Scott Steiner and Booker T were supposed to be planning their match backstage. The implausibly muscled Steiner—on interviews, he called himself “The Genetic Freak”—was the World Championship Wrestling (WCW) world heavyweight champion, while the diligent, charismatic Booker had been eclipsing much of the organization’s aging roster, with his best years ahead of him.
Within hours, the pair would be battling in front of a spring break crowd in Panama City, Fla. for the title on a live broadcast of WCW Monday Nitro, the promotion’s flagship show. But Steiner seemed concerned about something far bigger than a wrestling match.
“You think they’re going to pick us?” he asked. He was referring to WWE—then known as the World Wrestling Federation—the company that had purchased WCW, its last surviving competitor in the United States, three days earlier.
For the past 29 years, WCW, and its forerunner Georgia Championship Wrestling, had been affiliated with Ted Turner’s television networks, TBS and TNT. But now, Turner Broadcasting’s parent company, AOL Time Warner, had decided to stop broadcasting WCW. The conventional wisdom among wrestling fans was that the company felt professional wrestling evoked a proletarian flavor that diminished its brand.
As a result, WWE head Vince McMahon was able to purchase the company’s copyrights and extensive tape library for a paltry total of $4.2 million.
When the final Nitro ended on March 26, 2001, so would the Monday Night War with WWE’s Raw program that had roared since 1995. For the last time, both shows were going to air simultaneously on different networks. But, seizing on the interest that the sale was generating from fans following the real-life intrigue online, McMahon planned to cut into each program, hyping the fact that he now held the power to hire or fire any WCW performer.
Steiner had been in WWE in the past, mainly teaming with his brother Rick and enlivening crowds with moves like his signature Frankensteiner. But he wasn’t sure if McMahon was interested in the character he played in WCW, “Big Poppa Pump,” known for his chain mail head covering, bleached blond Fu Manchu and ramblings with strong sexual overtones.
Booker T told him not to worry.
“They’re going to pick us,” he reassured his opponent for the very last championship match ever broadcast on Nitro. “Who else are they going to pick?”
Booker T: I thought I was going to retire in WCW, to be honest. For many years, I contemplated whether I wanted to go to WWE. But I’m from Texas, and WCW mainly worked the south, except when we went on overseas tours. I didn’t want to go to all those cold cities up north during the winter.
My favorite memory in WCW is traveling with Harlem Heat (his tag team with brother, Stevie Ray) and (manager) Sherri Martel. Sherri knew so much about the business, and became the driving force behind my career. Stevie and I both thought of her as family. I still think about her all the time. When she died (in 2007), I put her in her grave, gave her a kiss and sent her to God. She really had a great influence on me.
Matt Hardy: Even though I was in WWE, I’d been a big fan of WCW. Being from North Carolina, I always watched the NWA (the National Wrestling Alliance, the amalgamation of regional promotions that eventually constricted into the Charlotte-based wrestling territory that became the core of WCW). We (Matt and his brother, Jeff, a former WWE and TNA World Champion) would have to stay up late on Saturday night to see WWE. We could watch the NWA all the time.
We’d seen it all in WCW—Ted Turner buying the company, (former WCW executive) Eric Bischoff signing guys like Hulk Hogan and Randy "Macho Man" Savage, the N.w.O. (New World Order, a renegade unit featuring, at various times, Hogan, Steiner, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall, among others). The Monday Night Wars—WWE vs. WCW, with ECW (the militant Philly promotion called Extreme Championship Wrestling) thrown in—was, in some ways, the golden age of the business. I loved being part of it as a wrestler, and I loved it as a fan.
Jeff Bornstein (WCW lighting director, 1990-2001): For a while, we were winning the Monday Night Wars. We had a classic war of the titans, and it was played out every week live. It was exciting watching the ratings take off. And it was even more exciting getting under Vince’s skin. When the other side uses their air time to discuss your content, you know you’ve gotten to them. It was fun watching Vince react to what we were doing by coming up with skits about Ted Turner, Hogan, Savage and (announcer) Mean Gene Okerlund. And then, we gave away the results of their taped programming on Nitro, and forced Raw to go live every week. But they were up to the task. Unfortunately for us.
Waiting for a Lifeline
From 1996 to 1998, WCW appeared to be generating as much, if not more interest than WWE. But then, WWE launched its "Attitude" era, inspired by the risque storylines seen in ECW and centered on a collection of contemporary superstars like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Rock, Triple H, Kurt Angle and Mick Foley.
Simultaneously, WCW’s plots became increasingly disjointed. Despite their popularity, Diamond Dallas Page and Bill Goldberg were both turned heel or villain. “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, arguably the greatest professional wrestler who ever lived, was buried in the desert. Hulk Hogan won the WCW title by poking Kevin Nash once in the chest. In 2000, David Arquette was crowned the WCW world champion.
The strategy was to use Arquette’s celebrity to grab mainstream attention. That’s what WWE did, wasn’t it? But WWE was able to incorporate celebrities into its productions without blatantly overstepping the boundaries of credibility; everyone knew the finishes were predetermined, but they didn’t want to be reminded of it as the matches were taking place. The WCW approach, as the ratings indicated, was chasing away fans.
Steve Small (WCW television production manager, 1996-2001): After we won the Monday Night Wars, it seemed we were adrift about what to do next. We’d fly in talent in case they were needed on our show. Then, they’d walk out of the building because we didn’t have anything for them to do. It was obvious that guaranteed contracts that allowed certain people not to make appearances at house shows (cards not broadcast on television or pay-per-view) were mistakes. We were hemorrhaging money.
You felt you had less commitment from the top. I remember (Turner Sports president) Brad Siegel coming in and telling us, “We’re moving ahead. We’re going to make this thing work.” Of course, this meant that things weren’t working.
Still, WCW’s production crew never scaled back its grueling schedule. On weeks when there was a Sunday night pay-per-view, the team would load in at the arena on Saturday. Then, while the event was being telecast, a partial crew was setting up at another arena for Nitro the next night. On Tuesday, WCW taped its Saturday evening show for TBS, while, on Wednesday, the crew arrived at yet another venue to prepare the large, unwieldy set for the Thursday night broadcast of WCW Thunder.
Small: By 2000, everybody was talking about the company going under or being sold. People were reading the dirt sheets (insider wrestling newsletters). Rumors were everywhere.
Booker: We knew something was coming. But I always thought that we were going to get a reprieve, a lifeline.
Diamond Dallas Page: We were expecting a new owner or a new company to come in and save us. Let me tell you this—Vince McMahon would not have won the Monday Night Wars if we had a new owner.
In early 2001, Bischoff arranged a tentative sale to Fusient Media Ventures, a New York company created by Classic Sports Network founders Brian Bedol and Stephen Greenberg, the son of baseball Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg. Fusient had money—a reported $175-million—after its sale of Classic Sports to ESPN. As he had for Turner, Bischoff would run the wrestling end of the company, while TBS, Inc. maintained a minority stake.
Small: We heard that we were still going to be carried by Turner. That sounded like a great deal. We were moving forward. In Baltimore, some of the investors were at the show. So that was positive.
Then, in March, Jamie Kellner, the new chairman and CEO of Turner Broadcasting, announced that TBS and TNT were cancelling wrestling. A day later, Fusient withdrew its offer.
Page: Kellner screwed himself. He could have made money for Turner, but he just wanted wrestling off. Everybody blames Eric for the end of WCW, but he was f**ked on that deal.
Last Stop, Panama City
Small: Suddenly, it felt like everything was going under. People were taking mementos from the log cabin (the company’s facility in Smyrna, Ga.). No one said we were fired. But we were told that we weren’t booking anything past the Nitro in Panama City.
“Sugar" Shane Helms aka The Hurricane: There was a lot of disappointment. The talent was there. But there was a feeling that other people had made bad decisions, and that’s why we were in that situation.
On March 23rd, WWE purchased its rival.
Page: The tape catalog cost $1.7 million. That’s it. If I’d know that at the time, I would have bought it.
Helms: The question now became, “Who is WWE going to hire?” The older guys were a little nervous. Some of their contracts had these crazy stipulations for insane amounts of money. It would have been impossible to bring them in.
Page: I wasn’t as worried as some other people. WWE contacted me pretty early, so I knew I had a job. I didn’t want to talk about it, though, when so many other people weren’t sure. The big deal for me were the guys backstage, the crew guys who’d been with us 20 years. They were hard-working, talented guys who’d done nothing to cause our problems. What was going to happen to them?
Booker T and his brother had broken up their tag team in a 1999 angle. As they considered their futures, each was aware that they were going in opposite directions.
Booker: I was a single's wrestler now. There wasn’t a lot of run left in Harlem Heat. Stevie had a little girl, and didn’t want to be running all over the world with the crazy schedule you had in WWE. He didn’t want to have to prove himself all over again. I knew that I could, so I was ready.
The last edition of Nitro had been booked on the beach in Panama City. It was an ambitious undertaking. Yet, no one in the company considered scaling back the production.
Small: We had to construct a set outdoors and move in lights. It wasn’t like going into an arena. It was five or six days of work, and a two-day load-out afterwards.
Bornstein: The ring was set up on the beach behind a hotel, past the pool. It was a U-shaped building. We installed automated synchro-lights with color changes on the roof. Several larger units were set up by the water line on the beach. It looked pretty cool.
Chavo Guerrero Jr.: We got to Panama City, and it was like, “What the heck is going on?” Nobody knew what was going to happen that night, or afterwards.
My uncle (future WWE Champion Eddie Guerrero) was in WWE, so we were talking, trying to keep each other abreast. But the WWE guys didn’t even know.
Hardy: The uncertainty for us (in WWE) was, “What will our lives be like without competition?” It was always feasible to go to WCW if there was a problem with WWE. Now, we wouldn’t have that choice. So I was worried that, with a monopoly, we were going to lose our bargaining power.
Guerrero: I knew I was a good enough wrestler to come to WWE. But I had to think about my options. There wasn’t really anywhere to go in the U.S., but there were good promotions in Mexico and Japan, so I felt there were opportunities.
Small: Vendors, crew, stagehands, electrical workers, all people who’d worked for WCW in the past but didn’t anymore, they showed up for the last hurrah. We’re taking photos, and somebody told me to set up some production space for WWE because their staff was there. Well, sometimes, you have to see the coffin shut to say goodbye, and that said it.
Helms: For months, there’d been a lot of uncertainty, with all the rumors. I felt that the company was working us a little bit because they didn’t want us to know how bad it was. But when Shane McMahon (Vince’s son and an on-air WWE personality at the time) walked through that door in Panama City, that’s when we really knew what was happening.
As the wrestlers gathered backstage to eat dinner before the show, they were addressed by both Shane and David Crockett, vice president of WCW television production and the son of Jim Crockett Sr., who began promoting wrestling in Charlotte in 1931. Although David’s brother Jim Crockett Jr. had left the business after selling WCW to Ted Turner in 1988, another sibling, Jackie Crockett, was a cameraman, while Jackie’s son Chip was on the ring crew.
The scene was a bit surreal. Shane’s grandfather, Vincent James McMahon—or Vince Sr.—had enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship with Jim Crockett Sr. and was one of the promoters on the NWA board, approving the organization’s selection of its champion. Later, Shane’s father and Jim Jr. would eliminate their numerous competitors around North America and attempt to put each other out of business. Now that the McMahon family had triumphed, David attempted to be gracious in defeat.
Bornstein: David gave an emotional speech about his father creating the brand that became WCW, and his hope that his family legacy would move forward. Shane was very respectful. He told us that we were a great brand and there’d be a lot of television for this crew to do.
Small: Shane said that this was a blending of two great companies. I hoped that was true, but didn’t expect it. I just kept looking at the Crocketts in the room. To think of all that history their family built, and now to see it going away, that really hurt.
When viewers turned on Nitro, they were immediately confronted by the sight of Vince McMahon, who addressed the audience from Cleveland, where Raw was being broadcast that night. Vince was in character, portraying himself as an evil mogul gloating over his success. Along with the WCW roster in Panama City, backstage in Cleveland, the WWE wrestlers were also closely scrutinizing their boss.
Hardy: Nitro was playing on several monitors, and we were keeping track with a lot of anticipation. We knew—now that ECW was out of business, too—that Vince owned everything. But we didn’t know what he would do about that. It was a unique time to be a performer in WWE. As a fan, it was insane.
Guerrero: The WWE people were not only there as spectators. They were at the Gorilla position (the table, named for WWE great Gorilla Monsoon, where final instructions were given to wrestlers, just before they stepped through the curtain). They were on headset. And they told our road agents (backstage liaisons to the wrestlers) exactly what to do.
Small: One of the WWE guys later told me they were scared someone from our side might attack them.
Not a Romantic Moment
Helms: I was looking around at everybody backstage, trying to figure out where they fit in. There were guys in WCW who’d burned bridges when they were in WWE, and weren’t going to be taken. But it was exciting to watch this up close. I guess it was a mixture of hope—about possibly being picked up—and sadness that, for all the work some of these veterans had done in WCW, it would all be for nothing.
The first segment was centered around Flair, whose skill at working a lengthy, captivating match on a nightly basis led a consensus of promoters to remunerate him with the NWA and WCW titles on more than a dozen occasions. On a personal level, Flair and McMahon were fond of each other. But in his on-air role as WCW CEO, Flair was dispatched to the ring to vilify the new owner of WCW.
“Did I,” Flair began, raising his voice, "did I—woooo!—did I happen to hear Vince McMahon say he was going to hold WCW in the palm of his hand?”
Flair was breathing heavily and staring into his palm. He rattled off the names of other great NWA champions who, like Flair, were selected not only for working ability but the talent to elevate an opponent even when retaining the title. “Does that mean that you are going to hold Jack Brisco, Dory Funk, Harley Race...hold us all in the palm of your hand?”
Flair’s face was red now, the veins bulging in his neck. Voice cracking, he called WCW “the greatest wrestling organization in the world,” as the crowed screamed its approval.
Bornstein: This was not a romantic moment. The end of any run on television is always melancholy. This more than others because we’d been watching the ship going down, and final piece just went over the side.
“And, just for trivia,” Flair continued, revealing the type of insider information rarely discussed on a wrestling broadcast, “Vince McMahon, do you know that in 1981...your dad was on the board of directors and voted for me to be the world champion? Woooo!”
After veering back to the storyline, he alluded to his penchant for nicking his head with a razor blade to “get juice” or blood in his matches:
“When is the last time you wrestled for an hour, cut yourself five times, bled for 45 minutes?”
If Nitro was coming to an end, Flair proclaimed, he wanted one more opportunity to wrestle his “greatest opponent:” Sting, whose 45-minute bout with the “Nature Boy” on a free TBS broadcast opposite WrestleMania IV in 1988 thrust the former bodybuilder into the elite precincts of the industry. As the fans chanted Sting’s name, Flair chanted along with them.
Given Flair’s public admissions about topics rarely broached outside the dressing room, the entire promo appeared spontaneous and unscripted. Because Nitro was going off the air, many observers assumed that Flair had taken it upon himself to book the match with Sting.
The reality was that both performers had been nursing injuries and felt less than zealous about playing such a prominent role in the show. But during dinner, Shane McMahon had conveyed a message to the Nature Boy: Vince had requested the match, due to his admiration for both men.
No One More Deserving
Hardy: It was a landmark night for both of our companies, the same way WWE’s show just after 9/11 was one of those nights you knew people would be revisiting for years and years. There’d been other big nights in the wrestling business. But with the social media age beginning, this was different than before.
The first match of the program was the championship clash with Scott Steiner defending his title against Booker, the U.S. Champion.
In many ways, the bout played to Steiner’s strengths, with a generous selection of power moves. After chopping Booker hard, Big Poppa Pump tossed his rival to the arena floor, where the titlist’s shapely valet Midajah slapped Booker hard across the face. Back in the ring, Steiner went after Booker with a lead pipe—hitting the turnbuckle when the challenger ducked—dropped an elbow on the contender and then showed off by doing pushups on the apron.
Booker: My thought was going out there and rocking the crowd. That was more important to me than the championship. I couldn’t live off my WCW accolades. I had to earn the respect of both the WWE wrestlers and the road agents.
It was time to go to work.
When Steiner lifted Booker for an atomic drop, the brawny Texan rolled over the champ’s shoulder, landed on his feet and delivered a dropkick. Bending Steiner forward, Booker followed with a scissor kick to the back of the neck. After Irish-whipping Scott into the ropes, Booker grabbed his foe around the midsection and fell backward, driving Steiner’s face into the mat. Then, the challenger exulted with a routine that would later enrapture WWE audiences, a break dance he called the “Spinerooni.”
Small: Booker worked really hard. If you weren’t familiar with him, you might say he was working his way onto the WWE roster. But Booker was always a hard worker.
Out of nowhere, it seemed, Steiner surprised Booker with a Northern Lights Suplex. But when the champion lifted his adversary for a powerbomb, Booker repositioned his body and ended up in a standing position. Lurching forward, Booker hit his finisher, the Bookend, a move resembling The Rock’s Rock Bottom.
(This is not a coincidence, according to Booker T. In a Miami Herald interview last year, he alleged that his finisher was stolen by The Rock when they were in rival companies.)
Covering Steiner for the three-count, Booker leaped up and was handed the WCW World Heavyweight Championship, as well as the U.S. title.
He raised both belts aloft, as the fans jumped up and down in celebration of the moment.
Booker: Scott and I were friends, and, whenever we wrestled, it was always business with he and I. He put me over in the middle of the ring like a true professional. And I worked hard to make him look just as good.
I was prepared for WWE. I hadn’t wanted to make the move but, now that it was happening, I was ready.
Page: I remember Booker T once telling me, “I swept floors. I know where I come from.” He did everything asked of him with integrity and character. I put him in the top percentage, as a man, of everyone I ever met. So if Nitro was ending, at least it went out with the championship on the right guy.
The Cruiserweights Impress
Along with Booker T, WCW’s cruiserweights were among the company’s most attractive commodities. Already, some of the best talent on the WWE roster—including future champions Eddie Guerrero, Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit—had come out of this division, enhancing the pace and style of the dominant organization’s matches.
Interestingly, on the last broadcast of Nitro, the company announced a tournament for a newly created WCW Cruiserweight Championship. In a three-way match, an unmasked Rey Mysterio—then known as Rey Mysterio Jr., since his uncle had been a star in Mexico and passed on the name—and Billy Kidman defeated the Jung Dragons (Yang and Kaz Hayashi) and 3 Count members Shannon Moore and Evan Karagias. Later in the night, Mysterio and Kidman would beat Elix Skipper and Kid Romeo for the belts.
In terms of work rate, the cruiserweight matches may have been the best on the card. But when Mysterio was hired by WWE the following year—after a series of matches in Mexico’s CMLL promotion and a number of independent organizations in the U.S.—he once again donned his mask, and announcers ignored the fact that the WCW Cruiserweight Championship had ever existed.
Guerrero: There was a lot of good wrestling on the show. But even when I was getting ready for my match, I knew the show wasn’t based on that. It was based on WWE taking over.
Guerrero—the third generation of the storied Mexican-American wrestling family—was challenging his real-life friend, Shane Helms, for his WCW Cruiserweight Championship. Like Booker, Helms was enjoying his time in WCW. His Sugar Shane character was entertaining, and he’d written the theme music to accompany his entrances to the ring with his “Sugar Babies.”
Helms: I didn’t have a preference to WCW or WWE. I was a pro wrestling guy. But things were changing. There’d been two superpowers in the industry, and one was being eliminated. I knew it would be impossible for WWE to hire everybody. I was the WCW Cruiserweight Champion. So my mindset was, “If I can finish the night with the championship, they’d have to bring me up.”
Both Helms and Guerrero were able to pull viewers into the match, and despite the company’s dismal state, they made the battle for the title mean something.
Helms hit Chavo with a high cross bodyblock for a near fall. After suplexing his foe, Guerrero lifted his shoulders off the canvas with a neck bridge, as the referee counted to two. Sugar Shane slung Guerrero into the ropes, but Chavo bounded across the mat and slid under his rival’s feet, attempting a sunset flip. Helms held onto Guerrero’s legs and rolled him over for another two-count.
Helms: The two of us thought if we’d make each other look good, WWE would take both of us. We had to keep the attitude we had every night, putting on the best match possible.
Guerrero: Shane and I always improvised. We were supposed to do a different finish. But WCW rushed the match. They needed the time for something else, so they were telling us, “Go home. Go home.” I wanted Shane to give me his vertebreaker. He said, “Are you sure?” That move can kill you if you’re not ready. I said, “Let’s do it.” So he beat me with the vertebreaker. We were both on the same page. We knew how to communicate in the ring. And we gave the fans something they wanted to see.
Shove It in Your Face
Jarrett was said to have held WWE up for money before he lost his intercontinental title and defected to WCW—a charge he later denied. Still, McMahon seemed to be authentically bitter.
“Oh, here’s Jeff Jarrett,” he told the collective audience. “And here”—McMahon motioned at himself—“we have the owner of the World Wrestling Federation and now the owner of WCW. That’s right...I own my competition...Now, as far as the Jeff Jarretts of the world are concerned, you know how Jeff spells his name J-E-double-F? Well, you know what? I would suspect we spell it a different way after tonight. That would be capital-G, double-O, double-N, double-E. Gone.”
Page: That was brutal. That was called “shove it in your face.”
Hardy: None of us knew what Vince was going to say until we saw it on TV. He really stuck it in. And if anything stands out from that night, that was it.
Thank You for Everything
On Raw, Hardy, his brother, Jeff, and Benoit were in a six-man tag team bout with Angle, Edge and Christian.
Hardy: We weren’t really a highlighted match. But we were aware that people would remember this night. So we wanted to live up to expectations. Even just talking about it now, I remember the finish. We did the finish with Rhyno.
Rhyno was a powerful wrestler who’d recently come to WWE from ECW after McMahon absorbed that organization as well. Matt was hitting his Twist of Fate finisher on Edge when Rhyno stormed the ring, goring Hardy hard. The move prompted Hardy’s girlfriend at the time, Amy “Lita” Dumas, to slip through the ropes to assist. The “Man-Beast” gored her as well.
Meanwhile, on Nitro, Shawn Stasiak was given a win over veteran Bam Bam Bigelow. Stasiak—the son of former World Wide Wrestling Federation (the forerunner of the World Wrestling Federation and WWE) Champion Stan “The Man” Stasiak—had the youth and pedigree to become a major name in WWE, but he was never able to capitalize on the opportunity. More noteworthy was the woman in Stasiak’s corner, Stacy Keibler, who interfered on Shawn’s behalf by grabbing Bigelow’s legs. She would use her ascension to WWE to become a Hollywood personality.
Page: I was resting up from some injuries, but I couldn’t let this go down without going on TV and saying something to the fans. So I did a pre-taped segment where I just thanked them, those WCW fans who were so good to me and still are.
When Ric Flair came into the ring for his match with Sting, he refused to remove his T-shirt. After recently recovering from surgery, the Nature Boy had not regained a physique that he was willing to display. “It wasn’t our finest moment,” he recalled in his 2004 autobiography, To Be The Man. “I wasn’t ready physically or mentally. When Sting threw me into the corner for my flip, I couldn’t even make it over the turnbuckle.”
The fans didn’t notice, as Sting superplexed the Nature Boy and tapped him out with the Scorpion Deathlock. Then, rather than exulting in his victory, Sting pulled Flair off the canvas, embraced him and raised his hand.
“Thank you, Steve Borden,” announcer Scott Hudson told the Nitro audience, parting the curtain enough to use Sting’s birth name. “Thank you, Ric Flair. For everything you’ve done for the sport.”
Small: Flair vs. Sting was moving. I can’t tell you exactly why. But given their history, I know the emotion I felt.
A Swerve at the End
Bornstein: We’re in the truck, watching the Raw feed, and Vince was querying the audience over who should stay. I thought it was kind of mean-spirited. We knew that some of this was a work (a wrestling angle), but a lot of it wasn’t. It was a very awkward evening.
Suddenly, the screen cut back to Nitro in Panama City, where Shane McMahon entered the ring to confront his father.
Guerrero: Since I was just a cruiserweight in WCW, Shane didn’t bother consulting me about what he was going to say. So I was just as curious as any fan.
Shane declared that, yes, a McMahon had been the one who’d purchased WCW. But it was his name on the contract. That meant, Shane emphasized, that he’d be running WCW and continue the competition with WWE.
Bornstein: Did this mean that WCW was still in business? We left the air not knowing if we’d be getting a call.
Guerrero: All I knew is that we had new owners. So I went home and waited.
Helms: A couple of the younger guys—Kidman, Jamie Noble, Kanyon—went out that night and had a goodbye party, in case it really was the end.
While they’d experience varying degrees of success, Helms, Kidman, Noble and Kanyon—as well as Chavo Guerrero Jr.—were all invited into WWE. And despite initially being marketed as a heel, Booker T quickly connected with WWE’s fans.
Booker: I never imagined, eight or nine years earlier when I was starting at the bottom, that it would end up with me going into WWE as the WCW Champion. I came into WWE with a flat top and a little, small mustache. And if I stayed that way, I wouldn’t have gone very far. I had to change with the times. And I knew that.
For a while, the WCW title continued to be defended on WWE cards. There were discussions about finding the group a separate television home, but it never occurred. There was also an “invasion” angle, featuring talent from WCW and ECW against the WWE performers, which aroused short-term interest. But ultimately neither vanquished promotion was ever portrayed as being equal to WWE.
Bornstein: They just buried the brand. I didn’t expect that. If they wanted to play it, there could have been real competitiveness between the companies. But there didn’t seem to be the inclination.
Hardy: WCW should have remained very separate from WWE, building up to a yearly Super Bowl. But the way it was done, the luster of that inter-promotional dream war was gone. When you saw WCW vs. WWE guys on television every week, it took everything away. You knew that Vince bought the company, and these were just guys on the card.
Small: The Wednesday after Nitro, everybody was supposed to report for a 10 a.m. meeting about the future. I walked in, but I purposely didn’t bring my laptop with all my contacts on it. We were in the Power Plant (WCW’s training facility), and someone from human resources at WWE got in the ring and started saying they’d be happy to accept applications if we were willing to move up to Connecticut (where WWE’s corporate headquarters are located). During that meeting, we later found out, the phones were disconnected and the email accounts were disabled. When we left, David Crockett’s security key didn’t work. So that said it all.
A lot of people who’d been there a long time were really angry. But I didn’t feel anybody owed me. It was a business deal. And the severance package was pretty good.
Guerrero: The competitiveness of wrestling kind of died with the end of Nitro. The Monday Night Wars pushed WWE to do its best. The boys in WCW were making good money because no one wanted you to leave. And the fans were winning, too. In fact, they were winning the most.