARTERS, ATLANTA, GEORGIA: JAMIE KELLNER APPOINTED CHAIRMAN AND CEO OF TURNER BROADCASTING

AOL Time Warner announced today that it will create a new TV networks group under the Turner Broadcasting System umbrella, which will include both Turner’s basic cable networks and The WB broadcast network, and become the world’s largest television networks group.

Jamie Kellner, the CEO and founder of The WB, has been named Chairman and CEO of Turner Broadcasting. In 1993, Mr. Kellner founded The WB Television Network in a joint venture that included Warner Bros., Tribune Company and himself. Previously, Mr. Kellner helped found and build the Fox network as President and Chief Operating Officer of the Fox Broadcasting Company.

The new networks group will operate many of the most powerful and well-established brands in entertainment, including TBS Superstation, TNT, The WB, Cartoon Network, Kids’ WB!, Turner Classic Movies, Turner South, CNN/U.S., CNN Headline News, CNNfn, CNN/SI, CNNRadio, and Boomerang, as well as the Atlanta Braves, Atlanta Hawks, Atlanta Thrashers, The Goodwill Games, and the Company’s many international language-specific networks and other businesses. – AOL Time-Warner press release

Notice what wasn’t mentioned? WCW. That should have been a sign right there.

It was a sign that everyone in the IWC missed. Everyone, that is, except for one perspicacious, intelligent, observant, erudite, and, if I may say so, devilishly handsome writer whose alarm bells went off when the name “Jamie Kellner” was mentioned. Allow me to reprint said writer’s dissertation on Kellner in full:

I thought that WCW couldn’t sink any lower in its management difficulties than it has. I should know better by now. WCW is an endless sinkhole of management bozos who have been overpromoted and overestimated. Now they’ve just been put in the noose courtesy of the guys who are trying to get rid of them.

Ignore the whole Fusient situation for a moment if you can. Let’s just concentrate on what’s happening in the endless fandango going on with Time-Warner and Turner Broadcasting. All of you know the history of the ten years since Turner took over WCW. First, we had the incompetent Jim Herd, who let Ric Flair go in a fit of pique. Then K. Allen Frey, who left no discernible trail behind him. Then it was Bill Watts’ turn, and despite moments of greatness, the Cowboy showed signs of Old-School Syndrome, not noticing the corpse of the AWA sitting in the middle of the road, dead from the same cause. Then it was Eric Bischoff’s turn; enough hard drive space on servers around the world has been wasted analyzing that era. Next came Bill Busch, overwhelmed by the cancerous politics of the locker room. Then Bisch came back with Vince Russo in tow, with Brad Siegel in control, allegedly. Now the final steps of the dance are being mapped out, and if the Fusient deal falls through, WCW will beg for a mercy killing.

One of the least-noticed news items of the past week has been Steve Heyer’s resignation at AOL-Time-Warner. Heyer was Siegel’s boss, and he took a hands-on position only in regards to the sale of WCW. Most of the calls regarding the business end of WCW were done by Siegel. Emphasis on “were” here. You see, Heyer is being replaced by Jamie Kellner, the current head of the WB Network, who has been given a mandate by Case, Levin, et al., to merge the operations of the Turner and Warners television operations.

You probably don’t know the name of Jamie Kellner. But I do.

Most of you know that I’m an animation fan in addition to being a wrestling fan. I also follow the business of animation. So while all Wade Keller can tell you is that Kellner once worked with Brian Bedol at Six Flags (now the theme park division of AOL-Time-Warner), I can tell you a bit more about Jamie from his time as head of Kids’ WB, Warner’s children’s programming arm. The amount of sheer violence that he did there is completely unforgivable. He’s got a rep among animation fans comparable to that of Hogan, and for much the same reasons. Let me explain.

First of all, you may ask “Why should we care about someone who’s Siegel’s boss? They don’t get involved at that level.” You don’t know Jamie Kellner. By nature, he’s a meddling micromanager who drives his subordinates crazy. He’s going to be watching over Siegel like a hawk to see that some deal gets done, and he’s also going to involve himself in WCW programming. This would be good if the guy had one ounce of creative instinct. But guess what? The muse of creativity has passed poor Jamie by.

I’d like to paint a picture of what things were like at WB Animation back in the mid-90s. Warners had risen from the dead in 1990 courtesy of Steven Spielberg’s patronage and started to produce made-for-TV animated series again. In 1994, they reached a high-water-mark for TV animation in the 90s when Animaniacs premiered, a series perfectly balanced for entertainment of young and old alike. They were on a roll after that, creating two more classics in Freakazoid and Batman: The Animated Series.

And then came Jamie.

The first thing he did was tell them to wrap up Animaniacs, despite the fact that it was pulling in great ratings and stellar reviews. He alienated half the senior creative staff by doing that, and a good portion of them fled to parts unknown to escape. He proceeded to abort Freakazoid after two dozen episodes because he didn’t understand it, and if he didn’t understand it, how would the kids? He then told Paul Dini and his crew to make Batman a little lighter, since its dark atmosphere might be too scary. He thought that the relationships in Superman were too mature for kids, and told Bruce Timm to downplay it. Timm and Dini fled to what they thought was a safe haven inside the corporate structure of WB: Cartoon Network Animation, the former Hanna-Barbera Studios. Currently, they’re doing what they do best: superheroes, specifically the upcoming Justice League cartoon for CN (think a more mature Superfriends; it premieres in November).

And then came Jamie’s masterstroke. He wanted an all-new edutainment series for Kids’ WB, and turned to the only producer at WB Animation that he hadn’t pissed off, Tom Ruegger, to create it. Ruegger brought in as head writer Mark Seidenberg, the animation equivalent of Kevin Sullivan, insofar that everyone wonders how he keeps his job. What they created was fifty-two episodes of unbroadcastable crap called Histeria. Watching this series was like watching a -**** match; it was endlessly fascinating to see how they could screw things up. Presenting a humorous view of history was one thing. But doing it in the way they did was another. I never knew that George Washington sounded like Bob Hope, or that Abe Lincoln spoke like Johnny Carson. And I’m sure that General William Tecumseh Sherman must have loved looking down from the afterlife and seeing himself characterized as Pee-Wee Herman if for no other reason than that their names rhymed. This thing shouldn’t have been broadcast. It should have been written off as a mistake like their attempt at a mature western, The Legend of Calamity Jane. But it was put on the air to everyone’s regret. Why? It was Jamie’s baby.

And then came the biggest sin of all: Jamie Kellner brought Pokemon to the United States. Now you know who’s to blame for that. Death penalty offense? You bet.

As for what he’s done as head of The WB, just have a good look at the WB’s schedule sometime and weep at the state of television programming today. Purposeful narrowcasting to the urban market has created a situation of…oh, boy, there’s no way around using this term, so apologies in advance…ghettoizing The WB, perhaps on a permanent basis. No breakout series except for Buffy, no sign of large profits ahead, no sign that things are going to change any time soon. Newton Minow was right with that “vast wasteland” remark. The WB is a network that has no reason to exist other than the fact that it does. And Jamie Kellner got Peter Principled straight into that job.

So what’s he like as a businessman? As good as he is in judging creative work. The situation regarding Warner Brothers’ classic animation was a mess, with the broadcast rights split into three different packages thanks to decisions initially made in 1957. One belonged to Warners, another to Nickelodeon, and another to ABC. The contracts were due to run out in 2000, so Kellner made the decision that when they did, the whole package would be consolidated into one and exclusive broadcast rights would be held by one entity. The entity he chose was Cartoon Network, not the more logical and more profitable Kids’ WB, leaving it the PokeWasteland it is today. So if you have a hankering to see a Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck cartoon and you don’t have cable, you’re SOL. Well, that is, if you can ever see one on Cartoon Network. The amount of Scooby Doo broadcast on CN is still greater than classic WB material. If you think that I detest the Rock, get me started on Scooby Doo one of these days. You’ll see what hate is all about.

And now Jamie’s packed up shop in La La Land and headed out to Atlanta, to better oversee the final merger of Turner’s broadcasting empire into the arms of the Borg Collective. The mere fact that he’s going to have an office in CNN Center should worry Siegel. It’s one thing to ride herd on someone via long-distance. It’s another to be in the damn building doing it. The people at CNN Center, in Smyrna, and on Techwood Drive have incredible reason to fear. Anything that’s remotely losing money is a target. Anything that can be designated as redundant is doomed. You shall be assimilated. Resistance is futile.

So why am I doing this column? It’s as an FYI. As I said, wrestling fans haven’t had to deal with Jamie-induced trauma. Animation fans have. I’m one of the very few crossovers in that area, so it’s up to me to sound out the first warning call. Jamie Kellner coming to Atlanta and being Brad Siegel’s boss is NOT A GOOD THING. It’s one of the worst things imaginable for someone who even has a little hope left that WCW can turn things around. The longer WCW stays in AOL-Time-Warner’s clutches, the greater the chance that Kellner will bring his Reverse Midas Touch to the organization, driving it further into the depths, reaching new bottoms to the barrel that we thought they’d already plumbed the depths of.

WCW’s best and only hope right now is for a quick sale to any party. Because at some point, you know that Jamie’s eye is going to turn toward this part of the Turner collection, and then the meddling begins to the point of complete, utter destruction. If WCW spends any amount of time under Jamie Kellner’s wing, there’ll be nothing left for anyone to purchase.

I submitted that column on March 11th to the then-Rantsylvania. Due to various and sundry, it didn’t get posted until March 15th. By some form of kismet that’s pretty much drained my allowance of karma for the remainder of my life, thirty-six hours after it went up, Jamie Kellner cancelled all WCW programming. Scooter, JJ, and the rest of the guys at RS/TSm were impressed, and it was the first thing that gave me my well-deserved reputation as a prophet without honor. It’s still the prediction I’m most proud of, even moreso than being the first guy in the IWC to call Steph’s pregnancy.

This development got missed for the reason I stated: no one in the IWC knew anything about Kellner’s MO except for me. They also ignored a more general principle: New Broom Sweeps Clean. WCW was a money sink, as well all know now and knew then. The reason Kellner got appointed to that position was to clean up the books for the finalization of the merger of AOL and Time-Warner. Any money loser had to go. And WCW, losing tens of millions a year, with no prospects for profitability thanks to those goddamn guaranteed contracts and high production costs, was the first. Cut ties completely. Cancel the programming, then sell it or shut it down.

The problem with the way Kellner did it is that it totally ruined any plans for selling off the joint. The deal with Fusient, with Bisch as the front man, was done. There were a couple more slight details to be worked out and papers to be signed, but it was done. Rumor has it the figure was $11 million. But the whole deal was dependent on one thing: a broadcast outlet. Kellner had just nuked all of WCW’s time slots and wouldn’t have them back on any AOLTW network. Bisch tried like hell over the next week to get some kind of broadcast deal for WCW under Fusient ownership. There were no takers, not even USA. The financials were just too bad. WCW was a prospect for death regardless. It had lived only because of the open checkbook of Ted Turner, a principle that carried over when Time-Warner purchased Turner Broadcasting and let Ted have a degree of autonomy with his former properties. It helped that WCW had been making money at the time of sale, of course. Time-Warner believed it to be yet another money-losing division that it could possibly turn around, and that helped keep the end from happening. But not after the AOL deal, and certainly not after Kellner.

Bisch’s efforts were futile. Fusient lost interest. And that left everything wide open. That week between the cancellation announcement and what came next was the most chaotic week during the Month Of Hell. There were literally new rumors floating around every hour. Ted Turner using his pocket money to buy WCW and setting up a new broadcast outlet outside of Time-Warner control. Fusient still being in, Fusient out, Fusient back in. A private consortium headed up by Hogan and Jimmy Hart (a situation that’s popped up more than once over the years). And then, a revival of another rumor. It was one that first popped up in October 2000, when the sale of WCW was first mooted. It was a rumor that, at the time, I called “The Unthinkable”. But, now, I, and the rest of us, were forced to think it…

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

Jamie Kellner is busy running ACME Communications, having left the WB in 2004. They own eight WB affiliate stations and one UPN affiliate. Most of their WB affiliates have already signed on to become part of the CW Network. Their UPN affiliate is in the same city as one of those WB affiliates, and will probably go independent, since the WB station in that town is going to CW.

Shortly after Brad Siegel presided over WCW’s demise, he was rewarded for his part by getting to replace Betty Cohen as head of Cartoon Network, among other lesser positions as head of Turner Entertainment. While there, he created Adult Swim and thus was the proximate cause for the flood of badly-dubbed anime that’s deluged the US. He left all his positions at Time-Warner in 2003. In 2004, he was a founder of the Gospel Music Network, which not even people with digital cable have.

Brian Bedol, the head of Fusient, WCW’s signed-in-January-gone-in-March buyers, got his money by selling Classic Sports Network to ESPN, which turned it into ESPN Classic. He went on to found College Sports TV, which he sold to CBS in 2005. He still runs CSTV for CBS, and as such, employs Jonathan Coachman in occasional capacities, like during the NCAA tournament as a talk show host. Is there anyone on this list so far who doesn’t deserve a horsewhipping?

Eric Bischoff was hired by WWE in 2002, too damn late to do any good. He’s currently on a well-deserved vacation away from the cameras, and rumor has it that he’s looking for different opportunities. But he’ll be back. Wait and see.

Eric Szulczewski, the author of the article on Jamie Kellner, is allegedly still writing about wrestling, although one can’t tell from the contents of his columns. He left Rantsylvania/The Smarks in October 2001 with JJ Botter’s bootprints on his ass. He was taken on by 411 Wrestling in November 2001; the site became 411Mania in March 2003, while he was conveniently incommunicado. He left for Inside Pulse, along with the rest of the talented people from 411, in 2005 when that site was founded.

MOMENT FOUR: MARCH 23RD, 2001, AOL TIME-WARNER HEADQUARTERS, NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK AND WORLD WRESTLING FEDERATION ENTERTAINMENT HEADQUARTERS, STAMFORD, CONNECTICUT: WCW IS SOLD TO WWFE AT FIRE-SALE PRICES

You know that (WCW is) a company being guided by a management of pussies. – Dave Meltzer, Wrestling Observer Live, 2000

If I were Vince McMahon, I wouldn’t offer Time Warner more than $1 and programming rights in exchange for WCW. – Jason Powell, Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter, October 17th, 2000

It isn’t performing to our expectations. While we have a plan in place to rejuvenate it, it may be a better strategy for us to sell it. – Steve Heyer, then-Turner Broadcasting president, November 29th, 2000

What was the price? I’ve heard seven and a half million. I’ve heard four and a half million. Either way, Vince got it all, cheap. The name, the tape library, the history. Not only WCW’s history, but the history of Jim Crockett Promotions, which Vince had done so much to damage. The history of Georgia and Mid-South and UWF, beneficiaries of Ted Turner’s broadcast largesse, as once upon a time Vince had been.

It was more than that, though. The wrestling part only made it personal. I think I described it pretty well in my March 27th column:

Number One swallows Number Two (and is chewing Number Three for easier digestion). Someone, I think it was Don Becker, analogized this to GM buying Ford. It’s not only GM buying Ford, it’s GM buying Ford and hiring Daimler/Chrysler’s management team. This is Microsoft buying Apple and Bill Gates appointing Linus Torvalds to the Board of Directors. This is like Dick Cheney having the Big One and Dubbaya choosing Dick Gephardt as his next veep, and appointing Al Gore as chief of staff on top of it…This is a world-level change, something that wrestling really has never experienced before (the closest I can think of is Wrestlemania III, which altered not only the balance of power but the way wrestling companies in the know did business). I’d said in various fora that this story had burned me out trying to keep up with it from moment to moment; only something like a world-level change could do something like that to me. There’s no doubt in my mind I’ll never have the privilege of writing a bigger story for a wrestling website. The only thing I can think of that might be bigger right now is the death of Vince McMahon.

That’s why I called it “The Unthinkable” six months earlier. It really was unthinkable.

We wrestling writers had been on a roller-coaster for months now, one that just kept picking up speed. That one week between the cancellation announcement and the sale was the worst. Every little rumor was picked up by some site or some whiteboard and inflated into instant fact, then disproved within seconds by yet another unsubstantiated rumor. Things would change completely by the hour. It’s hard to describe if you weren’t there. It’s even hard if you were there but weren’t writing. This was the biggest story that had ever hit the wrestling world. It was also comparable to nothing in our experiences. How do you cover something like that? What do you say? Despite their best efforts, there were still loads of WCW fans out there who were now mourning the loss of their product, and there was only one option left if you wanted to watch wrestling, an option that many of those people consciously rejected. We were about to lose hardcore wrestling fans, possibly forever. Oh, with the ratings erosion we’d lost viewers, but it was the casual viewers, no one who made being a wrestling fan part of their identity. Those WCW viewers were pretty unique. And now they weren’t going to be a part of us anymore. How do you deal with that?

I’ll be honest here. After the mild shock of the cancellation, I was a bit relieved. For a year, I’d been covering four hours of wrestling every Monday, and now that Nitro was going off the air, my workload was cut in half. No more having to set the VCR to record the last half of Nitro and watch it after Raw. But I knew I was losing a lot more than that. You see, WCW was always good for some kind of story. Whether it was covering its descent into complete and utter depravity, or specific individual moments, there was always something out there with them to talk about. The average lag time it’d take Meltzer or Keller to get some kind of deep background story out of WWF was about six weeks. With WCW, it was six minutes. The place leaked like a screen door on a submarine. I faced a quandary about where I was going to get my material from.

Then the sale happened. Worst of all, it was announced on a Friday, so it couldn’t be broadcast on Smackdown to give us a little indication of what might happen. We had an entire weekend to speculate. Believe it or not, this prompted a great deal of optimism. It looked like WCW was going to survive as an entity. It was pretty confirmed by all sources that WCW would be getting a one-hour Saturday night slot on TNN or MTV. If WCW survived, that means they couldn’t avoid doing a WWF/WCW feud. The wet dream of wrestling fans for a decade was about to come true. This one was foolproof. Not even they could f*ck that up, right? Every brain-dead chimp who posts on a whiteboard had ideas for that, and they were not only all credible, but could fit in without any problem. But that still left us scriveners with one task left: bury Nitro. It only lived for six years, but we’d grown accustomed to it. Most of us ended up taking the pragmatic approach that weekend: write the obit for Nitro, then wait until it came on before starting our informed speculations about the future.

It really wasn’t a good weekend for me at all. It was the weekend that Bill Hanna died, so I was feeling bummed to begin with. I tried to watch the Players’ Championship and even a bit of the Oscars, but something kept tearing me away. I was feeling a lot of bile building up about this whole thing. I wrote my obsequies for WCW, then decided to concentrate a bit on Wrestlemania. The fact that it came so close to the purchase just heightened everything, and I wasn’t happy with some elements of it, so I decided to do something I vowed never to do: pastiche the Doktor. I don’t mind showing my influences, but I do mind flashing a big neon sign regarding them. Ah, but that came out after the Final Nitro, so I’ll leave it for a more appropriate place. Quotes alone should do the job in conveying my feelings at the time (and even now).

We made it to Monday night, and then turned on our TVs to TNT…and saw Vince. Was Raw on an hour early? Do we have the right channel? That whole night, those four hours of programming, are still a blur to me. I can’t rewatch those shows. I tried watching the last Nitro for this column, but couldn’t. Doing that would ruin the memories that I still have of it. Seeing Sting and Flair get it on one last time. Schiavone’s look of disgust that he had all night and the acid tone of his voice. It added up to being all too real, yet it seemed like a work. It didn’t hit me until Shane came out. The moment I saw the words “Shane McMahon” in a WCW chyron, I knew it wasn’t a work. I mean, I knew consciously that it wasn’t, but emotionally, at that point, I had to accept it. It was a “you had to be there” moment. It wouldn’t resonate today like it did then. We’ve been through too much.

That’s why I’m finding it a little dubious that, as part of this effort, someone’s going to be recapping the last Nitro. It’s not that it shouldn’t be recapped, or doesn’t deserve to be recapped. It’s that it can’t be recapped. To me, it’s inextricably bound up with the nightmare that proceeded it and the nightmare that followed it. Its time was March 26th, 2001, and it should stay there, not be plucked out of context. It was truly of the moment. That’s why I’m going to stick by some of the comments I made as I wrote my normal column that week:

Too damn bad Bisch wasn’t at Nitro. If there’s anything I desired from this final show, it was to see him choke on his own bile after Shane-O walked out like the cock of the walk. If I was him, I would have spent the last six days getting shitfaced in some bar in the middle of nowhere until I forgot what the letters “WCW” stood for. Because he made them stand for nothing. Less than nothing…All because of you, Bisch. You f*cked the joint up, got your ass canned, came back, got your ass out of Dodge when the Russo heat got too much for you, and then you couldn’t close the deal with your new pals when you got a third try to run the place. You’ve just joined your old boss Verne Gagne at the top of the “Worst Promoters In History” list, buddy. Hope you’re proud.

The perfect final battle would have been one that we’d never be able to have: Jushin Liger versus Brian Pillman. Close the circle completely. Flair and Sting fought on the first Nitro, so this was close enough.

As for the Final Match, ** for wrestling, ***** for nostalgic markout value. It was a well-calculated “greatest hits” package that was missing very little. It would have been perfect if Randy Anderson in there as ref (although Charles Robinson was a great substitute), and to have had Arn Anderson show up in some capacity. But all in all, it was a great way to end the whole shebang.

Hmmm, Nitro begins with Flair, Raw begins with Angle. Advantage: Nitro.

I think it was a real trip to hear Jim Ross and Paul Heyman broadcasting on a Turner network one more time. That was a wonderful little tribute to the WCW of the past, the pre-Bischoff, pre-Nitro WCW. And it was nice of Schiavone and Hudson to turn everything over, although it would have been fun to hear Schiavone and Hudson throw it over to Ross and Heyman and/or have a bit of banter prior to Vince’s entrance.

This show can’t really be judged to any other episode of Raw. It’s something as sui generis and impervious to judgement as Raw is Owen. The subject matter and overriding concerns were overwhelming to the point that everything was secondary, on both shows. However, everything was handled about as well as they could, except for the WCW wrestlers half-assing it all night (with the notable exception of Sting and Flair and the cruiserweight tag match). Welcome to this Brave New World, that has such people in it…

Quoting The Tempest just seemed appropriate at the time. After all, we’d just been through the mother of all storms, and it was Shakespeare’s final play. Of course, if WWF was being booked by a naif like Miranda instead of a half-naif like the Bitch of the Baskervilles, maybe we’d all have been better off.

But that Tuesday morning, we all woke up and faced the unknown as wrestling fans. The potential was there to go anywhere. We didn’t know exactly what would happen. But some of the indicators would start to come in five days. At the Granddaddy Of Them All.

MOMENT FIVE: APRIL 1ST, 2001, WRESTLEMANIA 17, HOUSTON, TEXAS

I can think of other hyphenated adjectives other than “eagerly-anticipated” to describe the main at WM. “Projectile-vomit-inducing” is my current favorite. – me, March 27th, 2001

Ah, Houston. Wrestlemania. It was important that we see this one, and that we see it live. Vinnie Mac had just accomplished the impossible. He’d used his money and his brass balls to take over the entire North American wrestling scene, and this was going to be the coronation…

“Look, shithead, if you give (the main event) more than two snowflakes, I’ll have to have you kidnapped and sent to the nearest available mental institution. One guy’s 36 and never recovered from a broken neck. The other guy’s a talentless stiff who couldn’t spell ‘sell’ if he was given the ‘s’ and ‘e’. And yet they’re both inexplicably popular. This, more than anything, is an indictment of the intelligence of Americans.”

Step up! Step up! Get your fill of garbage and waste, all courtesy of Vincent Kennedy McMahon, Supreme Overlord Of American wrestling! Feed yourselves on the afterproduct of bad angles, insufficent setups, and plans carefully calculated to make the audience happy while ignoring the fact that there’s no substance! See Austin and Maivia get it on! See the Dudleys, the Hardys, and the Blonds kill themselves again for your pleasure! Come one, come all! I’ve spent enough time in slaughterhouses watching hogs meet their doom to know when the Judas Goat’s leading them to the knives. Fortunately, I’m intelligent enough to know not to follow. I am here only to observe. But the act of observing disturbs the observed, doesn’t it? Some Kraut freak named Heisenberg said that seventy-five years ago in a set of theories that were designed to mind-f*ck every Physics student from now until the end of Eternity. What did this mean, though? Did it mean that even if I only observed, was I still part of them? Was I one of the swine, one of the marks waiting to be fed the refuse from Vinnie Mac’s table? I refused to acknowledge that. I refused to put myself on that level. I still had a mind of my own. I could still criticize the decision on what the main event should be. I was not a follower. I was not a passive consumer… – various and sundry quotes from “Fear and Loathing In Houston”, published on March 28th, 2001

Oh, I was not a happy camper that week, was I?

Yeah, the main event at Wrestlemania 17 pissed me off to no end. I was already a confirmed Flex hater of long standing by that point. I was not as much of a Wife-Beater-hater then as I am today, though. The fact that they’d hot-shot the title on to Flex just to avoid a near-rookie like Angle in the main at Wrestlemania and to make certain that the sheep in the audience would buy the PPV in the first place just set the bile on boil. It’s one of the most cynical moves they’ve ever done. The card looked a little weak? Hey, put Wife-Beater in there with Flex for the title! That’ll get people to buy it! They love those guys!

But I don’t. And my opinion counts, not yours. Watch Wrestlemania 17 (not, not “X-7”; anyone who calls it that is a complete retard; ditto for anyone who uses the term “InVasion”) again. It’s worth your time. It’s one of the better WMs, after all. Some people consider it the best. But pay attention. The main is outclassed by Angle/Benoit and Trip/UT, and you can even make a case for Vince/Shane being better than it.

It wasn’t only the match quality that was overrated. There was absolutely no build-up to it. None. They put the title on Flex and provided no overriding issue for them to fight other than the fact that Wife-Beater won the Royal Rumble Match. This wasn’t a challenge of wills or Unstoppable Forces like Hogan/Warrior, the only real comparison that you can make to this match. It was just two guys who were, as I said (or rather the “Author” said), inexplicably popular facing each other in the main event at the most important PPV of the year. Given the events surrounding it, possibly the most important PPV ever. Not enough. Not nearly enough. It certainly doesn’t help when I have apathy toward one competitor and antipathy toward the other. I didn’t want to see this shit. Fortunately, it didn’t sour me on the whole card.

Just to summarize: Flex is a complete piece of shit. Wife-Beater is a complete piece of shit. Flex versus Wife-Beater is shit squared.

You see what this article’s done to me? I’m having to relive this now. God…

Okay, I told you to rewatch WM17, right? If you did, I hope you paid attention to the WCW involvement in the show. What WCW involvement, you ask? Very good. You passed. There wasn’t any. After all the hype delivered by Shane in his Nitro promo, and the set-up for the Vince versus Shane match that received a good deal of attention on Raw, nothing happened. The WCW performers who’d accepted WWF contracts were all stuck in a skybox, watching the festivities. No run-ins. No backstage confrontations. Nothing. Shane was WCW’s proxy for the evening.

This shocked me. Vince had just bought WCW. WWF was supposedly making an effort to keep WCW an independent entity, first by making Shane owner, then leaking the news about a Saturday night timeslot (ironically, it was the same slot that eventually went to Epilepsy and is now occupied until next month by Impact). So all that they can do with what was definitely a familiar cast of characters (remember Vince’s Raw opening promo that night, with him name-checking WCW performers?) was have them sit in a skybox? Something was wrong. Very wrong.

You would think that there might have been a little pre-planning involved on how to merge the two entities and produce at least a framework for an angle that would involve a confrontation. After all, the rumors about Vince buying WCW had been on-and-off since October 2000. Steph had been booking since November 2000. They were just coming off those episodes of Raw and Nitro, and it was all anyone was talking about. The audience wasn’t wondering whether or not Flex could beat Wife-Beater (he couldn’t). They were wondering, “What’s next?” With the audience’s focus on this fact, wouldn’t it have been logical and intelligent to advance the prospective confrontation on the most-watched PPV of the year in order to draw an eroding audience back in to watching Raw and Smackdown? Apparently not, since they did nothing but show that WCW was present. Uninvolved, but present.

Yes, before you ask, Wrestlemania was the right place for this. It’s traditional to end angles at WM rather than start them, but these were unique circumstances. The purchase had just happened, after all. And this was no ordinary angle. This was the biggest angle in wrestling history. It was only appropriate that it start at the biggest show in wrestling. From the moment that they were done writing Raw (and Nitro), “creative” should have been sequestered with as much coffee and speed that could be maintained to come up with ways to get WCW involved in Wrestlemania beyond Shane’s presence. If that did happen, was the best they could come up with planting the performers’ asses in a skybox all night and turning a camera on them a few times? Wrestlemania should have been loaded down with as many vignettes as possible highlighting the new situation everyone was involved in. There were so many things that could have been done. Just think of Foley and Wife-Beater referencing their time in WCW. Shane or one of the WCW guys trying to convince Jericho to “come back”, now that there was an ownership change.

All of these possibilities were mentioned at some point that week, but it was by fans. “Creative” apparently didn’t bother thinking about it.

Too many people concentrated on the matches at WM to recognize the fact that something was very wrong in the presentation of WCW at the show. It didn’t sink in until the post-mortem for the disastrous Booker/Bagwell match. At that point, some people, including me, figured out that “creative” was booking the biggest angle in wrestling history by ear. They didn’t have a plan. All their plans for keeping WCW as a separate entity fell through quickly. It was simply going to become a name, nothing else. And the worst was yet to come.

And that’s where it stands to this day. Except for WCW matches that show up on various wrestlers’ collections and the Monday Night Wars DVD, WWE hasn’t exploited their purchase. There’s no chance of a revival; if Vince decides to set up a “renegade” promotion to turn up the heat on TNA, it’s going to be ECW, which now has a better public image than WCW thanks to its lower-profile implosion. If the Fingerpoke of Doom, NWOs of every shade and color, the Summer of Suck, Russo, and everything else WCW did didn’t kill it, the Invasion did. That may be the worst part of having lived through the Month From Hell. There was still hope for WCW despite everything. To see that hope get strangled…that was really The Unthinkable.

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