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The Worst Year In Wrestling EVER: The Case For -- And Against -- 2001

I'll admit: I was surprised about the results of the last vote (the one that asked you, the Cagesiders, if 2007 was the worst year ever). This poll, remember?

What I wasn't surprised about was the reaction 2007 had on a lot of you. The death of Chris Benoit-and everything surrounding it-turned off some of you to the business as a while for quite some time. It's understandable. One of the most celebrated wrestlers in the history of the game resorted to one of the vilest acts one can do to another human being. Twice. The scrutiny put on the industry as whole turned off a lot of people, and what went down later in the summer didn't help matters. I get now why 2007 was a breaking point for many of you.


This week's "Worst Year Ever" tackles what was on the surface not really a worst year ever. It's But if you look deeper, there's a case to be made. You can call it perhaps the greatest exercise in throwing money away ever. Gather around, boys and girls, it's 2001: A Wrestling Odyssey.


To fully understand the case for 2001 being the worst year in wrestling ever, one only has to look at the wrestling business in the United States (which is what this series is focusing on primarily since I'm much more familiar with what went on in the states than abroad back then) in 1998.

The WWF, after suffering a creative, financial, and public relations slump that plagued the company for most of the decade (especially the middle part of it), have seen to dig themselves out of the hole and stumbled upon their next great star in Stone Cold Steve Austin. In fact, they may have stumbled on more than a few. Hunter Hearst Helmsley, The Rock, and Mankind are coming into their own, the midcard is full of blossoming talent though their stories don't always make sense, and veterans like The Undertaker, Kane, Billy Gunn, and Owen Hart have an energy they haven't had in years.

WCW, though they've bungled the natural end of the Sting-Hollywood Hogan storyline, is still riding high. They also have stumbled on to a great superstar of their own in Bill Goldberg, a man who just a few years earlier, was playing in the NFL. A war is brewing within the New World Order, and those within it are forced to choose sides. While it seemed all good on-screen, behind the scenes, the cracks are forming and they're starting to show. While their undercard is arguably the best collection of wrestling talent ever assembled, many aren't given the opportunity to shine.

Meanwhile, a small promotion out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Extreme Championship Wrestling, has emerged as a third superpower. How so, you ask? By providing a template that the other two promotions are only recently catching onto: hardcore wrestling, storylines that are more realistic, sometimes even adult-oriented, and crisp, technical bouts that weren't commonplace on mainstream wrestling shows at the time. But the thing with getting big is now everybody knows who they are, and the big two companies are poaching some of their best talent left, right, and center.


Fast forward three years later. What if I told you that one week after Wrestlemania X-Seven only one of those three promotions would still be around. You wouldn't believe it, would you? And that's where the case begins.

In January 2001, ECW, coming off a TV deal that heavily favored the Nashville Network (in fact, so heavily favored that when WWF came calling for a new home, Viacom jumped on it, and in one of their first acts, ditched ECW for the WWF), was driven to bankruptcy. Their operating deficit was well into the millions, and despite trying to scramble for a new deal, it became unsalvageable. The company was left with no alternative but to shut down less than one week after their first PPV of the new year. Three months later, ECW filed for bankruptcy. The little promotion that could could do no more.

WCW's end was even more tragic, but considering what they've been through in the last two years, it was fitting. With fans growing tired of the same main eventers over and over, they started tuning out. Then they stopped giving their money. Seemingly nothing changed, and when things changed, it only got worse. The Vince Russo era ended up costing WCW more money in one twelve-month period than at any point by any wrestling company ever. So when AOL and Time Warner merged, WCW was not long for this world. Despite a last-ditch effort by Eric Bischoff to buy the company, it went to the WWF for pennies on the dollar. In fact, it went for so little, many of the top stars in the wrestling industry could have bought it themselves.

So what would WWF do with all their new toys? Actually, hold that thought. I'm gonna get to that one later.

Wrestlemania X-Seven ended with one of the more questionable booking decisions in professional wrestling history. The WWF in their infinite wisdom turned Stone Cold Steve Austin, their most popular performer ever, heel. While the WWF had Hogan in '96 in their eyes, what they got was Goldberg in 2000. Nobody wanted to boo this man; after all, he was US. The oppressed working man fighting to get from under the thumb of a tyrannical boss. And suddenly he sells out to said tyrannical boss? Maybe he IS us after all. Austin pairing with Triple H gave it some credibility, but it died on a warm spring night when Triple H tore his quad during a tag title match with Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit (who would suffer an injury himself a month later), leaving Austin to heel it up on his own with McMahon. Oh, Austin got hurt too. And where was The Rock? He was gone for the spring and well into the summer filming a movie. When Hollywood calls, sometimes you have to pick up the phone.

A little over a month before Mania, Stacy "The Kat" Carter was inexplicably let go by the WWF. It raised more than a few eyebrows. Raising even more eyebrows: Jerry "The King" Lawler, her husband, followed her right out the door. In his place for the next few months, the once-upon-a-time owner of ECW, Paul Heyman. When he appeared on RAW the night after No Way Out, the writing was on the wall. ECW was dead. While the duo of Heyman and Ross provided some stellar commentary, they were quite chilly towards one another.

So... the WWF and their new toys. With both WCW and ECW out of business, the WWF found themselves with a much bigger roster. The natural thing to do would be to do an invasion storyline, right? I mean, it writes itself. Hell, every wrestling fan on the planet has fantasy booked WWF vs. WCW (vs. ECW) bouts for YEARS. And now, they HAVE it. Not even they could bungle this.

And yet, bungle it they did. The WWF didn't exactly bring in their big hitters, as most were under contract to Time Warner, and many top WCW stars were not going to take a buyout to have a run in the WWF. As for those that did take the buyout: I'm sure they regret it. Diamond Dallas Page, one of WCW's most popular performers, was made to  be a sexual predator. Booker T was made to be a copycat of The Rock. And as for the rest of the performers: they were made to look inferior to the WWF talent over and over again. In fact, WCW talent looked so inferior, they needed some WWF turncoats to prop the Alliance stable up. Oh, and said Alliance stable was led by Shane and Stephanie McMahon. Because that's what we needed for the biggest storyline ever, right? More McMahons? When it became clear that WCW was not gonna be made to look like a threat, fans left, some never to return.

A competently booked invasion angle could have generated new fans and so much money they'd have to burn some to make room.

At least the WWF did get some goodwill in 2001. Two days after the terror attacks in New York, Washington, and suburban Pittsburgh, the WWF put on a live Smackdown. It was a ballsy move as the country was still very much in mourning and not up for any entertainment at the moment. Hell, people were afraid to leave their house. Leave it of course to a McMahon to piss away that goodwill when Stephanie compared the 9/11 attacks to her father's steroid trial. I'm just gonna leave it at that.

Summary: January 1, 2001 started with three major wrestling promotions in America. In four months, there would be only one.

Oh, and this gruesome injury happened too.


Have you SEEN the WWF PPV offerings in 2001? The latter half of the year (i.e. The Invasion saga) left a lot to be desired, but the first quarter of the year produced MONSTERS.

Royal Rumble featuring arguably the greatest singles ladder match since Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon at Wrestlemania X. And dare I say, a pretty fun Royal Rumble match even though it was obvious who was going to win.

Then No Way Out had a killer Three Stages of Hell bout between Triple H and Stone Cold Steve Austin. And though Kurt Angle lost in the WWF title match to The Rock, he proved he belonged in the main event scene.

And then there's Wrestlemania X-Seven, considered by many the greatest supercard WWF's put on. And it's hard to dispute it. It's literally the perfect PPV, save for that ending.

And though what happened after it was disappointing to say the least, Invasion proved there was still a market for WWF vs. WCW, even though WCW was gone for months and its name was sullied beyond repair. 775,000 homes watched that PPV. 775,000! That's Wrestlemania territory. As a standalone watch, it's not that bad.

And for better or worse, 2001 set the stage for what we knew all along: WWF was the king of the wrestling business, and everybody else was fighting for scraps.

Ok, Cagesiders. Your turn. 2001 produced arguably three or four of the best 50 PPVs in wrestling history. But the year began shaky, yet brought so much promise, ended with disappointment. Is it the worst year ever? Discuss.

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