The Invasion: How and Why It Was Such a Disaster
2001 was supposed to be the year WCW came back and started making a charge at the WWF. Then the infamous America Online/Time Warner debacle of a merger happened and it stalled, only to be officially killed off when Time Warner did not want any wrestling programming on TNT or TBS anymore. Thus WCW was sold to Vince McMahon and the WWF leading up to the stunningly memorable simulcast episode of Monday Night Raw/Monday Nitro on March 26th, 2001.
This sudden acquisition immediately led to the belief and concept that WWF and WCW would indeed wage war with one another. Vince McMahon even tried to experiment with treating WCW as its own brand using their commentators, production designs, and such for specific matches including an infamous one involving Buff Bagwell which led to his physically being thrown out of the arena. Needless to say for WWF fans, they did not want to see WCW on “their” programming and it was quickly canceled and forgotten about. Rumors at the time rumbled along that Vince was angling to possibly set up WWF’s Smackdown as WCW Nitro as a way to treat it as its own brand and ‘compete’ against the WWF. This concept was later done with the revived ECW on the SyFy Network.
The botching of the invasion angle was so disastrous and impressive that it’s become near lore in the annals of internet wrestling fandom from mocking certain beliefs such as Bret Hart possibly leading the Invasion to The Alliance being a bunch of second rate superstars. A lot of people like to fantasy book The Invasion all over again either through pen and paper or using programs such as the popular wrestling simulator, Extreme Warfare Revenge. There were a lot of factors that went into why the angle was so poorly handled but let’s start with my number five reason and count down.
Number 5: The McMahons Got Shoe-Horned In
In retrospect, even on the simulcast episode, it was pretty clear and blatantly obvious that Vince McMahon would be running the WWF and Shane McMahon would be running WCW. There was no way, at the time, that Eric Bischoff or Vince Russo was coming onto WWF television and leading WCW in a showdown. In an interesting note though, they did have Paul Heyman and a pretty large glut of notable ECW alumni within the WWF roster at the time so it was still exciting to see them possibly tease bringing that third promotion into the war. That is exactly what they did in one of the most intense moments on Monday Night Raw for me especially as a viewer. Then they botched it at the very end.
Even just watching those guys walk down the stairs for the final tag team match was electrifying only to see ECW and WCW get smushed together under the control of Shane McMahon and… Stephanie McMahon? Keep in mind that Stephanie McMahon had just come off 2 years in 1999 and 2000 where she was side by side with a heel Triple H and now she is expected to be the ‘owner’ of a brand that prided itself on being extreme, counter WWF and WCW to the maximum, and anti-authority at its very peak.
It just rang incredibly hollow and was made even worse if not more ridiculous by the fact that Paul Heyman was still there as a mouthpiece. Also it was no longer two companies going up against the WWF with their own identity but it was now touted as The Alliance. That was an immediate early buzzkill to the potential of what this could and should have been. The story of a true WAR, a battle of WWF vs. WCW vs. ECW was changed into Vince McMahon vs. Shane and Stephanie McMahon with the younger siblings wanting to run Vince out of business for ego boosts more or less.
Number 4: The Feuds Were Not Dream Feuds
This was one of the major downfalls in my opinion of this angle. A lot of the feuds that came out of The Invasion were just not that interesting, even with some of the name power involved. Diamond Dallas Page came in and had a fantastic opening by stalking Undertaker’s wife but that simply led to some boring singles matches and tags involving Undertaker and Kane against Diamond Dallas Page and… Kanyon? I’m a big, big fan of Kanyon but he was a notable step down as DDP’s partner and never felt like this match is big.
It was a bad sign when The Invasion PPV saw the “big” main event consist of Team WWF as Steve Austin, Chris Jericho, Kurt Angle, Undertaker, and Kane taking on Booker T, DDP, Rhyno, and The Dudley Boys. No Rock, No Tommy Dreamer, No Raven, No Shane Douglas, No Taz(z)… further questioned since Jericho had only jumped from WCW 2 years earlier and Rhyno, while getting fame, was not exactly a first name that would drop out of the mouths of ECW fans as a potential top pick.
Mike Awesome made a neat debut capturing the Hardcore Title but that division never felt impacted. You had all these alumni of ECW and the closest it felt to that brand was the Rhyno/Raven match at Backlash 2001. There was no incentive for that division, no reason to be wowed by the Hardcore Title because you didn’t have guys like Tommy Dreamer and Raven and Sandman representing ECW and taking on established hardcore acts from the WWF.
The tag team division remained somewhat stagnant as hyped WCW wrestlers Chuck Palumbo and Sean O’Haire struggled to make a real dent against established teams like The Acolytes, The Dudley Boys, Edge and Christian, or The Hardy Boys. They never ever felt like a top flight tag team invading the WWF and just kind of got lost in the shuffle.
Along with that was the doomed failure of the cruiserweight title/light heavyweight title. Billy Kidman, Shane Helms, and Chavo Guerrero were arguably the biggest names of that division to come over and the WWF didn’t really have a standout division. Guys like Jerry Lynn and Dean Malenko were great wrestlers and could provide great matches but there was no real matchups to be had that were not already seen in WCW. Other potential opponents like Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, and Eddie Guerrero had moved well beyond that championship level too by that point.
One of the few feuds they got right outside of several matches between Booker T and The Rock was the legit dream feud featuring Rob Van Dam against Jeff Hardy. To the credit of Vince McMahon, he did capitalize on this and it resonated with many fans including a fun match at The Invasion pay per view.
Number 3: It Didn’t Last Very Long
The Invasion was kick started unofficially on the March simulcast of Raw and Nitro. By Survivor Series in November, there was a ‘Winner Take All’ 10 man tag team match to basically end the entire angle. WCW managed to run a near year long feud between Sting and Hollywood Hogan in 1997. The WWF themselves ran a near year long feud in 1997 involving Bret Hart & The Hart Foundation vs. Steve Austin vs. Shawn Michaels and Degeneration X. Yet this “Invasion” lasted just 8 months if we’re being generous and really less time if you start it in June when WCW and ECW joined forces to take on the WWF.
This entire concept was something that conceivably could have taken at least an entire calendar year, if not multiple years, to stretch out and run with a myriad of twists and turns and new debuts to take advantage of. The fact it ended after really a run of 6 months was a mercy kill by that point and an admittance from Vince McMahon that the entire angle had been a mostly miserable failure. It was a bad sign to fans when not only did they just want the angle to be done with but the boss behind the scenes was finally throwing in the towel.
Number 2: The Constant Flip Flopping of Wrestlers Onto Rosters
This, in my opinion, was one of the more confusing and dumb aspects of the entire angle. As a result of the deplorable rosters and lack of dream feuds coming out, Vince McMahon in a bit of a panic started throwing wrestlers at the wall so to speak. Steve Austin and Kurt Angle had a fun feud going on prior to The Invasion angle but then, for stupid reasons, Austin turned heel and joined up with The Alliance. It led to some great skits and moments for sure but as any ardent WWF fan would tell you, Austin was not The Alliance. He was The Face of WWF in 1998 and doing anything but helping lead the WWF into war against WCW was not wanted or desired at all.
Kurt Angle also briefly joined The Alliance and helped make the final tag match for The Alliance more laughable at Survivor Series pitting: Steve Austin, Kurt Angle, Booker T, Rob Van Dam, and Shane McMahon against Team WWF’s The Rock, Chris Jericho, Undertaker, Kane, and Big Show. The two teams were completely outmatched in comparison to one another and it was head shaking for any WWF fan to see that match and think Team Alliance could have won that match at all.
Equally confusing was the lack of priority for brand recognition. None of The Radicalz jumped ship to defend WCW despite most of them being recognizable of that brand and established talents from ECW such as Tazz and Yoshijiro Tajiri blatantly stood on the sidelines or didn’t even defect from the WWF side initially. As the angle rolled forward, it became less about the team name on the front of the jersey and more about the individual name on the back of the jersey. The Impact Players tag team of Justin Credible and Lance Storm were inexplicably not teamed together, helping build depth in that tag division instead being replaced by Storm and Mike Awesome.
Why should the fans have cared at all about Team Alliance if the WWF cared so little as to try and give them any importance or treat their background and the history of those companies with any care? Tommy Dreamer was the face of ECW and did absolutely nothing during The Invasion as far as main event matches. He was one of the core invaders initially for that brand and it meant zilch in the long run of the angle. Diamond Dallas Page should have been one of the stars but never quite achieved that, instead stuck feuding with The Undertaker instead.
Number 1: Where Were The Stars?
The obvious number one and made even more odd because despite waiting out their Turner WCW contracts, most of the big names outside of Sting did indeed make the eventual jump over to the WWF after The Invasion angle was all wrapped up. Fans were dying to see feuds such as Undertaker vs. Sting and Steve Austin vs. Hollywood Hogan/Goldberg and The Rock vs. Hollywood Hogan/Ric Flair. The Outsiders were the tag team of WCW. I was excited to see them come in and take on The Hardy Boyz or Edge and Christian or even The Dudley Boyz as a WCW vs. ECW clash.
Instead, fans were treated to a shoddy second rate “Invasion” of WCW without any of the biggest names of the company and settling for Booker T and Diamond Dallas Page along with a near literal rotating cast of supporting staff. Made most damning was how quickly some of those WCW superstars came onto WWF television as soon as the entire angle wrapped up.
Ric Flair: November 2001 as “Co-Owner” of WWF leading to a feud with Vince McMahon.
Hollywood Hogan/Kevin Nash/Scott Hall: February 2002 at the No Way Out PPV.
Eric Bischoff: July 2002 as first General Manager of Monday Night Raw.
Rey Mysterio Jr: July 2002 after a series of promos starting in June.
Scott Steiner: November 2002 at the Royal Rumble PPV.
Bill Goldberg: March 2003 leading to a feud with The Rock.
Sabu: June 2006 at the One Night Stand PPV.