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January:  Big Three?  Big Two?  Big One?
January 10, 2002

by Rick Scaia


As 2001 kicked off, the futures of both WCW and ECW were in serious questions. ECW was facing financial troubles and the loss of their last major TV outlet. And WCW was facing a March 30 "drop dead" date for sale or shut-down of the company.

It didn't take long for things to look up for WCW. At a January 11 press conference, Turner/Time Warner/AOL announced sale of World Championship Wrestling to Fusient Media (an integrated media company that launched the original "classic sports" network that was eventually absorbed by ESPN and re-branded as ESPN Classic), for an amount speculated to be in the mid-eight figures. As part of the deal, Eric Bischoff was announced as new President of WCW.

Bischoff promised that WCW would be reborn, with noticeable changes to the TV product over time. However, before Bischoff's promises could be delivered upon, there was going to be a transition period. First, the i's would have to be dotted and the t's crossed on the sale, as decisions about location of WCW offices and which personnel would be retained would have to be agreed upon by all parties involved. 

Though it was made clear that, as part of the deal, the Fusient-owned WCW would retain both the timeslots for Nitro and Thunder, insiders immediately began hearing about a possible "dark" period for WCW, in which the company would stop producing new TV for one to four weeks following the company's February PPV, and then re-launch with a bang. This agreed with the estimated "45 day" transition period that Fusient itself was discussing, so that an all-new WCW would launch in mid- to late-March.

Not all event cancellations were going to be self-enforced, however... the Fusient-owned WCW quickly discovered that some genius at the old WCW had scheduled WCW's April PPV for Easter Sunday. The event was cancelled, and an early May PPV date was obtained which would serve as a super-mega-awesome PPV event, combining the April and May shows into one major show.

Bischoff even appeared on an edition of the internet audio show "WCW Live" to discuss his role in the new WCW... he made it clear his goal was merely to get WCW competitive again, and avoided the ludicrously boastful comments that punctuated his earlier stints as head of WCW. He wasn't as forthcoming about personnel decisions, but did make it sound like he hoped he could get Hulk Hogan back on board with WCW as time went on.

Of course, the story of the sale of WCW would only get more interesting as time went on...

Not so interesting was the tale of ECW, which wound up just sort of fizzling into the background after promoting their last shows in January, 2001. They started the year promisingly, with a Guilty as Charged PPV that featured the surprise return of Rob Van Dam to the company. However, RVD's future participation in ECW could not be guaranteed, as he merely made the appearance after Paul Heyman actually made good on moneys due to RVD.

ECW's financial position was far too precarious to make future payments to RVD a guarantee. So after promoting one of their better PPVs on the first weekend of 2001, ECW immediately began paring back. With a March PPV date scheduled, ECW only had a handful of house show dates on the calendar over the next two months, and no venue for the March PPV.

Hopes of keeping the company alive dwindled even further, as ECW remained about 6 weeks behind on payments to wrestlers and lost its final few syndication outlets (mostly because ECW was PAYING for the timeslots and could no longer afford to do so). The apparent final nail in the coffin came with an ECW tour through Missouri/Arkansas that ended with a teary-eyed farewell gathering in the ring. Though no official "Death Certificate" was issued to ECW, and no really announcement made to the live crowd, fans in attendance and the wrestlers themselves all felt like it was obvious that this was the last time the roster would gather under the ECW banner.

The end of ECW seemed more and more of a reality as time went on. Even without an official announcement, the lack of any scheduled shows looked really bad. And then, on January 24, Justin Credible (who had been involved in ECW's main event mix) jumped from the sinking ship to join the WWF. At the time of his jump, just about every other top level talent from ECW was in talks to join one of the existing "Big Two," which only underscored ECW's dire straits.

In Other News

Scott Hall was released from a week in jail, and was immediately rumored to be appearing at the upcoming ECW PPV; the rumor was unfounded, and Hall did not work any high profile dates in the US all year.... 

WCW Nitro was pre-empted twice in January (on 1/1 and 1/22) as Turner/Time Warner officials started to get frustrated with the show's poor ratings performances... 

ECW lost its most prominent outlet for its syndicated "Hardcore TV" show -- the MSG Network -- and promptly stopped producing the show entirely... 

The WWF announced the "Tough Enough" concept, and immediately began fielding try-out tapes from fans across the country... 

Meng won the WCW Hardcore Title on the 1/12 Sin PPV, and one week later showed up as a surprise entrant in the Royal Rumble match (assuming his old identity as Haku); he returned the Hardcore Title to WCW through an intermediary, and his status as a WCW champion was never acknowledged by the WWF... 

Goldberg made his last TV appearance for WCW, losing a tag team match to Lex Luger and Buff Bagwell; he did not join others in making a transition to a WWF-owned WCW, and sat out the entirety of 2001 getting paid on his existing contract... 

Sid Vicious suffered a seriously broken leg in the main event title match of the 1/12 Sin PPV, and would not appear on TV again for the rest of the year (except in highlights featuring the gruesome injury)... 

Randy Savage filmed a number of scenes for 2002's "Spider-Man," in which he'll be a minor guest star as "Bonesaw McGraw," a pro wrestler who opposes Spidey before the latter decides to use his super powers to fight crime... 

A deal to extend Shawn Michaels deal with the WWF was announced, with plans for him to return to the ring later in the year... 

Big Show returned to the active WWF roster after honing his skills in OVW for several months; he joined HonkeyTonk Man, Haku, and Drew Carey (yes, Drew Carey) as surprise entrants in the Royal Rumble... 

Scott Steiner's sketchy behavioral history took another shot, as he was charged with assault after attacking an EMT during a TV taping (Steiner claimed he didn't realize the man was not really "part of the show" despite playing along with an injury angle), and witnesses at the show claimed that the EMT was not at all hurt, and was just miling the incident for publicity (and maybe some money)... 

Dennis "Mideon" Knight and Brian "Road Dogg" James were both officially released by the WWF (Knight because his attempt to get a Dusty Rhodes-esque gimmick off the ground failed, and Road Dogg because his attempt to get his personal life back in order after a drug-related suspension were not going as well as the WWF hoped)... 

Stan "the Lariat" Hansen officially celebrated his retirement at a ceremony during New Japan's 1/27 TokyoDome show... 

Quotable OO

"I guess maybe if things had been smoothed over with Rob Van Dam, fans might buy that as a suitably big surprise announcement." -- OO correctly guessing at what trick might be up Paul Heyman's sleeve going into the Guilty as Charged PPV, 01/05/01

"Apparently, Paul's decided that it's more important to pay the workers than to pay a cable network." -- OO on ECW's decision to abandon their paid-for MSG Network timeslot, 01/10/01

"I'm betting that we'll probably have somebody here recapping it for you when it debuts, seeing as how we are all Vince's easily-led sheep. I can just promise you it won't be me." -- OO registers early disinterest in the "Tough Enough" concept, 01/10/01

"Fusient Media has purchased WCW, and Eric Bischoff is once again taking over as President of the company." -- OO will eventually look like a complete idiot after actually putting faith in this official press conference and business wire news release, 01/12/01

"If you're one of those people who already know the answers and then e-mail to bitch at me for answering easy ones, you are not obligated to read! This column is for the masses who don't know the answers and who mail in with their questions... it is not for you. Unless you want to get motivated to flood me with questions that would be both interesting and hard enough to make the column fun for you, too. Which you don't. Because that's not as much fun as making fun of what a stupid mark The Rick is." -- The Rick feels good after lashing out at his critics, 01/17/01

"His current role may have taken away from the aura of a bad-ass brawler he once had, but I'm guessing Tazz himself doesn't mind too much: he's more over than ever, and without having to work half as hard. Nobody bitches that Jerry Lawler is underpushed." -- OO on a well-meaning, but misguided "Save Tazz" petition, 01/24/01

"Look for WCW to pounce on the opportunity to bring Road Dogg and Scott Hall in as a tag team. Just joking! [I hope.]" -- OO pokes some gentle fun at the chemically dependent, not realizing WCW would actually show serious interest in Road Dogg a week later, 01/29/01

"It was fun seeing Hansen act the part of the Ugly American, but seeing the Japanese crowd forced to respect his in-ring work and fighting spirit nonetheless. It was even more fun to wonder at what point in the match the horribly-near-sighted Hansen would accidentally kick the shit out of his opponent for real." -- OO recalls watching AJ tapes of Stan Hansen, in a touching tribute to The Lariat upon his retirement, 01/29/01


ECW Guilty as Charged (1/7/01) -- Rob Van Dam returned to ECW and beat Jerry Lynn in the surprise main event; also on the show, Rhino defeated Sandman to become the ECW World Champion. Other match results: Danny Doring and Roadkill beat EZ Money and Julio Dinero to retain the ECW Tag Titles... Nova beat Chris Hamrick... Tommy Dreamer beat CW Anderson in an I Quit Match... Mikey Whipwreck and Tajiri beat the FBI and Kid Kash/Super Crazy in a match to become #1 Contenders to the Tag Titles... Rhino interrupted a Simon/Swinger vs. Balls Mahoney/Chilly Willy match and destroyed everyone in sight... Sandman beat Justin Credible and Steve Corino in a Tables, Ladders, Chairs, and Canes match to cement his claim to the ECW Title; he was then challenged and beaten by Rhino.

WCW Sin (1/12/01) -- Scott Steiner walked out as WCW Champ in a main event that also saw Sid's leg gruesomely injured after a leap off the ropes; also on the show, Goldberg was "retired" following a tag team loss to Lex Luger and Buff Bagwell. Other match results: Chavo Guerrero Jr. retained the Cruiserweight Title with a win over Shane Helms... Reno defeated Big Vito... the Jung Dragons beat Jamie Knoble and Evan Karagias in a high-flying spotfest... Ernest "the Cat" Miller beat Mike Sanders to regain the position of WCW Commissioner... Team Canada (Lance Storm, Mike Awesome, Elix Skipper) beat the Filthy Animals (Konnan, Rey Misterio, Billy Kidman) in a "Penalty Box Match"... Meng beat Terry Funk and Crowbar to become WCW Hardcore Champ... Sean O'Haire and Chuck Palumbo beat Kevin Nash and Dallas Page to win the WCW Tag Titles, thanks to interference from Lex Luger and Buff Bagwell... Shane Douglas won the US Title by beating General Hugh G. Rection in a first blood match... 

WWF Royal Rumble (1/19/01) -- Steve Austin became the first 3-time winner of the Rumble match, and earned a one-way ticket to the WrestleMania X-7 main event in the process; also, Kurt Angle retained the WWF Title over Triple H, thanks to interference from Austin. Other match results: the Dudley Boyz beat Edge/Christian to win the WWF Tag Titles... Chris Jericho defeated Chris Benoit in a ladder match to win the IC Title... and Ivory retained her Women's Title with a win over Chyna.

Title Changes

Sandman defeated Steve Corino and Justin Credible in a three-way match to win Corino's ECW World Title on 1/7... Rhino then defeated Sandman to take the ECW Title, also on 1/7... Shane Douglas defeated General Rection to win the WCW US Title on 1/14... Sean O'Haire and Chuck Palumbo defeated Kevin Nash and Dallas Page to win the WCW Tag Team Titles on 1/14... Meng won a three-way match against Terry Funk and Crowbar to win Funk's WCW Hardcore Title on 1/14... Chris Jericho defeated Chris Benoit for the WWF IC Title on 1/21... the Dudley Boyz defeated Edge/Christian for the WWF Tag Team Titles on 1/21... Test defeated William Regal for the WWF European Title on 1/22... the WCW Hardcore Title was deemed vacant on or about 1/28 as a result of Meng/Haku's defection to the WWF.


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