Greetings, loyal members of the Common DenomiNation! I’m writing this just a few hours removed from “Old School Raw,” which I was really looking forward to, as I’m pretty “Old School” myself. It wasn’t terrible or anything, but I thought there was a lot more they could have done. The retro set and graphics were great, but there wasn’t as much of a presence of “Old School” WWF talent as I would have expected. Even though they had runs in the WWF, I will always think of Dusty and Flair as NWA guys. As much as I wanted to like it, the Honkytonk Man segment didn’t do it for me. DiBiase’s involvement seemed tacked on, and the segment where Swagger took on the all-American guys was just sort of there. The New Age Outlaws, however, were good in their match, and the WWE could do worse than a NAO vs. Team Friendship feud on the road to Wrestlemania.
Also on Raw, we moved one step closer to putting together a Wrestlemania card that was pretty much a lock months ago as the Undertaker showed up and CM Punk won the right to lose to him. And HHH and Brock Lesnar are just a brawl-filled contract signing away from sealing the deal on their match. It also looks like we are getting Ryback vs. Mark Henry and The Shield vs. Sheamus, Randy Orton and Big Show. Throw in Cena/Rock and Del Rio/Swagger near the top of the card, a likely Miz/Cesaro and Barrett/somebody (Bo Dallas) match, and maybe some kind of battle royal or cluster match, and I admit, that’s looks like a Wrestlemania card.
So anyway, earlier this week, on this very site, I saw some comments from Bret Hart about his feelings toward TNA and his opinion that Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff are bad for the promotion.
The Hitman also gave his case for why AJ Styles should jump ship to the WWE is he wants to be a big star, and while I think AJ could certainly fare well in the promotion, seeing how smaller guys like CM Punk, Daniel Bryan and the like have had success, two thoughts immediately came to mind: 1) Since they already have an AJ in AJ Lee, he’d have to change his ring name (which he probably would have to anyway for WWE branding purposes), probably to something like Styles Standish. And 2) I think AJ could have been the lynchpin to a potentially even greater set of circumstances, that is, a WCW that didn’t die in 2001.
You see, it almost happened. It’s hard to believe it has been almost a dozen years to the day that Vince McMahon purchased the name, assets, and rights to World Championship Wrestlilng, effectively killing the company and the brand of wrestling that, for a while at least, had the mighty WWF on the ropes. Yes, there was some initial attempt to actually continue the WCW brand going, but by that time, the promotion was dead in the water.
Or was it?
I’ve mentioned this before, but I will say again, that I was a big WCW fan. Blame WTBS and the company’s southern roots, I guess, but while I certainly followed the WWF as well, I always preferred Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes, the Road Warriors, and later Sting, Lex Luger, Big Van Vader, Cactus Jack, and the rest of the gang, all the way up to Goldberg, Diamond Dallas Page, Chris Benoit, Raven, and finally, the “New Blood” that was starting to emerge toward the end.
And that’s what Hart’s comments had be thinking about. I’m sure I’ll get some of the particular details wrong, but Eric Bischoff was the head of a group of investors called Fusient Media that very nearly bought WCW just days or maybe a couple of weeks before the deal with Vince. I don’t really remember the reason why that didn’t work out. Maybe it was that after network executives decided to cancel all wrestling on the Turner family of stations Eric’s investors backed out or something like that, but in any event, Vince was able to swoop in and pick up WCW for a song.
But what if that hadn’t happened? What if Bischoff had been able to swing the deal. To give you an idea of how close that came to happening, just Google WCW and Fusient. There are still stories on various wrestling site archives announcing the sale of WCW to Fusient as a done deal. Now granted there would have been some hurdles to overcome, but even without immediate television access, WCW could easily have survived. In 2001, professional wrestling was not quite as popular as a national phenomenon as it had been in, say 1998, but I’d imagine there were plenty of networks that would have been completely happy to be able to offer WCW a weekly primetime slot or two on their line-up cards. I think WWF was on TNN (Spike TV) at the time, so maybe USA could have brought WCW in at Raw’s old timeslot. Or if I’m wrong, and WWF was back on USA by then, well, then reverse that idea. Or maybe another channel? FOX, perhaps? Was FX a thing back then? Even ESPN2 or MTV or really anyone. It’s not a far-fetched idea. Let’s explore that idea.
So, Eric Bischoff and Fusient Media Ventures buy WCW for a few million dollars. Time Warner agrees to absorb some of the bigger contracts, but there’s a different dynamic with Bischoff heading up things instead of Vince. So, things like Jeff Jarrett and Lex Luger not really being welcome in WWF Land are not there.
Now, yes WCW had already lost a lot of its talent to the WWF by the end. The Giant (Big Show), Chris Jericho, and the Radicalz (Chris Benoit, Eddy Guerrerro, Perry Saturn, and Dean Malenko) had all jumped ship. Bret Hart, though still under contract, was for all intents and purposes out of action and into retirement. The situation between Vince Russo and Hulk Hogan was something to consider as well, but if there were any legal issues to work out there, it would be with Time Warner, not Bischoff.
But there was still plenty of real talent on the roster or at least available for signing. I don’t know what percentage of today’s wrestling crowd was paying a whole lot of attention to WCW in the last few months, but they were actually offering some pretty good action, especially on the undercard. The last few pay-per-views, while somewhat directionless, featured some great matches.
Let’s go back to the last Starrcade, held in December 2000, just four months before WCW was “canceled” for lack of a better word. In the main event, Scott Steiner took on Sid Vicious for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. While I always liked Sid, and he managed to pop the crowd a few months ago with an appearance on Raw, this is the match where he completely destroyed his leg jumping off the top rope, so Sid’s out of the picture.
Steiner, however, was doing just fine as a “cool heel” cocky champion. Booker T had recently been elevated to top-guy status, having a run with the belt in the months leading up to Starrcade. He wasn’t on the Starrcade card for some reason, but he’s definitely an asset to the roster.
Who else do we have? Goldberg took on Lex Luger. I know Goldberg was kind of damaged goods after the Nash/Hogan crap and then some bad booking, but the fans still loved the guy (and as Ryback can tell you, it’s still a popular chant today). Goldberg certainly could have been a guy to build up again and if smartly done, a slow build to Steiner vs. Goldberg, maybe as far out as Starrcade 2001, could have been a real moneymaker for the new WCW. Luger could have stayed on and been a mentor/given the rub to some of the younger guys.
Also on the card, Mike Awesome took on Bam Bam Bigelow. Two great guys who could have thrived in WCW. There was also a tag-team title match, Kevin Nash and Diamond Dallas Page vs. Chuck Palumbo and Shawn Stasiak. Nash and Stasiak can go die in a fire for all I care, but Page would have been a great guy to have around, as he was always a hard worker and didn’t mind putting over younger talent. Speaking of younger talent, Palumbo seemed to have all the tools to be the next Lex Luger. He had a Kerry Von Erich kind of look to him and he was part of the Natrual Born Thrillers, who were sort of like The Nexus, years before The Nexus was a thing. I’ll get to them in a minute.
Also on the card were, in no particular order: Jeff Jarrett, Rey Mysterio, Konnan, Billy Kidman, Shane Douglas, Lance Storm, “The Cat” Ernest Miller, Hugh Morris, Elix Skipper, Shane Helms (The Hurricane), Shannon Moore, Kronik (Brian Adams and Bryan Clark), and of course some pretty hot ladies, including Stacy Keibler, Torrie Wilson, Midajah, and Kimona Wannalaya (stupidly called Leia Meow…sigh).
Over the next three months, even more great young talent would appear on WCW TV, including AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, Mike Modest, Kid Romeo, Alan Funk, Vampiro, EZ Money (wrestling as Jason Jett) and more. There is, of course, the match where Daniels nearly killed himself doing a springboard move where he botched it and landed on his neck.
But I mentioned the Natural Born Thrillers, led by “Above Average” Mike Sanders. I thought Sanders was the second coming of Chris Jericho. There was also Palumbo, Mark Jindrak, Stasiak, Johhny the Bull, Reno and, Sean O’Haire. That O’Haire didn’t become a major star in the business is just mind boggling. He was the size of Goldberg, with the athleticism of Jeff Hardy, and looked like Brendan Frasier. I would have bet money on his future success in pro wrestling.
The January ppv was labeled “Sin” for whatever reason. The show featured some great matches like Chavo Guerrerro vs. Shane Helms for the Cruiserweight title, O’Haire and Palumbo vs. Nash and Page, and a six-man with Team Canada (Storm, Skipper, and Awesome) vs. The Filthy Animals (Kidman, Konnan, and Mysterio). I have no idea what the buyrates for these shows was, but the live attendance was more than 6,000. Not amazing numbers, but respectable enough.
In February, it was time for Superbrawl (or for that year only, “Superbrawl Revenge”). There was a fantastic spot-filled Six-Way Elimination match in which Shane Helms defeated Shannon Moore, Kaz Hayashi, Yun Yang, Jamie Knoble and Evan Karagias. And that wasn’t even the Cruiserweight title match. That match was Chavo vs. Rey. The veterans were still around, too. Rick Steiner faced Dustin Rhodes for the U.S. title. Page took on (and lost to) Chris Kanyon. Luger and Buff Bagwell took on Kronik. There was still a lot of talent. Goldberg was off doing a “retirement” angle, and I’m not remembering where Sting was during all of this. Steiner beat Nash in the main event to keep the title.
Then in March, you have the final WCW pay-per-view, aptly titled “Greed.” To give you an idea what kind of direction the company was leaning, a tournament for the newly-created WCW Cruiserweight Tag-team titles culminated at the show, with Elix Skipper and Kid Romeo winning the belts in a great match with Kidman and Rey. Chavo lost the singles title to Shane Helms that night. Helms would carry the title over to the WWF. Booker T won the U.S. title from Rick Steiner, while Scott Steiner successfully defended the World title against Diamond Dallas Page.
And that was it. Eight days later, the Monday Night Wars ended with a final edition of Nitro, featuring Sting vs. “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, and Booker T winning the World Heavyweight Title from Scott Steiner.
But what if that wasn’t the end? What if Bischoff buys WCW and not Vince? What if the company takes the remnants of what was once the largest roster of contracted talent and rebuilds?
That’s the next column, kiddos. Thanks for reading.
Tags: Booker T, Bret Hart, Eric Bischoff, goldberg, Lex Luger, Monday Night Wars, Scott Steiner, sid vicious, Sting, vince mcmahon