The WWE Invasion angle had the potential to be the greatest storyline ever told in pro wrestling but instead for a multitude of reasons, it is marked down as arguably the biggest missed opportunity in WWE history.
In the 1990s with the Monday Night Wars and pro wrestling at its zenith, wrestling fans fantasised about what would happen if WWE and WCW collided.
Think Stone Cold Steve Austin versus Goldberg, The Undertaker versus Sting, D-Generation X versus the New World Order (NWO) and you start to get the picture.
So, when Vince McMahon “bought his competition” in early 2001 and ended the war once and for all (WWE had streaked clear of WCW from 1999 onwards), fans were salivating at the prospect of these match ups becoming a reality. A wrestling utopia was a very real possibility.
Instead, what the fans were treated to was a pale imitation of WCW, a WCW-lite if you will, and an “Invasion” that was in name only.
Sure, WCW arrived onto the scene with Booker T and Diamond Dallas Page, if only a DDP who had been altered from WCW’s own People’s Champion to a crazed stalker with a fixation on the then-wife of the Undertaker, but that was about it in terms of actual star power.
These two main eventers were supplemented by the likes of Lance Storm, Mike Awesome, Chuck Palumbo and Sean O’Haire. Not quite the all-star cast fans had been used to watching on Monday Nitro.
Even the addition of ECW, who had also recently been purchased by WWE, and Paul Heyman’s on-screen promise to take this invasion “to the extreme” did little to persuade viewers that this was anything but a lame duck of a programme.
1WWE versus a lightweight WCW/ECW alliance was not what they had fantasised about in the years prior.
There were numerous reasons for the angle being such a colossal flop. The first being that many of WCW’s top stars had enormous contracts with AOL Time Warner, the parent company of WCW.
Many were happy to sit home and rake in the guaranteed cash rather than wrestle for less money with no promise on how they would be booked or handled – DDP’s plight backed this up to a large extent. A notable exception was Booker T, who agreed to buyout to try and make it big in WWE, which of course he did.
Vince McMahon’s ego also played a large part in the failure of the storyline. It has been rumoured, and it’s not hard to believe, that McMahon wanted to have one final victory over WCW, putting the final nail in his competition’s coffin by presenting them as a significantly inferior brand to his own.
This was evident in much of the booking, where WCW wrestlers predominantly won only as a result of outside interference.
He also somehow managed to turn a battle of the three biggest wrestling companies into yet another McMahon family drama storyline, with Shane and Stephanie McMahon being cast as the fictional owners of WCW and ECW.
This neutered both brands, and actual ECW owner Paul Heyman, and by mid-2001, most fans had tired of the same replayed storylines centred around the family.
A storyline and angle that should have lasted probably a year and at least had a potentially record-breaking WrestleMania payoff instead ended within six months at Survivor Series, in a so-called “Winner Takes All” five-on-five traditional match. The make-up of both sides summarised the entirety of the angle.
On the WWE side, The Rock led a team starring The Undertaker, Kane, Chris Jericho and The Big Show. Reasonably fair, if not all their elite Attitude Era characters – Triple H was injured, Mick Foley and Shawn Michaels were retired.
Jericho and Big Show also had starred in WCW, and would have been far more suitable and logical defectors than the two WWE stars moved to the Alliance, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Kurt Angle.
The figurehead of the Attitude Era, Stone Cold was in the midst of an ill-advised heel run and ridiculously presented as a rival leader. Angle had never wrestled for either company and ultimately turned on the Alliance during the match.
hane McMahon also competed, a non-wrestler. The only true representatives of WCW and ECW were Booker T and Rob Van Dam, both of whom were minor characters in what was really a WWE match. This was further illustrated by the final two men being The Rock and Austin, WWE’s two biggest stars.
The storyline was then quickly moved on from, perhaps as an admission of failure. To make matters worse, many of WCW’s biggest stars, from Ric Flair the night after to Eric Bischoff, NWO, Scott Steiner and Goldberg in the 18 months following, then arrived.
If only Vince had bought out their contracts or waited a little more time. The failure of the storyline, and the end of the War, marked the end of the golden era of the Attitude Era, and WWE’s fall from mainstream prominence.
It’s arguable that no storyline will ever again have so much promise and deliver so little, and the idea of a true WWE vs WCW Monday Night War remains what it was in the 1990s. Fantasy.