That time Stephanie and Triple H buried the hot young talent. No, the other time. No, the time before that. Before that. No...look it was Jericho. No the other time with Jericho. That's the one.
(THE ONE THAT FOLLOWED ROCK/HOGAN)
The year was 2002.
OH COME ON VINCE! WHAT DID YOU DO?!
So much potential. Wasted.
So must starpower. Ignored.
So many storylines. Discarded.
WARNING: RUN ON SENTENCE INCOMING.
On the eve of the biggest WrestleMania in history (fantastic achievement #1), where the only two superstars ever to reach Hulk Hogan's level of mainstream popularity were about to go one-on-one for the world championship (fantastic achievement #2), you swooped in and bought out your primary competitor who almost bankrupted you numerous times in the past half-dozen years (fantastic achievement #3) for chump change to the tune of four million dollars (fantastic achievement #4) at the same time your other competitor went bankrupt and basically handed their tape library, name rights and biggest stars to you on a silver platter (fantastic achievement #5).
You had the WWF, the undisputed number one pro wrestling promotion in the universe, pulling in 7's in the Monday ratings with ease. In other words, you had the king atop the mountain peak.
You had WCW, and with it the tape library of the NWA's best and brightest years. You had a roster of superstars either at your disposal or a phone call away who sold out the Georgia Dome, electrified the south and brought in, even in their twilight years, 2's and 2.5s in the ratings. In other words. you had bought out the wrestling empire your daddy broke away from. You had the continent on which your mountain rested.
You had ECW and the brilliant mind of booker Paul Heyman. You had the roster of talent and the diehard fans who would have followed them and those captivating stories anywhere. You had the scrappy underdog promotion with a rabid following that produced some of the very talent you had ridden to the top. In other words, you had the struggling kingdom that might have one day risen up to challenge you.
You had it all. Every square inch of turf you had been fighting over had fallen to your mighty hand. You were Alexander and the world had been conquered.
WHAT DID YOU DO?!
Did you really have to SQUASH the entire WCW brand? A brand you BOUGHT? Are you that petty, Vince? Yes, yes you are. When you instructed your commentary team to call the WCW guys "the STARS of WCW" while referring to the WWF wrestlers as "SUPERstars" you showed how petty and shortsighted you are.
Let's not even bother fantasy booking our ideas for the InVasion. I'll just say: I never wanted an InVasion. I thought the entire idea was stupid. I wanted a brand split with WCW and WWF and ECW guys all mixed up, with Raw on Monday nights and Nitro on Thursdays, with two sets of belts and no one touching the other except for maybe at WrestleMania. An InVasion is shortsighted, "small in scope" and stupid all the way around.
First of all, it was stupid in its conception. An entire roster of guys who were a mix of faces and heels suddenly put aside their differences to become babyfaces against another entire roster of guys who were a mix of faces and heels but now are entirely heels.
Second of all, it was stupid in its execution. Since there wasn't enough WCW talent to go around, because Vince didn't want to buy out guys like the nWo or Goldberg or Sting (who would have come if everyone else was), they had to bring in the ECW guys who provided some workrate but not a lot of super star power. But that still wasn't enough to even the odds in the eyes of the fans so they added WWF guys and just made the whole thing an "alliance" of wrestlers of three promotions against Vince and co.
Finally, it was stupid in its payoff.
The angle died so hard and fizzled out so inanely that I had to sit here just to try and remember when the WCW was officially buried. I guess it was Survivor Series.
Since the InVasion officially began at King of the Ring in late June, that means the entire conglomerate of good will and fantastic achievements was extinguished in the span of five months.
That's like five Big Show face/heel turns.
That's like ONE Randy Orton vs. John Cena feud.
And it ended with WrestleMania 18 right around the corner. They didn't even have the creative intelligence to stretch it out so that you can have a proper payoff on the biggest show of the year.
Instead they blew it off at the December PPV, traditionally the worst PPV month for the WWF. Austin was WWF champion, which he'd been on and off since his WrestleMania win and heel turn (let's not get into all of that; that's the subject of another article chronicling how and where it all went wrong post-WCW).
The Rock was WCW Champion. Because when you think of WCW world heavyweight champions, you definitely think of The Rock.
Austin beat Kurt Angle to retain his title and Chris Jericho beat Rock to win the WCW belt. Jericho had been doing great work as the "number two" guy frustrated with "number one." Jericho was jealous of Rock, who had returned in mid-2001 to much fanfare, stealing the spotlight from Y2J. This led to a slow heel turn and feud with "The Great One".
By the end of the night, Jericho had beaten Austin to hold both the WWF and WCW championships. It was an event made out to be a much bigger deal than it really was. In a world where Undertaker and Kane can be WCW tag champs, it really doesn't matter who holds what belt and a unification therefore loses its luster.
Jericho then began a feud with Triple H who had returned to active duty after a crippling quad injury back in May. His return elicited one of the most thunderous ovations in Madison Square Garden history. It propelled him to a Rumble win and a certain WrestleMania victory.
Too bad the feud suuuuucked. I mean, at one point, Triple H was feuding with Stephanie and Jericho was feuding with a chihuahua.
Triple H and Stephanie basically became the focus and Jericho was just a chump holding the two world titles. If you stopped watching around this time and just tuned back in to the current product...you probably find all of this absolutely hilarious
This article isn't about the feud, though. It's about the main event. And I can honestly say, this is the first time where the title should not have gone on last. Unless you rebook the whole thing and put the belts on Hogan and/or Rock, there's no way the title match should have closed the show this year. That match was just too huge.
Hogan vs. Rock absolutely stole the show before the show even started. Austin's star had diminished as a result of bad booking, a weak opponent and a face turn that was too little too late. Rock vs. Hogan was the Icon vs. Icon match that should have typified the post-WCW era.
Instead it became "what could have been."
Still, everything on the PPV leading up to that match felt like killing time until it finally began. The Toronto crowd was loud certainly, but they were also very restless. Every backstage tease to the show only stoked the fires more. By the time the two combatants came down the isle, the arena exploded and didn't stop until it was over.
Once it was over, so was the crowd....but not the show.
A women's title buffer match could not adequately bring the audience down and ready for the "main" event. Forget the world title bout, the real tragedy is the triple threat match being placed in such a tough spot, as it featured the three best women wrestlers in the world going at it.
Nothing else mattered though. Bret Hart could have teleported to the center of the ring and the Toronto crowd still would have yawned. Not yawned from boredom, but from utter fatigue. Hogan and Rock well and truly stole the show. There was nothing left.
Triple H and Jericho, despite all the horrible booking, all the mismanagement of the past year's storylines, and all the crowd apathy, still managed to put together a really good wrestling match. It wasn't their best -- the Last Man Standing match back in 2000 takes that cake -- but it was very good, and under normal circumstances would have been a great WrestleMania main event. Triple H wining was obvious but right. He was fresh from months away, hot with the crowd (though cooled off some because of the horribly written feud), and a reliable hand with Rock leaving and Austin having just finished a run. But did they have to utterly kill Chris Jericho's star at the same time?
Still, as I said, they put together a good match here. The knock against it and the reason it is so low is because you can't grade these main events simply on the merits of the bell to bell action with the sound turned off. Just like a hot crowd can elevate a good match into a great one, a dead crowd can reduce a good match to a below average one.
That, plus the lackluster build, and the general frustration in the fanbase as a result of the InVasion story, meant this match had no chance to get over with the crowd. Most people looked at it and said "THIS is the best they have for the WrestleMania after the InVasion?"
What could have been done to save this main event? Not the match, the main event. What could have been done to save the closing match of WrestleMania 18?
For starters, if you book the show the exact same way, but end with Hogan vs. Rock, you leave a much better taste in people's mouths. The rule should be that the title goes last because the title is most important, but if you book the title like a piece of crap and you book the champion like a piece of crap, you should give it a piece of crap spot on the card. The main event is the match people pay to see. It's the main attraction, after which there's nothing else for the fans to care about. Rock vs. Hogan was the match and everyone knew it. Even the poster was just those two guys staring angrily at each other.
Without that match closing the show, NOTHING could have saved the main event. The greatness of that one match would have knocked anything down to the number 21 spot on our countdown.
Sound off, Cagesiders. Is this match too unfairly ranked? Do you subscribe to the "title should go on last" rule, or do you think Hogan vs. Rock should have been the exception?
Let us know in the comments below.
With all of that said, and without fantasy booking the whole thing, can I just propose this card, with the main event as number one followed by a few top matches below it:
Don't do an InVasion. Just debut WCW Nitro on Thursdays, with WCW talent you can get, ECW talent and a few key WWF guys. Keep the two shows' stars seperate until Survivor Series (Team WWF vs. Team WCW) and the Rumble (15 guys from Raw, 15 from Nitro). And then book WrestleMania to be a big WWF vs. WCW battle (future WrestleMania's can just have the traditional special attraction match between the brands).
WRESTLEMANIA X8: WWF vs. WCW -- THE FINAL BATTLE
1. Rock (WWF) vs. Hollywood Hogan (WCW)
2. Austin as WWF Champion vs. Jericho as WCW Champion (Unification match)
3. Triple H (WWF) vs. Scott Hall (WCW)
4. Undertaker (WWF) vs. Ric Flair (WCW)
5. Kurt Angle (WWF) vs. Lance Storm (WCW)
That's half the card and just using the guys WWF had available, it looks much better.
Of course you ask, "What about the Royal Rumble?" Easy. You have Ric Flair (General Manager of WCW Thursday Nitro) go power hungry and cheat his way to the title, only to have it stripped from him by the mythical board of directors sometime in late 2001/early 2002. The Rumble becomes a match for the title, ala 1992. Jericho enters and wins. He also gets put over by Austin before dropping the title to Hogan in April (from there things continue as they were).
Tomorrow's main event was a spectacle...and not much else.
See you then!
- Ranking Mania main events #22: Hulk Hogan vs. King Kong Bundy
- Ranking Mania main events #23: Triple H vs. Randy Orton
- Ranking Mania main events #24: Hulk Hogan vs. Sid Justice
- Ranking Mania main events #25: John Cena vs. The Miz
- Ranking Mania main events #26: Undertaker vs. Sid Justice
- Ranking Mania main events #27: Hulk Hogan vs. Sgt. Slaughter
- Ranking Mania main events #28: Bret Hart vs. Yokozuna
- Ranking Mania main events #29: Lawrence Taylor vs. Bam Bam Bigelow