Historically Speaking: The Final Goodbye

As everyone looks full speed ahead to WrestleMania weekend to cheer on their three favorite promotions, let’s not forget to take a look back at a promotion that said goodbye seven years ago this week.

“Novels arise out of the shortcomings of History.” – A.S. Byatt

The Opening Chapter
Surrealism.

It was only emotion I can think of when describing what it was like watching the final episode of WCW Monday Nitro, broadcast live from Panama City, Florida, on March 26, 2001.

World Championship Wrestling had been on its proverbial deathbed for months. Ratings for Nitro and Thunder were sinking and there never seemed to be a solid grasp on who was actually in charge backstage from week to week. As 2001 dawned it seemed as if WCW would regain some footing when rumors surfaced that Eric Bischoff and a team of investors were going to buy the company and try to reestablish it as a force in professional wrestling.

Then Jamie Kelner took over TBS and TNT and cancelled Nitro and Thunder, despite both shows still being prime time cable ratings winners even in their downswing. Just like that, the deal was off. WCW was worthless without the TV time and Bischoff’s investors backed off. So with WCW’s asking price in the toilet, Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation swooped in and picked up the remnants of WCW, including its tape library, trademarks and 24 talents, for a few million dollars.

In my last column I talked about eras in regards to WWE, but this night truly was the end of an era for an entire company and all the people involved within it. What would follow was Nitro’s “season finale.” It was billed as the “Night of Champions” and held during WCW’s annual outdoor spring break show.

The Final Nitro
The show opened not with the sight of Tony Schiavone or some other WCW mainstay, but rather Mr. McMahon standing in front of the Monday Night RAW cyclone fencing set addressing the WCW audience.

It then cut to Schiavone and Scott Hudson, fittingly wearing black, standing speechless.

The show finally opened with “WCW CEO” Ric Flair making his way to the ring. It’s only fitting that Flair, THE face of the NWA and WCW, would be the first to address everyone after image of Mr. McMahon. Flair cut another one of his emotion filled, over-the-top, fantastic interviews. Thanks to famed wrestling recapper CRZ’s website slashwrestling.com, here’s the blow-by-blow monologue:

“Did I – Did I – WOOOO! – Did I – happen – to hear – Vince McMahon – say – he – was goin’ – to hold – W – CW – in the palms – of his hands? Is that what he said? Does that mean that YOU are gonna hold Jack Brisco, Dory Funk, Harley Race, the Road Warriors, Sting, Luger, the Steiners, Bagwell, Ric Flair, Steamboat, does that mean you’re gonna hold us all in the palm of your hand? To coin a phrase, I don’t think so! You know, at twelve o’clock today, someone very special to me said ‘do not go onto that show tonight knowin’ it’s the last time you’ll ever be on TNT or TBS’ – knowing it’s the last time, she said to me ‘don’t go out there and cry – don’t go out there and say your sorry’ because I’m not – I’ve been fourteen times the world champion – in my eyes, one of the greatest, you got it! The greatest wrestling organization in the world – WCW! WE…I’m talkin’ about the Stinger, the Lugers, the Steiners, the Road Warriors – I’m talkin’ about my best friend, Arn Anderson and the IV Horsemen – we have been on a par, and we have been equal to any wrestling organization in the world – as a matter of fact, we have run neck and neck with you, Vince McMahon, for years – for YEARS – and just for trivia, Vince McMahon, do you know that in 1981 when you were trying to become an announcer, your dad was on the board of directors and voted for ME to be the world champion – WOOOO! (off the ropes) How ’bout that? And ever since that day, I have been (jacket’s off) a limousine ridin’, jet flyin’, kiss stealin’, wheelin’ dealin’, son of a gun, that along with the whole WCW dammit all, have kissed the girls worldwide! And made ’em cry. ‘Cause ya see, we were every bit the force we were WCW – we lived, we breathed, we sweat, we paid the price to be the best – never been about the boys – it’s always been WWF vs. WCW in the office – the boys that have gone out there, night in and night out, doing everything they could to be the very best at what they chose to do in their life – those boys are here tonight – we are. We’re not going anywhere, you can’t hold us in your hand and predict our life! We’re WCW! We’ve bled and we’ve sweat – when was the last time you wrestled for an hour, cut yourself five times – bled for forty-five minutes – when – were – you – there – you weren’t! You weren’t! You were never in the dressing room, on the road forty days and forty nights, bleedin’, sweatin’, goin’ to the next town, you weren’t there, you can’t hold people’s lives in your hands. We’re the greatest wrestling company of all time – I’m gonna say it again – (beach ball: VINCE SUCKS) you can’t control us or our future, and in closing, let me say this – in all my years in this sport, my greatest opponent with this company has been Sting – so tonight, if we’re going out, if we’re going out on a high note, Stinger, the Nature Boy wants you right here, because – that’s right – that’s right – ya hear it, Sting? Sting, my greatest opponent – Sting, your last chance – your last chance to be… [“Sting!”] Sting! Sting Sting Sting Sting Sting – Sting! To be – the man, you’ve gotta beat the man, and Sting…I’M – THE – MAN – WOOOOO!”

It was the perfect way to kick off an already emotionally charged final episode.

Following that was the Booker T-Scott Steiner WCW Championship match where Steiner came in as reigning Champion and Booker was the United States Champion. Booker won clean as a whistle in about five minutes to make himself a double champion on the company’s final night. It kind of gave the impression that Booker would be the face of WCW going into its new WWF surroundings while Steiner would go quietly into the night to nurse some nagging injuries.

From there it was a three-team tag match between the Jung Dragons, Yang & Kaz Hayashi, against Rey Mysterio, Jr. & Kidman and Shannon Moore & Evan Karagias of 3 Count. The winning team would meet Elix Skipper and Kid Romeo for the newly created WCW Cruiserweight Tag Team Championships later in the night. This was one thing that WCW was doing right in their dying days, pushing the cruiserweights as viable attractions. Whether it was due to lack of other bankable stars or an actual belief in the division, it was sure entertaining as a fan, and made for a distinct visual and stylistic difference from the WWF. Mysterio pinned Moore in about three and a half minutes to advance to later on in the show. It should be noted that all of these men but Mysterio and Karagias were signed by the WWF in the initial 24 man talent signing. And look at where they’ve all ended up since then.

After that it was a Cruiserweight Championship match between Shane Helms and Chavo Guerrero where Helms retained his belt with his truly awesome Vertebreaker finisher. Both men were on their way to the WWF following WCW’s demise, as a side note. Helms had become the flagship of WCW’s cruiserweight division in its final months. He had written his own theme music, used the Nitro Girls as his personal “Sugar Babies” and had an incredible plethora of innovative moves. Chavo was also treated as a serious threat during this period and wouldn’t gain that type of credibility again until his current role as ECW Champion.

I should note that commercial bumpers for Nitro cut to clips of Mr. McMahon on RAW being lecherous with Trish Stratus.

The next bout was Chuck Palumbo & Sean O’Haire, WCW Tag Champions, defending against “The Canadians” Lance Storm & Mike Awesome. All four men were going to the WWF after this match, and of all of them it’s surprising that Chuck Palumbo is the one getting a WrestleMania payday seven years later. Who had him in the pool? Palumbo & O’Haire were also a pair of bright spots in WCW’s dying days, and Bischoff even said in an interview that had he gotten WCW off the ground again O’Haire would’ve been one of the focal points of his reinvented organization. I got to say I agree with Bischoff that O’Haire had everything that would’ve made him a huge star in this industry. As for the match, O’Haire & Palumbo won the match, continuing the night’s tradition of the good guys going over clean for the happy ending.

At this point it’s getting to the top of the hour and RAW is starting over on TNN so WCW puts on its weakest match – Bam Bam Bigelow versus Shawn Stasiak. Stasiak was paired with Stacy Keibler and was receiving a nice push as an cocky young upstart. Bigelow was just the token veteran chosen to put him over, especially since Stasiak and Keibler were on their way to the WWF thanks to the buyout.

In a pre-tape, Diamond Dallas Page says thanks to his fans. At this point it was unsure if he would go on to the WWF or not, so this is kind of a good-bye to the fans of the organization that made him a star.

Then there was a nice little montage of past NWA/WCW World Heavyweight Champions.

The next match was Mysterio and Kidman defeating Elix Skipper and Kid Romeo for the WCW Cruiserweight Tag Championships. While reading CRZ’s fantastically detailed report I am reminded of Tony Schiavone’s words on commentary:

“Needless to say, as we take a look at the cruiserweight tag team champs, we’re very nervous, and….the first ever cruiserweight tag team champs come out, and…I don’t want to sit here and, and as a person who’s been on Nitro for many years, take issue with anything anyone’s said – Mr. McMahon…it’s his money, he can do whatever he wants, he can…I don’t know what he’s gonna do tonight, but…let me say this: to sit here and listen to their commissioner…*rip* WCW? Come on. I mean, we’ve had to do some crazy things, *Steve Regal,* including put *your* ass over on TV. Sorry.”

It was a nice little shoot comment from Tony, as he knew he was on his out anyways so it’s not like they could fire him for it. As for the match, Kidman and Mysterio won the belts in a five-minute match to continue to send the fans home happy. When Kidman showed up in the WWF while Mysterio rode out his WCW contract, the Cruiserweight Tag belts were all but forgotten. I wonder if Kidman and Mysterio still have the belts today?

Then it comes time for WCW’s main event – Flair versus Sting. There wasn’t a more fitting match to end World Championship Wrestling. They wrestled on the first Nitro and now wrestled on the final one. Since the pair met the first time in 1988 they probably wrestled each other thousands of times. Their feuds over the years were legendary and carried the company during more than one point in time. As for this match, Sting won clean in seven minutes with the Scorpion Deathlock. The outcome wasn’t really ever in question, and the match wasn’t a technical wrestling exhibition, but it was a five star classic based purely on emotion. After the match the pair embraced and celebrated together as Scott Hudson said, “Thank you, Steve Borden – thank you, Ric Flair – for everything you’ve meant to this sport.”

It was now time for the show’s final ever segment, as Mr. McMahon walked to the ring in Cleveland, Ohio, during Monday Night RAW while it is simulcast to the Nitro audience. Mr. McMahon the character and Vince McMahon the man are as smug as can be as they are about to address their fallen opposition. Vince gives his usual egomaniacal speech about beating WCW and Ted Turner before getting into addressing some WCW talents by name. He asks the crowd about Hulk Hogan, Lex Luger, Buff Bagwell, Booker T and Scott Steiner by name as the crowd gives him varying reactions. In fact Bagwell’s reaction from the crowd surprised Vince so much that he was actually given a contract with the WWF, only to squander within one match. The crowd then chants Goldberg to the surprise of McMahon so he mentions Goldberg and Sting by name to the delight of the crowd. As Vince continued his tirade in the ring, familiar music hit and Shane McMahon came strolling out in the arena in Panama City on Nitro. He announced he was actually the one who signed the contract for WCW, setting off what should’ve been the most money-making angle in wrestling history and starting WCW off as its own touring company. The crowd in both arenas, me and my friends in my basement and wrestling fans around the world went crazy with that announcement.

And the final image ever on WCW programming? A spot for WrestleMania X-7.

The Perspective
I was also want to note that during RAW, Mr. McMahon was watching backstage on two monitors, one with WWF programming and one with WCW clips. Every time they would cut to him he would be watching a different WCW competitor, who he would then essentially fire on the air. First up was Jeff Jarrett. From CRZ’s recap: Now as far as the Jeff Jarretts of the world are concerned – you know how Jeff spells his name? ‘That’s J-E-double-F..’ well you know what? Mmm…I would suspect that we’d spell it a different way after tonight – that would be Capital G, double O, double N, double E – Goonnee.” From there he would then dismiss Totally Buffed (Lex Luger and Buff Bagwell.) “The Lex Express has run out of gas, and Buff’s been stuffed.” He then went on to publicly fire Road Warrior Animal and Dustin Rhodes in separate segments as well, but we know how forgiving he’s been with those two in past years.

As I fan I just felt like was watching something special during this episode of Nitro. I knew that WWF was buying WCW but had no idea what would come next. We were all hoping for some big-time dream matches or the chance to keep WCW open has its own separate touring company. And to see Mr. McMahon on Nitro, while WCW mainstays openly addressed him just seemed so weird and out-of-context. This show was filled full of wild emotions. I remember Flair’s opening interview gave me chills listening to it the first time. That night fans truly watched something special in regards to this industry. It’s something we haven’t seen since and probably never will again. It’s funny to look back at the talent on that show seven years later to see where they all ended up. Who knew that Ric Flair still wouldn’t have retired yet, Rey Mysterio would be a World Championship caliber wrestler for WWE and Chavo Guerrero would be defending a major heavyweight singles championship at the upcoming WrestleMania. I just wonder what happened to that Jeff Jarrett guy that McMahon fired publicly on the air?

For this week the vault is closed…

Linked to the Pulse
SK is doing his traditional WrestleMania re-posts. They’re always a good read, even if I’ve been reading some of them for over a decade now. He’s up to WrestleMania X8 as of this writing.

Since we all know that Undertaker won’t die, Iain gives his predictions on who Undertaker’s next five WrestleMania opponents should be.

IP’s Top Wrestlers feature continues. Check out #38.

This Day in History
I figured if we are talking history around here we should pay homage to what has happened on this very day in the years gone by. It will either make you long for the old days or be happy for what we have now.

1982 – Mr. Wrestling II defeated J.J. Dillon for the Florida State Heavyweight title
1988 – NWA Clash of the Champions I
1988 – Lex Luger & Barry Windham defeated Arn Anderson & Tully Blanchard for the NWA World Tag Team title
1988 – WWF WrestleMania IV was held at the Trump Plaza, Atlantic City, NJ
1988 – Randy Savage defeated Ted DiBiase in a tournament final for the WWF Heavyweight title
1988 – Demolition defeated Tito Santana & Rick Martel for the WWF Tag Team title
1999 – Nick Gage won a battle royal for the Combat Zone World Heavyweight Title
1999 – The Sensational One defeated Quicksilver for the Combat Zone World Light-Heavyweight Title

1951 – Jumbo Tsuruta was born
1967 – Kenta Kobashi was born
1972 – Charlie Haas was born

The Assignment
It’s important to know your history to know where you have come from and where you are going. Back when Nova was in charge of the WWE developmental system he implemented mandatory history assignments for the students of the developmental territories so they would know pro wrestling’s history and they would learn just how many moves Nova created and apparently the best ways to get on-line prescriptions. I feel Nova had a great idea there and every week I will assign a book or DVD for you to check out and learn from. They are not only educational but very entertaining.

Thanks to my subscription to Blockbuster Total Access I’ve been able to watch some wrestling DVDs I wouldn’t normally be able to watch and wouldn’t buy. This past week I received TNA’s Year One DVD about the company’s first year in existence. I found definitely interesting and entertaining. I, like many people, didn’t actually see any of TNA until they reached Fox Sports Net so it was good to hear from the people who were there in the beginning and see clips and matches I had never seen before. It’s good to hear the whole thought process going to creating an organization from scratch. It got a little annoying to hear the same story from four or five different people. I understand that the ring broke moments before the first live show but I didn’t need to hear it from five different perspectives when it was all essentially the same story. AJ Styles, Chris Harris and James Storm all came off looking like big deals and huge stars during that first year. The AMW-New Church and Jeff Jarrett-Raven feuds were really highlighted as big things, and kind of got me excited for the Raven-Jarrett NWA Championship match that has helpfully included as a bonus on the DVD. By the way, drugs are bad. Raven looks in much worse shape when he was interviewed for the documentary than he did five years previously during that Title match. Overall I found this to be pretty informative and entertaining. Jarrett really came off as passionate about his creation and had a lot of conviction in his plans here. Dixie Carter comes out great and personable and is a great face for the company. Jeremy Borash and Bob Ryder go into great detail about their work behind the scenes. Hell even Don West comes off much less obnoxious here, and even admits some of his shortcomings in regards to commentating and lack of wrestling knowledge. Plus the four matches included as bonuses were all pretty entertaining.