If I lose you during this rundown of one 12-month period, I would like to apologise in advance. I promise, all of this happened on one major nationally-televised flagship show in a solitary calendar year.
Disaster struck Vince Russo’s meticulously-thought-out and well-considered writing plans right at the start of the year when World champion Bret Hart and US champion Jeff Jarrett were ruled out of the year’s first PPV, Souled Out, and scrubbed the show’s four biggest matches as a result.
Of course, this had nothing to do with someone having Jarrett take completely needless bumps against retired former wrestlers on the go-home Nitro. Nor did it relate at all to Hart being wheeled out in dangerous situations on a weekly basis despite suffering a nasty (and ultimately career-ending) concussion of his own at Starrcade.
Russo’s decision to have MMA-slugger-turned-pro-wrestling-rookie Tank Abbott win the vacant title at the show was the last straw and he was sent home three months into his first job as the key creative decision-maker.
Unfortunately, WCW’s instinct was to return to the committee that produced most of their stale content in 1998 and 1999, which led to a large chunk of the roster threatening to leave. Some were calmed down. Others showed up on RAW as The Radicals and helped turn the large gap between the two companies into a chasm.
For the next three months, Nitro made anyone still tuning in attempt to decide whether they preferred the mess of Russo’s writing or the life-sapping tedium of Kevin Sullivan’s Hogan-enabling old boys club. Many wished there was a more appealing third option, such as being repeatedly kicked in the shins by someone wearing steel-toe boots.
Of course, the real third option was Raw. Or even a struggling ECW product. Or re-runs of Dharma And Greg. Or absolutely anything else. And the situation got so bad, drastic action was taken in the spring.
On April 3, WCW actually pulled plans for the usual live Nitro and wheeled out a taped Best Of episode as they went back to the drawing board for the big idea that’d bring them right back to parity with Raw. No, not the dozen ideas they’d passed on for fear of upsetting creative control clauses. Something even better!
On April 10, Nitro began its latest ‘new era’ when Eric Bischoff returned to work alongside Russo. Two of the last three bookers removed for doing a dismal job combined would surely turn things around, right?
Truth be told, there was a lot of buzz around this fateful Nitro, one of the last truly memorable offerings of the show. A ‘New Blood’ vs Millionaire’s Club premise was established. Were we finally getting the storyline that looked so promising a year ago?
Not only was it a year late, but Russo and Bischoff united on-screen as a fully-heel authority on the side of the New Blood. Which made it even more embarrassing when the creative control contracts – sorry, the Millionaire’s Club – trounced them on a weekly basis.
Worse, following some eye-catching opening gambits on that April 10 show, the storylines moved at such a blur (sound familiar?) that it was hard to actually follow. All that really stuck in the memory was actor David Arquette winning the World title and Russo having himself beat Ric Flair before shaving him bald. And they didn’t stick because they were good.
How did the Club vs Blood feud finish? Who knows? It basically just peetered out and everyone rushed off to do other things. Often, several other things within the span of a fortnight.
Russo lobbied for more fresh talent to be showcased, but without an actual transition between the established names and the prospects (something WCW had been unable to execute for years, let alone in the storyline build around the entire premise), the likes of Booker T, Lance Storm, Big Vito, The Filthy Animals and The Natural Born Thrillers always looked like a downgrade from the days of all the 1980s megastars in the main event.
As reports mounted that AOL Time Warner wanted no part of WCW post-merger and post-the-company-actually-being-any-good, those new faces did at least offer some respite from two years of disappointment.
Storm’s hat-trick of championships, Booker actually getting to rub shoulders with the Nashs and Steiners and the fresh faces in the midcard were a twitch of life from a carcass stuck in intensive care.
Fearing that this could become commonplace, Russo soon fixed that by scripting himself to dethrone Booker for the World title, before allowing T and Jeff Jarrett to fight for the championship he vacated one week later in a comedy match where the belt was hidden in a box on a pole.
WCW would exist as its own promotion for just three months in 2001. Fortunately, this increasingly-depressing tale has a slightly more positive conclusion.
Stay tuned for the seventh and final part, in which a condemned WCW at least tries to die with a shred of dignity.