In 2001, WWE bought out WCW. It was probably the single biggest wrestling business deal that has ever occurred as the largest wrestling promotion in the world acquired the intellectual property of the second biggest promotion and effectively put an end to competition between wrestling companies in the US. WWE has dominated the business ever since without peer, and the addition of the WCW tape library in particular set them up first for a successful proliferation of DVDs, and then to make the WWE Network’s on demand library absolutely beyond comparison to what any other wrestling company has ever been able to offer its fans.
For all of this success for WWE, things got off to a rockier start when WWE first acquired WCW. Fans at the time expected a true dream scenario. Coming out of one of the hottest periods in wrestling history, the audience anticipated dream matches with WWE mainstays like Steve Austin, The Rock, Triple H, and The Undertaker on one side, while WCW’s finest like Sting, Ric Flair, Goldberg, and DDP would be able to mix it up with them.
Some of the dream matches did materialize in time. The initial InVasion angle, in which WCW stars stormed WWE programming was widely considered a historic flop that fell well short of anyone’s expectations. There are plenty of instances when matches and storylines didn’t live up to fans’ hopes, but it’s hard to recall an a more hotly anticipated storyline that went on to be so universally panned. This article takes a look at twenty contributing factors from backstage that made the angle a failure.
20 According To Booker T, WWE Didn’t Want WCW Guys To Succeed
Booker T is a wrestling legend with unique insight into what it was like to transition from WCW to WWE in the early 2000s. indeed, Booker was the last WCW Champion, crowned on the final episode of Nitro and went on to be one of the very few—some would say the only—star to achieve comparable long term success in WWE.
While no one would have copped to it at the time, Booker has suggested in more recent interviews that WWE actively didn’t set up stars to transition from WCW with success. He cites the absence of other stars to make the adjustment as evidence, and credits his own perseverance as the reason he was able to ultimately push through and enjoy a WWE run that even main event talent from WCW couldn't achieve.
19 WWE Didn’t Appreciate The Way Guys Like DDP Sold
DDP looked to be in a prime position to thrive in WWE, based on how popular he had been in WCW, that he was still a relatively fresh star who hadn’t worked in WWE, and he had a big personality. A variety of sources have reported that the biggest strike against him when he started with the company was the way he sold.
While WCW pushed heels to stay down to sell it when they got taken off their feet, the WWE philosophy was to “bump and feed,” which meant to get up and take more and more hits to keep the action moving. Page, and those who sold like him, were perceived as lazy for not springing back up to get hit again.
18 Top Guys Rode Out Their Contracts
While younger top level stars like Booker T and DDP took WWE up on offers to jump immediately, other top tier guys like Goldberg, Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, Sting, and Ric Flair didn't see the benefits in going right back to work. After all, based on their WCW contracts, Time Warner owed them big money payouts without having to work a single additional date.
So it was that The InVasion came off particularly ineffectual. Without a bevy of legit main event guys, it was hard to take the WCW contingent seriously against one of the most stacked WWE rosters of all time.
17 Guys Like Sting Worried About How They’d Be Used
In late 2014, Sting debuted with WWE. He was well past his prime, and particularly well past the point when his debut might have produced the greatest intrigue as one of the most loyal representatives of WCW finally setting foot in the ring with WWE mainstays like The Undertaker, Triple H, and The Rock. Sting not only waited out the pay from his WCW contract, but subsequently worked for years with Impact Wrestling.
Sting stated in a visit to Legends with JBL on the WWE Network that a big part of why he didn’t go to WWE for his inhibitions about how he would be used in WWE. WWE didn’t have the best track record of protecting stars who had made their names elsewhere, and Sting did have some justification to be concerned about how WWE would use him and his legacy.
16 WWE Had To Abandon The Two Man Power Trip
Leading up to the InVasion, WWE had set up Steve Austin and Triple H as a new heel super team. Together, they amassed gold as reigning World, Intercontinental, and Tag Team Champions. The main event scene was built around them, and the general sense is WWE eventually intended to arrive at Triple H turning face to challenge Austin for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania X8.
Triple H got hurt shortly before the InVasion got underway and missed the entire company defining angle. So, WWE was missing one of its marquee stars for this huge storyline. Additionally, it was missing one of the few guys who, as a partner or opponent, may have gotten Stone Cold over as a heel. In his absence, Austin did his best, but largely rung hollow leading a middling heel faction.
15 Buff Bagwell Vs. Booker T Removed The Last Interest In WCW
WWE’s powers that be have repeatedly stated that their intention was to run WCW as its own brand, not unlike how Raw and SmackDown have separate rosters and shows today. There were even whispers that Shane McMahon would be the one to spearhead the WCW brand, to prove he could be Vince's successor. However, reports have it that the Buff Bagwell vs. Booker T WCW branded match that WWE ran on Raw was so poorly received, so universally that it not only made WWE second guess its plans, but put the final nail in the coffin for networks and advertisers that may have run a WCW show.
14 Pushing Non-WCW Talents As The Brand’s Top Stars
While WWE did position WCW and then the Alliance of WCW and ECW as the top main event level threat in the company, there was a problem in terms of who fronted this invading force. The top stars of The Alliance included Steve Austin, Kurt Angle, and Shane and Stephanie McMahon.
While Austin had, indeed, worked for both WCW and ECW previously, his parting with WCW in particular was notably on bad terms, meaning that it made little sense for him to defect to their group. Moreover, any stalwart WCW fans who might've tuned in to support their team were surely turned off by the choice to feature not actual WCW, or even ECW talent in many featured spots, but rather WWE’s own talent wearing the “away team’s” jersey.
13 Appeasing Loyal Stars
WWE did face a conundrum in bringing in stars from WCW. After all, up until the acquisition, WCW was the enemy, and while WWE talents may not have had personal beefs against fellow wrestlers earning a living elsewhere, they surely would have balked at those stars from the competition taking their spots. And wasn’t it only logical that WWE reward its loyal employees who had stuck it out from leaner days to emerge on the winning side of the Monday Night War?
To appease loyal stars, WWE had to, at minimum, put newcomers from WCW through their paces, and in some cases actively de-push them. Those stars from outside WWE who stuck with it and proved themselves over a period of years got their chance to shine.
12 The Pressure To Cash In On The ECW Brand
WWE acquired ECW around the same time it got its hands on the WCW brand. While ECW was a distant third in terms of nationally recognized wrestling brands, it was a promotion with buzz around it, and arguably a more compelling cadre of young, legitimately fresh talent to offer WWE.
The brief period when WWE and WCW banded together against ECW insurgents had some promise. In part, that’s because it felt like a pro wrestling representation of what had happened in real life, with ECW rising up as a popular and influential option C to wrestling fans. However, in real life, it was WWE that partnered with ECW to an extent, not WCW which was the antithesis to Paul Heyman’s company. The ECW-WCW alliance distracted fans from the dream WWE-WCW collision, and felt forced to tell the story that WWE was better than all of its competition combined.
11 The Rock’s Divided Attention
The Rock was one of the defining stars of WWE’s Attitude Era and the subject of many of the most intriguing dream matches against WCW stars. Unlike Steve Austin, Mick Foley, Triple H, Chris Jericho, or The Big Show, Rock had legitimately never worked for WCW, meaning that dream matches with Booker T, DDP, Lance Storm and others would be legitimate first time encounters.
While Rock did figure into the latter two thirds of the InVasion angle, he came in late and felt like he had one foot out the door for most of the story on account of his blossoming endeavors in Hollywood. It would be another year before Rock stepped away from WWE more fully, but the writing was already on the wall, and WWE’s top gun didn’t feel altogether committed to this big angle.
10 No Competition To Light A Fire
It’s an uncomfortable reality that WWE probably never would've embraced the Attitude Era or reached the peaks it did without its competition with WCW lighting a fire under the company. The Monday Night War threatened WWE’s position as the top wrestling company in the world, and even threatened to put them out of business at a certain point. With Vince McMahon’s back to the wall, he was more willing than usual to think outside the box.
To be fair, it’s impossible to ride high forever, and it’s understandable WWE would have some degree of a fall off coming out of the Monday Night War. However, without any serious competition, there was no sense of immediacy in righting the ship or electrifying audiences the way the company had when WCW was breathing down its neck in real life.
9 The Next Generation Of Top Talent Hadn’t Arrived
When fans think of the top talent to emerge for WWE post-Attitude Era, names like John Cena, Brock Lesnar, Randy Orton, and Batista spring to mind. Notably, during the InVasion angle, none of these guys were yet in the mix.
While fans tend to cite that WCW was missing its top stars and that that was why the InVasion flopped, it’s worth noting that this was also a time at which WWE stopped doing what it famously did better than WCW in the first place: generating new stars. Sure, WWE was talent rich with people like Steve Austin, The Rock, The Undertaker, Kane, Kurt Angle, and Chris Jericho to headline, and guys like Booker T to incorporate into the mix. But without genuinely fresh faces on their way up, WWE also felt a bit stuck in a holding pattern.
8 Steve Austin’s Unsuccessful Heel Turn
Steve Austin was on board when it came time for his heel turn at WrestleMania X-Seven; in fact, he's repeatedly said it was his idea. He was looking forward to the opportunity to freshen his character and work within heel antics that he has explained repeatedly on his podcast that he always felt more at home with. However, Austin was too popular of a star for fans to fully bite on the turn.
In the end, Austin’s heel turn felt like a worst case scenario in that it both stopped his momentum as an all time great face and couldn't generate the kind of heat WWE would want for its top heel. While his work on the mic and in the ring during the InVasion angle was deceptively great, no one was entirely comfortable booing him, making for an awkward dynamic on top that largely defined the second half of 2001 for WWE.
7 Scatter Brained Booking For Shane McMahon
When WWE first acquired WCW, Shane McMahon was cast as the kayfabe buyer. While it’s arguable that this development made the biggest wrestling acquisition in history feel like a pawn in McMahon’s feud with his father, it also made a degree of sense if WWE really were to have launched its own version of the WCW brand.
However, Shane went from the new face head of the WCW brand to a vile heel leader of The Alliance, standing alongside his sister as the kayfabe leader of The Alliance. In doing so, Shane went from a plucky face rising up in not only the wrestling ring but the business world, back to something more like the rich kid heel he played for much of the Attitude Era. This yo-yo booking was enough to leave fans confused and undermine the storyline from the top down.
6 The XFL Was A Distraction
2001 was not only the year WWE won the Monday Night War, but the year in which play kicked off for Vince McMahon’s professional football league, the XFL. This incarnation of the league was largely considered a flop, but more than WWE taking a chance and coming up short, it was a project with enough resources committed to it to feel like a major loss.
Did the XFL distract McMahon and company from booking WWE? It’s hard to say for sure, but having such a massive endeavor lead up to one of the worst blown storylines in company history sure feels as though it might be connected.
5 Title Overload
Old school wrestling fans tend to balk at contemporary wrestling for the sheer volume of championships in play. Indeed, the Attitude Era in particular saw WWE have its World, Tag Team, Intercontinental, European, Lightweight, Hardcore, and Women’s titles on the line. Things got a step more convoluted when WCW came into the mix—not removing any titles at all, but rather adding the WCW World, Tag Team, United States, and Cruiserweight Championships to the mix.
While WWE did begin to unify titles, and did manufacture some interesting champion vs. champion scenarios, the presence of over ten active championships defended across just one unified roster diluted them and truly did make any individual title feel less and less meaningful.
4 Not Wanting To Feature Paul Heyman
Paul Heyman has a pretty fascinating relationship with WWE. On one hand, he is a respected writer who had a successful run at the helm of SmackDown and is apparently drafted to work with Ronda Rousey on her promos. He is also held in high regard for his work as a manager and mouthpiece.
However, there’s also an undercurrent that Heyman and others have addressed of the McMahons looking at him as something like a slimy used car salesman—phony, too eager to back unproven ideas, and not always trustworthy. Maybe it’s that image, or maybe it’s simply a matter of the McMahons seeing themselves as bigger stars, but while the WCW-ECW alliance surely would have benefited from ECW’s actual mastermind fronting them, Heyman was mostly pushed to background and relegated to his commentary role. In his place, Stephanie McMahon was hard to swallow as the ECW figure head.
3 The Bloom Was Off The Rose For The WCW Brand
Had WCW and WWE collided in 1998, it really might have been a can’t miss program. Even without WCW’s tip top stars, the brand was hip enough and the roster was deep enough to believably draw viewers and generate dream matches.
However, WCW lost a lot of steam by the time 2001 arrived on account of questionable creative, behind the scenes business issues, and generally keeping any newer stars from getting much momentum. As such, WCW vs. WWE wasn’t nearly as much of a draw when it happened in 2001 as it would have been just a few years earlier.
2 A Bloated Roster
There’s conceivably some argument that what the WCW contingent that invaded WWE lacked in quality, it made up for in quantity of wrestlers. However, in practice, the high volume of wrestlers representing WCW presented a different concern. With so many mid and lower card guys in The Alliance, hardly anyone stood out.
Indeed, from WCW, presumptive front men Booker T and Diamond Dallas Page each saw their stocks drop as the angle progressed. The only talent new to WWE who enjoyed any advancement was ECW’s Rob Van Dam. Most everyone quietly faded into the background and by and large got cut from the roster in the months to follow.
1 Dusty Rhodes Was Out Of The Mix
Could Dusty Rhodes—as an on air personality or, more to the point, as a creative contributor—have saved the InVasion angle? Probably not. But Dream was an icon to the WCW faithful. Moreover he was a long time booker and would later prove his talents as a mentor working in the NXT system.
WCW’s cadre of young wrestlers, struggling to carve out niches for themselves in The Alliance really could have benefit from Rhodes’s wisdom. Dream wouldn’t have been able to singlehandedly resolve everything that went wrong in the InVasion, but maybe his input might have added more good ideas into the mix and helped at least a handful more fresh stars rise from the storyline.