Nails In The Coffin: 15 Lowlights From WCW's Final Year

At the peak of WCW's power during the Monday Night War, Rick Rude appeared live on Nitro and likened the WWE to the Titanic. He had jumped ship to the WCW, and famously appeared on that night's pre-taped edition of Raw as well. The way Rude and WCW saw it, Vince's enterprise was a doomed vessel drowning in failure and sure to sink. The smack talk was a nod to the parent company of the WWF, Titan Sports. It was a historic evening for Rude and his puns. His snide remarks were made during WCW's streak of better ratings on Monday nights, which lasted 84 weeks.

Once that streak ended, though, the Fed began to reclaim its swagger, and wrestling on Ted Turner's networks got on the fast track to The End. Mistakes mounted, mismanagement ruled, and the indifference of fans prevailed as the Attitude Era flourished. To borrow from the iconography of The Undertaker, the company was succumbing to the coffin. These are 15 of the most notable nails that sealed the fate of World Championship Wrestling.

15 Tank Abbott Was In A Boy Band

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Following in the footsteps of Ken Shamrock, David Lee "Tank" Abbott transitioned from Ultimate Fighting into pro wrestling in 1999. Abbott was one of the sport's most recognized fighters in the '90s. He had gained a bit of crossover success by appearing in an episode of Friends, and when his bloody bouts began to end in defeat, he signed with WCW. The initial plan was to have him feud with Goldberg. What could go wrong?

Well, the feud never happened. But then Vince Russo pegged Tank to win the title at Souled Out in 2000! Only, that too did not transpire. In fact, Russo lost his job, in part, for pitching the idea. Later, when someone came up with the absurd notion that Tank should become the fourth member of a boy band stable called 3 Count... Oh, for the love of Arn Anderson, that became a reality. Tank was an enforcer/ manager, but when he sought to become the lead singer, the boys told him to slow his role. In effect, he did so, and then some, by leaving the company before its collapse. 'N Sync sang it: "Bye Bye Bye."

14 The Demon Lingered

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"What better way to boost sagging ratings than to showcase a band that reached its peak popularity over a decade ago?" That sounds like a jest from The Simpsons or Family Guy, but in reality, the idea was posed by the braintrust of WCW. Eric Bischoff was the guilty party; he struck up a deal with KISS which included a vow that The Demon would main event a pay-per-view. In short order, KISS played a Nitro to disastrous ratings, Bischoff lost his job, and as the final year of the company commenced, The Demon jobbed.

To prevent a breach of contract, the KISS wrestler was booked in a "Special Main Event" at SuperBrawl 2000, which was, oddly enough, the fourth match on the card. He was vanquished by The Wall in less than four minutes. The ignominy dragged on, when he lost to Sting in a scant 52 seconds at New Blood Rising, eight months before The End. Not even the spooky, costumed mischief of Halloween Havoc could save The Demon--because he wasn't on the damn card. How WCW was that? Dale Torborg deserved better... Well, a little bit better.

13 The Void Left By Departed Stars

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Chris Jericho left Atlanta for New York in June of '99, before the one-year countdown to the last episode of Nitro was to begin. And an entire stable of defectors--The Radicalz, comprised of Benoit, Guerrero, Saturn, and Malenko--made their WWF debut in January of 2000, about 14 months prior to the simulcast of Raw and Nitro that served as WCW's funeral. But the void they left behind was an eyesore on Turner networks that endured until the grim conclusion.

When the departed stars bashed WCW, kayfabe had little to do with it: Old and overpaid wrestlers who underwhelmed in main events were entrenched at the top. Deemed Cruiserweights, the defectors were sick of the glass ceiling between them and mammoths like Hogan, Goldberg, and Nash. The change of scenery was to the benefit of the WWF. As Jericho, The Crippler, and Latino Heat rose to new heights in the Attitude Era, their old employer continued its decent. Fans realized that New York had the momentum, and the edge over Atlanta--and with good reason.

12 Prince Iaukea, Lord of the Cruiserweights

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Several talents underwhelmed in WCW during its decline, but we're focusing on Prince Iaukea for this reason: While the company thrived, its dirty secret was that its best matches were routinely showcased in the Cruiserweight division. Guerrero, Malenko, and Jericho were brilliant in the ring, and the same was true of Rey Mysterio Jr. and The Ultimo Dragon. When most of those wrestlers left, Prince Iaukea was pegged to help fill the aforementioned void. Compared to the other names cited, he was dreadful.

Looking like a blend of Jimmy Snuka and Tatanka, he was prone to botches, and his character was bland. As a pop-culture nod to the man who made Purple Rain, a heel turn saw him morph into The Artist Formerly Known as Prince Iaukea, and with a gorgeous valet named Paisley, he won the Cruiserweight strap even though he was as wretched as ever. He's listed over the likes of Kid Romeo and Lash LeRoux because they're even harder to remember.

11 The Horrible Nitro Theme Song

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While the theme song of Raw was a far cry from the best of Black Sabbath or Nirvana, it featured driving metal riffs at a fast tempo that made at least one fan crush an empty can of Mountain Dew against his skull. Plus, composer Jim Johnston was a master of his rare craft, and sonic heavyweights like Motorhead, Kid Rock, and Limp Bizkit contributed to the soundtrack of the Attitude Era. Contrarily, the final two years of Nitro began with an abomination of audio.

It's hard to even call it a song, really. The thing was more like a computer virus mating with a busted amp, or guitar feedback getting violated by a spastic drumbeat that went nowhere. If you've ever heard the hellish experiment that concludes the Pearl Jam classic Vitalogy, it was like that, but worse. Calling it white noise would be a compliment. Cringe-inducing and full of dread, it was the sound of a nightmare that could be woken up from by changing the channel.

10 The Rise of General Hugh G. Rection

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The first man to be pinned by Goldberg had become a bit of a jobber as Hugh Morrus during the glory days of WCW (despite the fact that his moonsault was pretty rad for a big man and he was a decent chubby Joker knockoff). When ratings the ratings dipped, Bill DeMott was allowed to cut a promo sprinkled with truth in which he stated that he hated the name Hugh Morrus, and that he demanded to be known by the alias he'd always wanted: Hugh G. Rection. He said it with a pervy grin that can't be unseen. What was left of the viewership cringed as a sign of things to come.

In a feeble and tardy response to the DX Army, he led Misfits in Action, a stable with a militarized gimmick, and so DeMott became General Hugh G. Rection. While Ric Flair had thrived on innuendo, letting ladies know he was a "60-Minute Man" based on the length of his matches, and The Rock got huge pops by expressing his appetite for pie, DeMott came across as a creep. As a two-time United States Champion, General Rection attained a degree of success, but it was all relative. He was the lowered standard of a mid-card talent in the dying company. He went on to train wrestlers in the WWE, but was fired for misconduct that included bullying, gay-bashing, and (you guessed it) sexual harassment.

9 DDP Quit

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Though it was all part of the show, the despair seemed real when Diamond Dallas Page said he'd had enough on an episode of Nitro in June of 2000. It was the night after The Great American Bash, in which he was betrayed by his best friend Kanyon, who had aligned with Bischoff and Page's old flame Kimberly, who had turned on him at the previous pay-per-view. (Almost seems like a scene from Talladega Nights with Page as Ricky Bobby.) Fittingly, Page wore a tank top that read "Whatever."

As another sign of the times, fans seemed disinterested as DDP recounted his struggle to become a star. He spoke about getting up every time he'd back knocked down--then ironically, he said he was quitting. When the three heels emerged to taunt him, they learned their microphone was broken, which added zero heat and total awkwardness--trademarks of WCW in 2000. In reality, Page was taking a break and would return to the downward spiral in a few months. But as he exited through the crowd as he had done in years past to a massive pop, it was clear that the magic was gone. Bischoff hollered mutely into a busted mic. DDP and the fans he walked among couldn't have cared less.

8 The Hitman's Retirement

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The initial domino fell in late December of 1999, in the main event of Starrcade, when the Hitman got severely concussed by a Goldberg thrust kick to his temple. Keenly aware of the man's reputation, Hart had even told Goldberg prior to the match, "Don't hurt me." Minutes later, in another blur of adrenaline, Goldberg proved he just wasn't listening. Hart was never the same after the concussion. The match changed the course of wrestling and gave WCW fans another high-profile dud.

The Excellence of Execution wrestled a few more matches in spite of the warning signs, but sadly, it was only a matter of time. Hart had to vacate the title in January of 2000. He spat venom at Goldberg in a September taping of Thunder and received notice of his termination on October 20, 2000. Consider the factors: Goldberg's popularity was in decline, and the dirty secret that he was dangerous-as-hell had been exposed when he ended the career of the Hitman--a true pro who had been misused by WCW.

Circa 2002, wrestling fans started to dwell on the stellar matches The Hitman could've had with Angle, Rock, Eddie, Edge, Jericho, and Triple H circa 2002, and pine for rematches that never happened with Shawn and Austin. What if Goldberg had done his job and protected Hart? Some say it's the best wrestling hypothetical there is, was, or ever will be.

7 The New Blood

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Roughly a year before the company met its demise, Russo and Bischoff assumed control and essentially hit the reset button. All titles were vacated on April 10, 2000. A vast construct was established: The aging stars like Hogan, Nash, and Sting were grouped into The Millionaire's Club. The younger talents who resented said Millionaires comprised The New Blood. While it made sense to polarize the two and grant big matches to fresh faces to get them over, the gimmick expired in three months. The failure was devastating.

Perhaps the main problem was that the line between faces and heels was so vague and poorly defined. The gimmick was dropped when management realized fans were mostly cheering for the Millionaires--but with the conniving Russo and Bischoff siding with The New Blood, what did they expect? Another issue was the talent of the guys pegged to be the future. Consider a sub-faction like the Natural Born Thrillers: Mike Awesome, Shawn Stasiak, Chuck Palumbo, Johnny the Bull, Reno... At best, they were mid-carders in a lesser organization. They may have been the future, but it wasn't a bright one.

6 Vince Russo, The Beta Vince McMahon

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In October of 1999, Russo left the WWE for its competition, with the aim of implementing his frenzied Crash TV style, only at a turbo-frenzied pace, with more crashes, for the love of crashes. The plan failed; chaos got tiresome and disorder conquered quality. Russo left the company and was replaced by Kevin Sullivan, who somehow lowered the bar for a few months until Russo was brought back to split booking duties with Bischoff. With power reclaimed in the reboot, Russo made himself World Champion for a short time.

Russo wore a football helmet and pads when he won the strap due to Goldberg spearing him through a steel cage to the outside. (Just go with it.) His reign lasted seven days in September of 2000, until he more or less said, "Hey, I don't want this thing" and vacated the title. Of course, Alpha Vince had used similar power trips--such as his Royal Rumble victory and fleeting title reign in '99. These moves were a success because McMahon had spent years developing his company and honing his character. Beta Vince lacked the on-screen experience. He just wasn't ready to be the villainous authority figure in the spotlight, and the result was Crash and Burn TV.

5 25 Title Changes In 2000 (Including Vacancies)

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When in the throes of a nosedive, stabilizing things is vital. Disarray feeds on itself. With that in mind, this is how WCW managed their world-title holders in 2000.

The Hitman ushered in the New Millennium, then vacated the title, which Benoit gained right before he bolted to the WWE, and so the belt was vacated briefly, until Psycho Sid claimed it, but only to make it vacant, so that Nash could hoist the thing, then return it to Sid, who gave it back to the void, where it was snatched by Jarrett, then Diamond Dallas Page, then a gawky actor who couldn't wrestle named David Arquette. Jarrett got the strap from the Scream star, but Ric Flair pinned him in no time, but then Jarrett beat the Nature Boy not long after that. Then Nash was the champ, and Flair again after him, but then it was Jarrett's turn--for the fourth time in 2000. That brings us to the summer.

Booker T prevailed over Double J at Bash at the Beach (and we're omitting Hogan, mind you), and then Nash beat Booker T, but Booker T went over in the rematch. Next, Vince Russo saw it fit for him to become champion--because why not? Mercifully, he lost to... vacating the belt, which Booker T reclaimed. Before the year ended, someone else wanted in on the action: "Big Papa Pump" Scott Steiner. Those involved in the mess didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Vince McMahon chose the former. Disarray fed on itself and WCW lost a fortune in its final full year of existence.

4 The Bash At The Beach Incident

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When that gray area between work and shoot/ fiction and reality was exposed in the main event at Survivor Series between Shawn and Bret, it was captivating--and more importantly for Alpha Vince, it was also profitable. When that same gray area became apparent after Jarrett surrendered to Hogan, it felt more like rubbernecking at two mopeds colliding. Accounts vary of the convoluted story, but we do know that, while Jarrett laid on his back and stared up at the rafters, Hogan grabbed a mic and proclaimed, "That's why this company is in the damn shape it's in. Because of bulls**t like this."

Russo has stated that his main goal was to remove the strap from Hogan and make sure Booker T was champ by night's end--because that's what the booking committee had decided. Russo soon unleashed a venomous promo of Hogan and Bischoff that merged with reality. Hollywood took umbrage. He had a creative control clause in his contract that he believed had been breached, and so he sued for defamation of character. It's telling that perhaps the most compelling pay-per-view in WCW's final year featured charges of how dismal and miserable everyone and everything in it had become. It was a day at the Beach--with no sunshine.

3 David Arquette, World Heavyweight Champion

The goofy star of Ready To Rumble was, by all accounts, a kind man who married the lovely Courtney Cox and adored pro wrestling. To his credit, he was leery of becoming champion. He sensed the backlash that would come, but Vince Russo insisted it would be a great cross-promotional move. It wasn't. The film bombed and Arquette's name still get mentioned in any discussion about the downfall of WCW. His acting career was damaged, but it still fared better than the company for which he wrestled.

Arquette's tenure began when he confronted that smarmy Eric Bischoff, whom he beat with help from DDP and Kanyon on an episode of Nitro. On an ensuing Thunder, Crash TV struck its frivolous lightning, and he pinned Bischoff in a Triple Threat Match with World Heavyweight Champion Jeff Jarrett. Arquette was awarded the strap. His farcical reign lasted less than two weeks before he turned heel and betrayed Page in order to return the belt to Jarrett at Slamboree in a Triple Cage Match.

But this tale of failure shall end on a note of redemption: Arquette donated all the cash he made in WCW to the grieving families of Owen Hart, Brian Pillman, and Darren Drozdov. It was a beautiful gesture of compassion... Now that's a swerve.

2 Bischoff's Announcement

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On March 19, 2001, the penultimate Nitro closed with champion Booker T telling Ric Flair and Scott Steiner to shut up and listen to a message recorded by Eric Bischoff, whose tone was grave. He wasn't playing a character. Fans and performers alike puzzled helplessly as Bischoff gave what served as a eulogy for World Champion Wrestling. He spoke of the financial roadblocks he had faced in saving the company, and stated that next week's Nitro could be the last one. And it was.

He can't be blamed for trying to put a positive spin on The End. Bischoff termed the final Nitro "A Night of Champions" since every strap was going to be up for grabs in Panama City. Lastly, he extended an invite to all former champions who had been a part of WCW, adding, "Don't be afraid to bring your boots with you." It was a pure moment of class shown by a man known for playing the role of the dirtbag, and a shame that it required abject failure to reveal his integrity. Wrestling, like life, is a very tough business.

1 The Raw/Nitro Simulcast

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A shot of Vince McMahon via satellite opened the final Nitro. "Imagine that," he said, feigning disbelief in his time of triumph. "Here I am on WCW television. It was only a matter of time before I bought my competition." True enough, he had purchased the company for just $2.5 million. (It was a wiser investment than the XFL.) For his part, announcer Tony Schiavone stated, "I have seen it, and I still can't believe it." The show itself was OK, but that hardly mattered. March 26th, 2001 was the last gasp of competition for Alpha Vince in America, and it was historic.

Early on, the Night of Champions featured a sterling promo by The Nature Boy, and then Booker T went over Scott Steiner to become the last man to hoist the WCW Heavyweight Championship strap. It was a decent yet short match. (Typical.) More rushes to the finish of matches followed, with the likes of Palumbo and Stasiak getting airtime 'til the bitter end, with slightly less painful scenes of McMahon gloating on Raw in the mix. Lex Luger, Arn Anderson, Goldberg, Hollywood Hogan, Scott Hall, and Kevin Nash were nowhere to be found.

But Sting went over Flair in the final match, and afterward, the legends embraced in a moment that will always be real to us, dammit. Let it never be said that WCW got it all wrong.

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