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10 Reasons Why The Invasion Failed

The Notorious Eddie Mac looks into ten reasons why what could have been the biggest storyline in wresting history fell flat on its face.

NOTE: I originally wrote this for another site about two years ago and, well, not a lot of people read it. I figure I present it to a bigger audience and revisit it. So... here you go.

March 26, 2001 is a date that will live in infamy among wrestling fans around the world. It was the night the "Monday Night Wars" ended and the World Wrestling Federation announced for the first time on television that Vince McMahon's WWF had bought its biggest competitor, World Championship Wrestling (WCW).

But in reality, the "war" had all but ended for sometime. It was only made official on the Friday before. The Friday before the final Nitro, the WWF bought WCW for a reported $3 million-$7 million, a bargain considering what a group of investors led by Eric Bischoff had offered to AOL-Time Warner: $60 million. Despite a last ditch effort to save WCW, AOL Time Warner wanted to get out of the wrestling business because it was hemorrhaging money (a reported $62 million in the red in its final full year of operation). Bad decision making and bad management contributed to WCW's demise, and without a television deal, it was ripe for the picking. WWF not only had their hands on some of the biggest names in wrestling, they got WCW's vaunted tape library, and combined with the WWF's (and later, ECW's), they now possess the world's largest professional wrestling video library.

On that Monday, WCW Nitro was a Night of Champions special, originally planned to be the last Nitro until the summer before the buyout and the sudden pulling of their TV deal. The WWF was in their final week before Wrestlemania X-Seven, their biggest show in years and their first stadium Wrestlemania in nearly a decade. Meanwhile, in and around the wrestling world, there were questions aplenty: what would happen with WCW under the WWF banner? Which WCW performers would we see, and when would we see them? And how would they fare under the WWF lights? More importantly, how many dream matches can we get out of this and how soon can we get them? (Interesting nugget here: a fascinating timeline from WCW's final days to the first WCW invader, Lance Storm coming to the WWF.)

With the assimilation of WCW talent on WWF programming, the Invasion storyline had all the makings of what quite honestly should have been the biggest money maker in the history or wrestling. It was WWF vs. WCW. The story writes itself. Of course, it didn't work out that way, and the Invasion storyline is regarded as one of the biggest failures in wrestling history, one that caused fans by the thousands to turn away from the sport and never look back. While there are many contributing factors and opinions as to why it didn't pan out as dreamed, here are ten that we can more or less agree on. Here are ten reasons why the invasion failed. Mind you these aren't the only ten, nor probably the ten biggest. These are the most common reasons.

1. The big WCW names weren't there.

As a condition of the deal that gave the WWF its chief competitor, McMahon got to cherry pick who he wanted and get rid of who he didn't. Or, in the case of nearly every major star in WCW, just let AOL Time Warner (WCW's parent company) foot the bill and let them stay home (or, in essence, what may of WCW's biggest names have been doing for years). Many of the major players did not debut until after the storyline ended, or in some cases, long after. Ric Flair's first night was after Survivor Series 2001. Rey Mysterio, Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, and Scott Steiner, all didn't debut until 2002. Goldberg sat until 2003. Sting only recently started appearing on WWE programming, but only after trying to get him for years. Lex Luger, "Macho Man" Randy Savage, and Jeff Jarrett never appeared on WWF programming, either through their own choice or the WWF's. So without the biggest names in your rival promotion...

2. WCW's side was mostly B-level talent.

Here's a partial list of the 24 contracts that were picked up when McMahon bought WCW: Lance Storm, Chuck Palumbo, Shawn O'Haire, Mark Jindrak, Mike Awesome, Elix Skipper, Shane Helms, Shannon Moore, Miss Hancock, Chavo Guerrero Jr., Mike Sanders, Hugh Morrus, Shawn Stasiak, Kaz Hayashi, Yang and Billy Kidman. The '98 Yankees, these were not. If you were the World Wrestling Federation, and you knew for a fact that (in kayfabe) this is what's coming up on your lawn, would you be afraid? Neither would I. Even with the additions of Booker T and Diamond Dallas Page (who both worked out reconstructed deals for A LOT LESS MONEY to come aboard), WCW needed help on their side to at least make the Invasion angle more credible. Enter another company that went out of business right around the time of the WCW sale, Extreme Championship Wrestling. Kind of ironic that ECW would side with WCW against the WWF, considering that...

3. The WWF actually helped ECW. A lot.

ECW cross-promoted with the WWF somewhat regularly from 1995 to 1997, even helping with ECW's first ever PPV, Barely Legal, in April 1997. The WWF also helped ECW financially on a number of occasions. WCW: not so much, not even acknowledging ECW by name, instead poaching their company for talent. When ECW was brought into the Invasion storyline in July 2001, it looked like it would be Paul Heyman's chance to get back at WCW. It didn't quite work out that way as the ECW contingent would join WCW. The ECW group was led by Paul Heyman and...Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley. Ah, yes...

4. It was always about the McMahons.

This is perhaps the biggest negative of the Attitude Era and the years following it. The McMahons were more or less the central focus of the Invasion storyline. It was less about the competing promotions and more about "television's most dysfunctional family". Granted, it did add a layer to the Shane McMahon vs. Vince McMahon match at Wrestlemania X-Seven. What was just another McMahon vs. McMahon match turned into the first round post-purchase of the WWF vs. WCW war, which then turned to another McMahon vs. McMahon story. If you don't believe this storyline was about the McMahons, in the words of Carlos Mencia, look at the picture:

Wwfwcwecwinvasion_medium

5. Fans were already turning away in droves.

Financially, the Invasion storyline was a success. Let's not get that twisted. The WWF Invasion pay-per-view remains the most bought non-Wrestlemania ever (770,000 buys; that's more than Wrestlemania XIV). That's how much people were into the WWF-WCW story (this was in July 2001. The story had gone sideways, but not completely off the tracks). It perhaps was helped by the curiosity of how ECW would coexist with WCW against the WWF. After the Wrestlemania X-Seven post-mortem, ratings fell for most of the next two months. It would rise again briefly in the early summer of 2001, but with the continued mishandling of the story, the fans would leave again. In short, when there was only one major wrestling company left in North America, plenty of fans turned on the product. Speaking of which...

6. The audience that stuck around didn't give The Invasion much of a chance.

Don't believe it? I present as evidence the main event of the July 2, 2001 episode of RAW is WAR. That was the debut of WCW 2.0. It was doomed from the start, even before that night. WWF tried to get the new WCW its own timeslot following its purchase of the rival company. Because of its TV deal with Viacom, this proved more difficult than imagined. When that plan fell through (no network wanted a WCW show because of its sullied reputation, and TNN, now Spike TV, was not giving the WWF another timeslot), WWF went with Plan B: a relaunch on RAW is WAR in Tacoma, Washington between Booker T and Buff Bagwell. The masses were not impressed. Very audible chants of "boring" and "this match sucks" could be heard throughout the arena. Bagwell had his first match in months the night before. Booker T was also rusty. Sources said Vince HATED the segment, and any chance of a WCW revival as its own entity ended that night. Side nugget: if they relaunched WCW the following Monday, it would have been in Atlanta. Atlanta was the original home of WCW. Speaking of which...

7. WCW and ECW performers were made to look weak against WWF talent.

Pettiness at work, my friends. With that WCW match and WWF performers getting in Vince McMahon's ear, that was all the ammunition needed for any non-WWF performer to be jobbed out or otherwise made look weak and inferior to the WWF on the regular. Not that WCW and ECW were competitive in any way in their dying days...

8. WCW was hardly competition in its final days.

Everyone knows about the 84-week streak that WCW had over the WWF on Monday nights. Most don't know the WWF had a streak of their own-and a longer one-to boast about. After the October 26, 1998 episode of Nitro which featured the Goldberg-Diamond Dallas Page bout cut short on PPV from the night before, Nitro would never again beat RAW in the ratings head-to-head: 122 weeks in a row from November 2, 1998 to its conclusion in March 2001.

9. Too...many...people.

I'm not sure if it's an old expression, but I'll use it here: when you have too many people that need to get over, nobody gets over. When the WWF bought WCW (and acquired ECW later), the roster was ballooned to a size not seen since the 1980s-maybe ever. And with only six hours of original programming a week (plus three hours of highlights), TV time is a premium, and a lot of people aren't gonna get any. And with WCW's purchase came WCW's titles. The championship count nearly doubled too for a few months. WWF and WCW Championships, WWF and WCW Tag Team Championships, Intercontinental Championship, United States Championship, Hardcore Championship, European Championship, Light Heavyweight Championship, Cruiserweight Championship. If you count the inactive WWF Womens Championship, that's eleven championships running around. With all those people and all those titles...

10. The storyline got very confusing and convoluted.

The storyline began with WCW guys attacking heel WWF superstars on Memorial Day 2001. Simple enough, yes? They ran with that for a few weeks, and it worked just fine. Then that match in Tacoma and the failure to get a TV deal. Enter ECW in a last ditch effort to keep the story afloat. Then comes the Inagural Brawl at Invasion:

Invasioninaguralbrawl_medium

Solid little ten-man tag match there. Granted 70% of the lineup was collecting a WWF paycheck when the year began, but still, it's a credible ten-man tag. But when Stone Cold Steve Austin joined the WCW-ECW Alliance, all bets were off. After all, if you know Austin's story, you know of his treatment during his final days in WCW and how much he held that grudge. This was a slap in the face.

Fast forward four months to Survivor Series, the Winner Take All match. Here's your lineup.

Survivor-series-2001-wwf-vs-2010019_medium

Better yet, here were the final four from that Survivor Series match:

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Yeah, I know this really isn't the best pic. But it's an accurate one as these were the final four. They'd split the duos up the next month for a one-night tournament to crown the first ever WWF Undisputed Champion.

Yup, the big conclusion of the Invasion storyline involved four WWF superstars, and they've all been paid by the WWF for two years at the time of the match. No direct involvement from a WCW or an ECW superstar in the very end. And that's not even mentioning the sudden face turn of Stone Cold Steve Austin the next night as a way of saying, those last few months: nothing to see here, move along.

It should have been one of the biggest angles in wrestling history, right up there with the NWO. But ego, questionable decision making, and circumstance prevented The Invasion from playing out to its full potential. Thirteen years later, the reverberations of the WWF's purchase of WCW are still being felt. Despite the now WWE being better off financially than its ever been and we have access to more classic wrestling than ever before, one can only imagine how the WWE (and WCW) would be if the Invasion hadn't failed.

Cagesiders, could the Invasion have been saved? If so, how? Favorite Invasion era moments? Talk to me!

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