Welcome to another edition of Mr. Tito's Phat Weekend Column. Hey, I somewhat promised to have a column up for the final weekend of 2001, and I guess I'm delivering. So what is today's agenda? There's no Pay Per View to hype. The Tito Awards will be given out on Monday, so we won't do them today.
I had a better idea, one that came to me while watching a "Best of 2001" show on VH1. Why not do a history of 2001, since this past year was a very significant year in terms of professional wrestling. 2001 saw 2 promotions go down the tubes, various talent shifting, and probably the beginning of an economic downturn for wrestling, just like the one seen during the early 1990's.
This history will mainly cover the "Big 3" or what turned into the "Big One". MECW, WWA, and the XWF aren't even in the same light since they have yet to put on a Pay Per View (coming soon from the WWA, though, to the US market) and they DO NOT have a national television contract, yet. Plus, the majority of wrestling fans, other than those in Mexico or Japan, follow the main promotions, especially the WWF, which sucked in WCW and ECW in 2001.
In preparation for this history column, I decided to watch the last ever Nitro, which I happened to tape (no, I'm NOT making copies for anyone, sorry, even for $$$$). It was just sad to see the FINAL Sting vs. Ric Flair match ever. I still love the idea that the match was the final Nitro match ever. That one was for the fans. It made me miss the Stinger, more, too. Hopefully, he could sign with the WWF, but that's a pipe dream, with the limited schedule offer that he could take with the WWA.
Let's get on to it. The Time Machine is warmed up, so let's take a look back at the year that was 2001 in pro wrestling.
First, for ECW, the high production costs and the failed attempt to make it on cable television put Paul Heyman and company in deep debt. Eventually, the company would see bankruptcy proceedings, and the ECW talent didn't officially know it was over until Heyman began working for the WWF! ECW has since then put out many great, and top selling, videos of the many great matches held throughout the year. ECW would later resurface in the WWF, and we'll get to that later.
For WCW, their doom was written on the wall years ago, with many backstage egos getting out of control and Bischoff's spending sprees running up high debts for Time Warner to cover. WCW was actually Time Warner's ONLY sub-company to not achieve a profit in 2000, which raised the eyebrows of American Online, which was about to merge with Time Warner. Once the merger actually occurred, AOL was on the move to rid itself of WCW or at least find a new owner to cover its costs. AOL-Time Warner looked through various owners, including the WWF, but to begin 2001, they had their sights set on a financial group headed by Eric Bischoff, and even let Bischoff take executive control of the company for early 2001.
Eric Bischoff did some good and some bad for WCW in 2001. The bad was from keeping Johnny Ace as the head booker, as Ace liked to push the old-timers, such as Rick Steiner, down our throats. The main event scene was just horrible, as Scott Steiner was left with no challengers for his World Title. However, Bischoff provided some incredible Cruiserweight action by signing many lightweights throughout the independent scene, and re-pushing the Cruiserweight title and inventing the Cruiserweight tag titles. It gave WCW their best midcard action in YEARS, althought he less excited wrestling fanbase were too burned out on pro-wrestling to notice. Complications between AOL-Time Warner and Eric Bischoff over a deal led to AOL-Time Warner having no confidence in Bischoff, and giving a bargin deal (reportedly $18 Million) to the WWF.
Speaking of the WWF, interest in their product seemed to be slow when it wasn't a major Pay Per View to hype in the first quarter of 2001. When it was Royal Rumble or Wrestlemania time, ratings and interest were high, but when that wasn't the case, they dropped. 2001 started off with Kurt Angle as the World Champion, as he was the champion since No Mercy 2000. He avoided the defeat at the Royal Rumble 2001 against Triple H, but lost to the Rock at No Way Out 2001. Angle would then face Chris Benoit for 3 consecutive Pay Per Views, while the Rock headed into Wrestlemania 17 as World Champion, and after Wrestlemania, the Rock would be off to film the "Scorpion King", which he stars in.
Triple H, however, was in a hot feud with Steve Austin, and the two collided for the Best 2 out of 3 falls war at No Way Out 2001, which saw Triple H beat Austin cleanly. It's probably up there in terms of "Match of the Year", and it pretty much blew away everything else on that card. However, we never saw anything else from Austin and Triple H in 2001, against each other. Triple H went on to feud and job to the Undertaker at Wrestlemania 17, and after WM 17, Triple H oddly teamed up with the newly turned heel Steve Austin, where they'd be together until Triple H blew out his knee in the famous RAW tag team match against Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit for the World Tag Titles a week after Judgment Day 2001. Triple H has been out, ever since, and has his sights set for the January 7th, 2002 edition of RAW.
2001 was Steve Austin's big comeback year. After being inactive from November of 1999 until late fall of 2000, Austin had hopes of returning back to the spotlight he saw in 1998 and most of 1999. First, he feuded with Triple H, the man who was apparently behind Rikishi hitting Austin with a car. After losing cleanly to Triple H at No Way Out, he went on to feud with the Rock, heading into Wrestlemania for the World Title, thanks to Austin winning the Royal Rumble. Oddly enough, Steve Austin began to regain his babyface pops, as his hellish bout with Triple H proved to fans that he could wrestle well again.
Despite getting louder cheers than the Rock, Steve Austin still turned heel at Wrestlemania, as he "sold his soul" to Vince McMahon to win the World Title. Austin would try everything in the book to be a heel afterward, like being friends with Triple H, changing the way he spoke, and attacking anyone, including a violent attack of Lita on one edition of RAW. Steve Austin would continue his heelish act until the Invasion occurred, where he would turn on Team WWF to join the Alliance at WWF Invasion in July. 2 heel turns in one year? Believe it.
Steve Austin would remain as the Alliance Leader, and he began feuding with the newly turned face, Kurt Angle, which headlined several Pay Per Views. At Unforgiven 2001, Kurt Angle won the World Title from Austin, but only to see Austin win the title back, just weeks later on RAW, since the WWF had a lack of confidence in Angle as World Champion. Austin would be spared from his job during the big Alliance loss at Survivor Series 2001, and he would put his World Title up for grabs at the Unification tournament at Vengeance 2001, where Chris Jericho cheated to become unified champion.
But the big story of 2001, however, was the WCW sale, which created a long chain of events, seen throughout the WWF from Wrestlemania 17 and then on. WCW, in the storylines, was bought by Shane McMahon on the Final Nitro on TNT, which was to set up Shane running WCW and eventually making it into a force to compete against the WWF. However, Vince McMahon and the WWF spent the majority of the Spring and Early Summer negotiating with TNN to get a Prime Time slot for a WCW show. It never came, and TNN was only willing to budge on giving them a Saturday Night slot from 10 pm until Midnight, a timeslot where hardly any wrestling fans would watch. The WWF would later drop Livewire and Superstars to pony up for that timeslot, later down the road, to create WWF Excess, a glorified recap show.
The stalling process of TNN, along with the lack of big name talent signed by the WWF from WCW, didn't get things going for WCW until King of the Ring 2001. Until then, the WWF went on with programming without the Rock, and they REFUSED to elevate other, hardworking talent, such as Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, and Chris Jericho into the main event fold. Instead, the WWF made the Main Event club exclusive with only Triple H and Steve Austin as the heels, and Kane and the Undertaker as the babyfaces. Pushing those 4, including the usual poor storyline writing or focus on the midcard, really hurt the WWF, and buyrates for Backlash, Judgment Day, and King of the Ring were poor coming off of one of the biggest Wrestlemanias, ever.
The WWF only began to elevate other talent when Jericho and Benoit were getting too good to not notice. They were pushed as a tag team, and they would become #1 contenders to challenge the current champions, Triple H and Steve Austin, who actually won their titles from Kane and the Undertaker (see what I mean?). Jericho and Benoit won their titles off of an excellent tag bout on RAW, which saw Triple H rip his knee. Now, the WWF was forced to elevate talent.
Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho were pushed as challengers to Austin's World Title, although Austin escaped victory every time. Some of Austin's matches with Chris Benoit in Canada, especially the Smackdown one, were very incredible. This led to Jericho and Benoit challenging Austin at King of the Ring 2001, where Austin escaped a title loss, again, despite being attacked by Booker T.
Oh yeah, that attack by Booker T, despite other appearances by WCW superstars on previous shows, officially started the WCW Invasion. The plan was to push WCW, with WCW wrestlers against WCW wrestlers on various parts of WWF television, until the product "caught on" with viewers enough to takeover either RAW or Smackdown, or to convince TNN to give them a good timeslot for a new WCW show. However, this plan bombed, as fans weren't reacting well to WCW matches, especially the Buff Bagwell vs. Booker T stinkfest, where Buff proved what an overrated worker and total jerk that he was.
The WWF hit "panic mode", and scrambled for ideas. You see, the WCW Invasion was supposed to be the big money angle to save the WWF from the lowered interest brought about by what occurred in the Spring, by pushing just Austin, Triple H, Kane, and the Undertaker. The writing team, headed by Stephanie McMahon, overseen by Vince McMahon, and with Paul Heyman providing suggestions, came up with an idea to "spice up" the Invasion angle. Since ECW was dead and gone, along with the Time Warner owned WCW, why not have ECW invade the WWF, too?
That they did on an exciting edition of RAW. Many WCW and WWF wrestlers, who had careers in ECW, along with actual ECW wrestlers such as Rob Van Dam and Tommy Dreamer, came into the ring and with former owner/booker Paul Heyman, and announced that ECW was back. Later on in the show, it was going to be a WWF/WCW versus ECW showdown, but the WCW wrestlers turned on the WWF wrestlers, making a WCW and ECW "Alliance". However, this grand idea was pretty much shot down when Stephanie McMahon, herself, was announced as the owner of ECW. Stephanie wasn't on television after Triple H was hurt, and she would write herself as a big focus for the Alliance. Shane and Stephanie would sell off their shares of WWF ownership to someone, later turning out to be Ric Flair, to provide funding for the Alliance.
But the panic button was pressed, and we began to basically see interpromotional matches between WWF and ECW/WCW wrestlers, which wasn't planned to happen for a long time. The WWF would even book interpromotional matches on Heat and Jakked, oddly enough. This did spark lots of interest, as fans were anticipating what former WCW or even ECW stars would show up. However, the WWF only nabbed Booker T, Diamond Dallas Page, and Rob Van Dam as major stars from each company. Booker T had decent success in 2001, although he could never win the big match, especially against the Rock. He would later resort to becoming a tag wrestler with Test. Diamond Dallas Page was another story, as he found himself as a punching bag for Kane and the Undertaker, and was never taken seriously because a few wrestlers didn't personally like him. The former 3-time WCW World Champion has been kept off television ever since his "Positive" gimmick was nixed by the WWF, although it received some good reaction.
Rob Van Dam, however, was the breakout star of 2001. RVD, despite a few stiff shots and some odd backstage occurrances, matured in 2001 and polished off his wrestling ability to become a much better all-around wrestler than before. The WWF fans completely dig him, and that's helped RVD get wins over big name WWF stars and to help him be the strongest Hardcore Champion, ever. RVD was originally supposed to be held off to be a part of the new WCW show, which never came. When the ECW Invasion idea was thought up, they figured that they could bring in RVD, as well, since he was a hot free agent on the market that the fans demanded.
After WWF Invasion in July, the Rock would make his big comeback, and begin feuding with Booker T. After Summerslam 2001, ratings gradually dropped, as did attendance, merchandise sales, and commercial ad sales, leaving the WWF with some economic problems, which eventually forced them to cut office workers and some developmental talent. You could blame this on the overall wrestling industry continually dropping, especially without any legit competition to challenge the WWF. However, you could blame the failure of the WWF to make the Invasion angle the storyline that would keep fan interest going. Whatever the case may be, Vince McMahon decided that he was going to trash the WWF vs. Alliance angle, since it wasn't quite attracting the fan interest it did in July and August. He set up a WWF vs. the Alliance match at Survivor Series 2001, pitting Big Show, Undertaker, Kane, Chris Jericho, the Rock against Kurt Angle, Steve Austin, Rob Van Dam, Booker T, and Shane McMahon. Team WWF won when Kurt Angle turned on the Alliance team to help out the WWF.
But, in my own opinion, the Alliance vs. WWF feud shouldn't have been shot down like it was. Had certain problems been avoided, this COULD have been a better angle. Let's look at some opinionated reasons, by myself, to why the Invasion angle failed in the long run:
I could keep going, but this is a history of 2001, and not a "Reasons why the Invasion failed" column. After Survivor Series 2001, the WWF was on pace to have a "new direction" for the company. That was the idea, but many of the Alliance wrestlers, who were WWF mainstays beforehand or were very good Alliance members (like Rob Van Dam), somehow avoided the massive storyline firing of the Alliance. The credibility of the big Survivor Series win by the WWF was somewhat hurt.
However, the RAW after Survivor Series provided some interesting changes. Firstly, Jerry "the King" Lawler returned to the WWF, after quitting the WWF over a half a year before returning. Jerry's wife, but now separated, Stacy Carter a.k.a. the Cat, was handed a pinkslip, without warning, to be fired from the WWF. This angered Lawler, and he stood up for his wife and left the WWF too. The WWF would replace Lawler with Paul Heyman, who many considered an excellent replacement. Lawler would get back in good graces with the WWF, and return on RAW, as McMahon storyline fired Paul Heyman to start off the show in a hot way.
Later on, Ric Flair would make his WWF return, announcing that he was the man who bought up Shane and Stephanie's shares to own the company. The new conflict is that Ric Flair sides with Steve Austin, the man who Vince McMahon really hates again. This rivalry between the owners will heat up at Royal Rumble 2002, where Flair and Vince will wrestle, possibly the time where the WWF may split up the roster to make two separate WWF promotions, like two sports conferences.
For 2001, however, there was one feud that stood above the rest. In October, Chris Jericho and the Rock had a dispute over a tag match loss. The two would yell and eventually come to blows, and they wound up hating each other ever since. The Rock would make fun of Jericho for never being able to win the "big one", to the point where Jericho challenged Rocky for the WCW title at No Mercy 2001. Thanks to a chair, Jericho won the "big one", and became WCW Champion. Their heat continued, as Rocky was quick to point out how Jericho won, adding great heat to their feud.
Rock would win back his WCW title on an edition of RAW, and Jericho and the Rock would continue to hate each other, coming into Survivor Series 2001, where both of their careers were on the line in the Alliance vs. WWF match. Jericho actually attacked the Rock during the match, which only fueled the feud *that* much more. Ric Flair and Vince McMahon would then make the decision to book a Title Unification tournament, where Rock would take on Jericho, and Steve Austin would take on Kurt Angle, with the winners fighting to become the unified champ. Jericho cheated his balls off, completing his heel turn, to win the Unified championship, and he's been a dirty champion every since, often pissing off the Rock. Jericho has become a cheating champion, relying on outside help to save his matches.
Although pro wrestling made many changes, headlines, or moves in 2001, nothing can be compared to the noteworthy events of September 11th, 2001, where terrorists flew commercial airplanes into the Trade Centers and Pentagon, killing thousands. It was a moment where America and the whole world stood still. Its effect was in bringing America together, and it was seen in the wrestling industry when many of the wrestlers wanted to see their families, badly, despite being trapped in Houston from the haulted airline industry. The WWF aired a live Smackdown 2 days after the tragic events, and although it was controversial from some McMahon comments, the wrestlers paid tribute to the families of lost ones and/or the police officers and fire department for giving up their lives to save others.
In wrestling, who knows what 2002 will hold? Various free agents, such as Kevin Nash, Sting, and Scott Steiner will be up for grabs, if they are willing to get back into wrestling, full time, again. Also, will another federation rise up and slowly build themselves to challenge the WWF in the future? Ratings, buyrates, and attendance figures indicate that the WWF is weakening, giving another fed a chance to possibly make some competition. We'll just have to stay tuned.... AOL Instant Messenger: BookerTito - It's recommended that you send your questions or feedback as your first message so that it could be answered, instead of saying "hi", "hey", "what's up" or whatever else. Just get to the point, please, to make it easier since I get drilled with messages.
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@I hope you've enjoyed the History of 2001, which I've had in my head for a few days now. Hey, when you're working over 50 hours a week, you need to think about something in your head so that you don't go nuts. I'll be back, on Monday, with the famous Tito Awards column.
Take Care, and Thanks for Reading.