By Mike Mooneyham
July 14, 2001
It was quite a week in the world of sports entertainment.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. revisits the site of a NASCAR tragedy and in storybook fashion captures the Pepsi 400 at Daytona. Cal Ripken wins the MVP award in his last appearance in an All-Star game and homers on the first pitch of his first at-bat. Vince McMahon couldn’t have written better scripts.
But the WWF owner came mighty close to it Monday night on Raw when Extreme Championship Wrestling joined forces with World Championship Wrestling in a cleverly devised angle that had fans talking at the water coolers Tuesday morning.
Desperate times requires desperate measures, and this one certainly didn’t come a day too soon. Monday night’s creative swerve was a last-ditch swerve to save the sinking WCW invasion storyline, an angle that had been an unequivocal flop and spiraling downward when McMahon and company decided to take an alternative route by pairing the beleagured WCW contingent with their more popular ECW counterparts.
[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]The current WCW roster is a greatly watered-down version of the star-studded lineup that ruled Monday nights for nearly two straight years. And while ECW had remained a distant No. 3 until it closed its doors earlier this year, a strong corps of its former roster is now employed by the WWF, which wisely decided to bolster the sagging WCW brand name by combining the two groups.
Nowhere had the WCW failure become more obvious than at last weekend’s disappointing house shows at the North Charleston Coliseum on Saturday night and in Augusta the next evening. With top WWF stars Steve Austin and Kurt Angle on the shelf recovering from injuries (Austin didn’t even make the trip, while Angle was good for only 30-second run-ins), the pro- WWF crowd turned on the WCW performers and the WCW matches with a vengeance, refusing to buy into the allusion that this was the same WCW they had followed for the past decade. What they were getting instead was a mix of former Power Plant products, cruiserweights and mid- card talent who could never crack main events in the old WCW, performers who unfortunately had been stigmatized by a fatally flawed system in Atlanta.
Hunter Hearst Helmsley lamented that fact in an interview prior to the WCW buyout when he said: “I watch guys in WCW sometimes, and it’s not a knock on any of the guys there, but I see guys that they’re doing a terrible injustice to by putting them in the ring before they are ready. Those guys go out there and they’re stinking the joint out. It’s not fair for them to have to learn in that position, and it’s not fair for them to be put in positions that they cannot handle.”
Even more damaging, Helmsley said, was that some might never recover from the fans’ initial impression. “Even if they disappeared and came back two years from now, people may recognize them and remember that they stunk. It’s not fair to those guys. But where are you going to go? There’s not a lot of real good talent coming up in the business.”[ad#MikeMooneyham-468×15]
The chances of the WCW-ECW angle succeeding are very good if left in the capable hands of former ECW boss Paul Heyman. While Heyman is publicly giving credit for the angle to Vince McMahon, his handprints are all over it.
Ideally, Heyman, instead of Stephanie McMahon, should be at the helm of ECW, while Ric Flair, not Shane McMahon, should be guiding WCW. After all, it was Heyman who built ECW into a cult favorite and national promotion, and nobody represents the positive aspects of WCW more than Flair. The McMahons, as talented a group as they might be, better serve the interests of their company by establishing others as major stars.
The issue, however, could be a moot one if the bankruptcy court handling the real- life ECW liquidation challenges Stephanie’s storyline ownership.
On the plus side, Vince and company have at least one huge angle up their sleeve, and that could be a major turn by Steve Austin joining the WCW/ECW contingent, setting up a showdown with The Rock when he returns in August.