The Wrestling Backfire: Thoughts on the WCW/ECW vs. WWF Invasion Angle (Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Triple H, Vince McMahon, Chris Jericho)

This is the first time I’ve done something like this. The column will consist of my friend Matt Peddycord and I talking back and forth about the Invasion angle.If the column is well-received, we will do more together. We will also take requests for the next topic. But before I get ahead of myself, let’s see how this goes.

Kyle Fitta: The angle all started when Vince McMahon aired on Nitro, stating he was going to destroy WCW. Without his knowledge, Shane McMahon bought WCW and “saved” it. Do you believe this was the right way to start this angle?

Matt Peddycord: No, I think if you had someone outside the WWF saying they bought it out from under Vince, only then would it have been a good idea. Ric Flair was probably the best option at the time. I know he wasn’t working for WCW, but maybe even Hulk Hogan. That would have been a real shock. Unfortunately, the WCW talent that could have made a splash to kickstart the Invasion angle were owned by AOL/time Warner contracts. Those people chose to stay home and get paid for doing nothing. You can’t really blame them for that though.

Kyle Fitta: Yeah, the contract issue was a major detriment to the Invasion angle. Why didn’t they just wait? They ended up signing a lot of the WCW major players the following year. They instead hot-shotted and screwed it all up from the get go. As for Shane, I understand why they picked him, because he was feuding with Vince then, but they could’ve picked better people. To me, Eric Bischoff is the only choice that made sense, as he the mastermind behind WCW’s success. Plus, can you imagine how intense Vince McMahon and Eric Bischoff promos face to face would’ve been? You would have felt the genuine hatred.

Matt Peddycord: Eric Bischoff would have been a great choice for a leader and would make sense considering he would have the “kayfabe” cash to seriously buy up WCW. However, my line of thinking with the Invasion angle is that if Vince really wanted the angle to have been successful, he certainly was in a position to buy up those contracts after the one of the most profitable year in wrestling history meaning the year 2000. I think since he had finally defeated the one company that ever made him #2 for even just a short period of time, he wanted to crush and punish WCW even after purchasing their assets.It’s the equivalent to someone saying that if they had the money, they would buy up a specific restaurant location that gave them stomach-wrenching food poisoning and/or terrible customer service just so they could burn the place down.

Kyle Fitta: Indeed. It’s what made Punk’s shoot have so much truth behind it. McMahon’s proven that his ego’s why his wallet and company aren’t bigger. I think McMahon’s entire purpose was to show how everything in WWF was better than its competition, especially since most of the top the WCW/ECW guys were WWF talent. That’s just Vince saying “See, I have to use my own guys to make the Invasion work.” Anyway, do you think a perfect way of forming WCW and ECW would’ve been if Bischoff and Heyman (who everyone knows always hated each other) realized they had to team up together to take the WWF down? Let’s face it, Stephanie McMahon running ECW instead of Heyman was the biggest joke ever. Especially since Heyman was under contract with the WWF.

Matt Peddycord: Yeah, I think that would have been a sufficient way to put them together. I just don’t think it would have happened. Then again, I don’t think anybody saw Eric Bischoff ever working for the WWE, let alone appearing on-screen with Vince himself. Having said that, I just don’t think Paul Heyman is like Vince in that respect. At least, I haven’t seen the evidence to point to that he is.

Kyle Fitta: I must disagree; I believe Heyman would have worked with Bischoff if McMahon told him to. Heyman’s one of the few promoter McMahon’s treated with remorse. He helped ECW when it was about to go out of business by giving them money and let them promote Barely Legal 97 on Raw and then gave him a job ECW died. So, I believe out of respect Heyman would’ve done it, and Bischoff would have been in a situation where he had to do it…..unless he didn’t want a job. Anyway, what did you think of Austin’s heel turn?

Matt Peddycord: Well, let’s just say for sake of argument that it did work out and they formed an alliance between the two companies/factions. If an alliance between Bischoff and Heyman was to happen, you could eventually slow burn their partnership into a shoot-work scenario where they ultimately couldn’t get along because they couldn’t set their egos aside to better manage their crews against the WWF. Although everyone could probably see it coming knowing their past, that’s okay. Not every feud needs to be a surprise. Sometimes it needs to happen and it could still be compelling TV. As for Austin’s heel turn, Austin can be a great heel. He proved that in WCW and in 1996 working for the WWF. By 2001 though, he wasn’t going to be a heel people would boo. People weren’t clamoring to hate Austin like Hulk Hogan in 1996. It just wasn’t necessary and short of sacrificing small children, he wasn’t going to get booed because he was just so entertaining.

Kyle Fitta: That would have been the most logical way of doing it. I’m in the minority because I actually liked Austin heel turn at least at first. It showcased both phenomenal writing and storytelling. Because of Rikishi running Austin over with a car, he realized he was not ever going to be fully heal again when he lost to Triple H at No Way Out. Nevertheless, he still wanted to be champion, but knew he needed to sell his soul to the devil himself, Vince McMahon to beat the Rock.
They lost their top babyface when the Rock left to make a movie, though. They also illogically kept Austin’s arch rival, Triple H heel (although he got sidelined for a year due to a quad injury) when he could have feuded with Austin again just with their roles reversed instead. For a short period of time, they did keep Austin babyface (though they should his soft side which is something Austin fans never wanted to see). But they made him turned on Vince McMahon by joining WCW/ECW, which rendered the entire point to his heel turn from the start, and left WWF without a suitable figurehead as well. I mean I understand WCW/ECW needed a credible wrestler on their side, but they should have used someone else or, like I said earlier, waited until they were able to sign the Scott Hall’s, Kevin Nash’s, Goldberg’s and Hulk Hogan’s.

Matt Peddycord: Yeah, I just don’t think the WWF audience was ever even close to wanting to boo Austin. If you really think about it, he was only on top for two years before he had to leave for the neck surgery. It isn’t like other babyfaces in the past that people were really sick of seeing.

Kyle Fitta: Albeit being poorly explained, I believe WWF being babyface and WCW/ECW being heel was decent plan. A number of people, however, thought it should have been heels and babyfaces on both sides. What they could have done is have the fans decide who they want to cheer for – similar to nWo vs. WCW in its later years – instead of shoving it down our throats that WWF were the good guys.

Matt Peddycord: It depends. I don’t think they should have suddenly turned one way or the other because of what group they were in. For example, Booker T was a babyface before coming to the WWF. I don’t think he should have suddenly became such a jerk of a character, because he’s not a bad person, he just wanted to make an impact on the WWF, and felt he had something to prove. He wanted to shake things up. Maybe that type of booking is too perplexing for the average watcher, but I think it makes for more compelling TV than just a bad guy against a good guy. But with that type of booking, then you run into odd problems like why would Booker T side with someone like Rhyno who was a heel, just because they are on the same team. So maybe with the type of Invasion angle we got, the way it was done was the best case scenario and just easier to book for the average watcher.

Kyle Fitta: That has been one of the biggest logic flaws in wrestling: just because a wrestler turns roles doesn’t mean they should change. Kurt Angle, for example, had to cheat to beat people, but once he turned face the started beating the same people cleanly. It never made sense to me. The bottom line is: just because WCW/ECW were heels didn’t necessarily mean they had to cheat to win all the time. I mean they were trying to kill the WWF, that alone is enough for WWF fans not to hate them. The WCW/ECW stable ultimately were booked so inferior to WWF that it never felt as if WWF was in danger. That reason alone made this angle drag on forever.

Matt Peddycord: I’m trying to think outside the box a bit to make this into a real invasion angle. People didn’t necessarily have to boo WCW, but the WWF gave their fans no choice but to boo them. WCW was finished. Booker T knew that. He could have just wanted to shake things up a bit, not necessarily ‘take over the company’.

Kyle Fitta: We’ve been mostly negative about the Invasion angle, so I believe we should talk about some of the positives. Can you think of some good things that happened because of it?

Matt Peddycord: Throughout the Invasion angle, we got to see the comedic side of Stone Cold Steve Austin that we hadn’t ever seen before. I can remember some really good matches that took place. The best one for me was the Angle-Austin WWF world title match at SummerSlam. For a year that had some incredible wrestling, that one certainly still stands out. For me personally, I attended my first WWF PPV when the Alliance angle ended: Survivor Series 2001. While it’s a memory I will never forget, you still can’t help but feel it was one big ‘screw you’ to Jim Crockett Promotions and WCW for having that show in Greensboro, North Carolina. When Ricky Steamboat called the Greensboro Coliseum the Madison Square Garden of the South, he was right. I don’t know that it directly affected the town, but wrestling has been pretty much dead in Greensboro ever since. The crowds who come to see WWE are not very responsive and clearly not as into wrestling as they were thirty years ago. You could go back just fifteen years ago and see a huge difference.

Kyle Fitta: The Invasion angle added some great wrestlers to the roster and fans were able to see some of the best wrestling in WWF’s history. It also was a launching point for new stars, as it cemented Kurt Angle as a credible main eventer, finally made Jericho a world champion, and allowed RVD to become a household name. It also gave us Paul Heyman and Jim Ross, arguably the best announcing duo ever. I thought they were so good that they made even the rough times entertaining. Lastly, it was gave us one more compelling Stone Cold’s great run as an in-ring performer. He had dozens of great matches in the last mainly because he had quality wrestlers to work with (unlike his 98-99 run).

To be honest, I always preferred WWF over WCW and I didn’t become a fan of the product (WCW) until I started watching re-runs. It wasn’t a sad day when I watched that PPV, but it surely was looking back . There were so many classic matches and angles that happened in that arena. Since you grew up a WCW fan, it must have sucked big time for you. Although I think people associated with WCW can now laugh at how badly Vince McMahon botched what could have been the biggest angle ever.

Despite on its last leg, WCW managed to get a 3.0 rating on their last show. Raw got a 4.7 that night, and throughout 2001 they stayed around that rating. Which means they didn’t gain any viewership after doing an angle that fans dreamed about.

In addition to that, WWF was averaging around a 6.0 rating in 2000. That’s 1.5 million less and WCW was doing around a 2.5! On top of all that, according to Dave Meltzer, the WWF made 68, 973,00 dollar profit from late 1999 to early 2000, while their profits in late 2000-01 were only 15,987,000 dollars, a 52, 986,000 difference. They lost a lot of their viewers and then failed to replace them with WCW’s viewers. Simply put, it was an epic fail.

Aside from WCW/ECW looking weak and lacking star power, I believe there are two other reasons why it failed. Number one: laziness. When they became a monopoly, they became less creative and the shows became more formulaic, nonsensical and things lacked continuity. Number two plays into the first: McMahon’s ego. The lead writer in 2000 was Chris Kreski, and he was one of the few writers that made storylines layered and logical because he actually paid attention to the shit he wrote. At that time, the company was at its peak. However, for no practical reason, McMahon replaced Kreski with his inexperienced daughter and the WWE’s never came close to 2000?s popularity since.

Anyway, this was fun. I want to thank Matt Peddycord for joining me and everyone for reading. One last thing, be sure to add me on my Facebook page, my new Twitter page, and be sure to check out http://wrestlingrambles.com for great columns.

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