**Edited on October 1st 2018 – Cleaned Text & Removed Broken Pics**
Some of you may remember my original “Death of WCW” article. It took a lot of effort to create, and it received a lot of praise. I wish to attempt a recreation, and hopefully it can be as good, if not better than the original. This will be a long and informative article. I do not expect anyone to read through it all in one sitting.
The Blame Game
When you read the words “Death of WCW”, what springs to mind? To some it may be Kevin Nash. To others it may be Hulk Hogan. To many fans, Eric Bischoff and Vince Russo will be the first names to spring up. The biggest problem is, these men were not directly responsible. Did they make mistakes which ultimately lead to a downfall in the overall quality of the product? Sure. Did they take lucrative contracts which did nothing but take money which could have used elsewhere? Sure. Can they be blamed for being a little selfish and doing what was best for them? Not really, human beings will always self-preserve. Can anyone really blame Hogan for taking fat contracts with creative control over his character? Well, no, because anyone who would refuse those offers would have to be crazy, and it’s not like Hogan was going to question whether his contract was bad for the company. He was only ever going to take the best deal to keep him away from the WWF. It was up to management to offer/refuse those types of contracts.
Despite the obvious controversies viewed on WCW programming, they were not directly responsible (although they could have played a small part) for the death of WCW. There’s a lot more to it then meets the eye. What I mean is, WCW was going to survive, it was going to be bought and continue in to the 2000’s, but something happened behind closed doors which went unnoticed by many. In today’s world, the story behind the purchase of WCW would have been spread across the dirtsheets like a virus. Back in 2001, the internet was still in its infancy, and only a handful of wrestling fans regularly communicated over it. The story is still relatively unknown, mostly because it’s hard to prove, and no one connected to it wants to say anything in fear of someone from WWE noticing. The story is found on specific websites, and it’s been mentioned in podcasts involving Jim Cornette and Kevin Sullivan.
I want to finish this section by saying that we cannot blame the wrestlers, or the creative teams for the death of WCW. This is a far cry from what people usually say, but with good reason. It’s difficult to explain why without starting from the beginning.
Ted Turner’s Money
Ted Turner was in business with Vince McMahon well before the birth of WCW. They worked together to deliver WWF programming on his network, and the partnership was healthy. Vince rocked the boat by getting WWF programming on a rival network at the same time as having a schedule on Turner’s network. Understandably, Ted took this as an insult, he did not want WWF to be broadcast on any rival networks. He was under the impression that Vince McMahon would work with him, but he clearly went behind his back. Ted always liked wrestling, it was a cheap form of entertainment which he kept on in his programming for decades.
When “Black Saturday” came around in 1984 (you can read about the incident on the wiki page, it was one of WWF’s biggest setbacks in the 1980’s), it ignited the feud between Vince McMahon and Ted Turner. In 1988, Ted bought Vince’s biggest competition, JCP (Jim Crockett Promotions) and formed WCW. The company remained private for eight years. In 1996, WCW became public, and as many will know, the same year the New World Order debuted. The only problem with the formation of WCW? Ted Turner wanted wrestling, but he wasn’t willing to run it himself. WCW went through many forms of leadership over the years, all willing to use Ted Turner’s money to keep the company alive.
Jim Herd – The man did more damage to the NWA/WCW partnership than anyone else. Many wrestlers, fans, and workers criticized Herd for having a severe lack of wrestling knowledge. He wanted to bring silly gimmicks (which could only be described as cheap WWF knockoffs) to the product, which would clearly alienate the NWA audience. Some of these examples included The Hunchbacks (with the gimmick in which they could not be pinned because their humps would prevent their shoulders from touching the mats), the bell-wearing Ding-Dongs, and (the worst of all) Ric Flair dropping his “Nature Boy” name to become a Roman Gladiator called Spartacus.The guy was absolutely clueless.
Ric Flair was worried about the situation, so he got on the phone with Vince McMahon. Before the WCW/NWA officials knew, they were watching Ric Flair on WWF programming with their World Heavyweight Championship belt. Herd continued to push his ideas on Flair and the booking committee, and after negotiations between himself and Flair broke down (on who he should drop the title to), Herd fired Flair before The Great American Bash and stripped him of the title. The NWA/WCW promotion took a huge hit, as Ric Flair was their biggest draw. The Great American Bash was met with loud “We Want Flair!” chants throughout, and the PPV was one of the worst of all time. WCW had taken a massive blow under Ted Turner’s regime, and Jim Herd was not the right man for the job. He was fired in January 1992.
Kip Allen Frey – He was only around for a brief period in 1992, but just like Herd, he had a lack of wrestling knowledge. He wasn’t all bad though, as his most significant contribution to the company was the institution of workrate bonuses to whichever wrestler he thought had gone above and beyond the call of duty in the past week instead of simply “phoning in” his performance in the ring.
Bill Watts – The first former wrestler in charge of Ted Turner’s WCW was old school. He banned top rope moves, and kept babyfaces/heels separate to keep kayfabe. Eric Bischoff stated he was so old school, he wanted to take wrestling back to the 1970’s, and anyone who opposed him would feel his wrath. He also introduced his son, Erik Watts, who was known to be green (severely lacking in wrestling ability) and didn’t deserve a contract. He was also known for favoring African-American wrestlers, and because of this, he had Ron Simmons become the first African-American World Heavyweight Champion. Watts is probably the only promoter in any major American wrestling company to have built an African-American as the face of the company. Watts was either fired or left the company (depending on who you talk to) over allegations of racism and sexism in 1993.
Ole Anderson – He’s had controversial disagreements with Ric Flair, Eric Bischoff and so many others, so it makes sense that he didn’t last long. He was fired by Eric Bischoff after he took control in 1993. The exact reasoning behind the firing is assumed to be because Bischoff fired Ole’s son (who was training in the power planet), so Ole called Jim Cornette to get his son a job. Bischoff found out and didn’t like that Anderson was talking to Cornette, so Bischoff fired him.
Bischoff managed to work his way to the top of the company by 1994. Despite some of his controversial decisions, WCW made its first profitable year in 1995. The company boomed in 1996 after Bischoff managed to secure Scott and Kevin Nash and formed the New World Order with Hulk Hogan. The rest is history. We all know what happened during the attitude era, and WCW continued to grow, and remained the most watched wrestling program. The company made so much money during this time, so Bischoff can be credited for his contributions to its success. However, the success came at a price. Bischoff had to offer lucrative contracts with creative control to drive big names away from WWF. This ultimately lead to some talents refusing to put newer stars over, which is common place in any wrestling promotion. Despite this, WCW continued to make money, and Turner was willing to provide Bischoff with a fat bank account to keep WCW in direct competition.
Without anyone in charge of Eric, he could spend whatever he wanted. Over time, he would spend money to lure wrestlers away from rival promotions (Mike Awesome from ECW is a good example), as well as spend a lot on celebrities, video games, monster trucks, and many other things that didn’t really help the company in the long run. In late 1998, Bischoff decided to take a break, so he went on vacation and left Kevin Nash in charge. Nash abused the booking to put himself and his friends over, and the overall product declined … not just from a booking standpoint, but in production as well. The shows appeared cheaper than previous years. Bischoff eventually returned, but 1999 was the worst year for WCW as they lost millions of dollars. He was fired by TBS sports chief Harvey Schiller, who made Bill Busch (WCW’s accountant) his replacement. Busch hired Vince Russo and Ed Ferrera as head creative writers.
As Russo will tell you, he had nothing to do with the demise of WCW. The company was losing money well before he arrived, and all he did was try to bring the same excitement to WCW that he brought to the WWF’s attitude era. Working alongside Vince McMahon, Vince Russo was the genius behind many memorable gimmicks and storylines in the Attitude Era. Russo wanted to try new things, he wanted to orchestrate shoot promos and use insider terms to cater to internet fans. I can understand what he was trying to achieve, but sometimes what’s written on paper can end up as garbage if the performers don’t translate. Everyone will point to the David Arquette World Championship victory as the moment that killed WCW, but in reality, Russo was trying to get mainstream attention for WCW. You could see what he was trying to do, but the Ready To Rumble movie was not as popular as they had hoped. Russo denies booking the match, and said it was down to the booking committee.
A wrestling company is a lot more than how it’s booked. The company was already losing a lot of money, so it didn’t really matter who was booking at the time. The company needed a new direction to beat the WWF, and Russo tried anything and everything to achieve that. Regarding Arquette and Russo becoming World Champions, Russo justified it (in recent interviews) by saying Arquette pinned Bischoff (a non-wrestler), and Russo only won by a fluke (speared through a cage), and he vacated immediately afterwards. He didn’t expect such a backlash from wrestling fans. Russo was soon fired for suggesting Tank Abbott should become the WCW Champion (as both Bret Hart and Jeff Jarrett were injured and storylines had to be changed), and was replaced by Kevin Sullivan. A few months later he was rehired alongside Eric Bischoff, as both men worked together to write the shows, and they focused on pushing the younger talent to try to push the company in a new direction. The partnership was an uneasy one, as both men had different visions. Russo appeared on TV as a heel authority figure for a while …
Brad Siegel – Turner Executive in charge of WCW.
… and then Bash at the Beach 2000 happened. Hulk Hogan won the title by placing his foot on Jeff Jarrett, who had lied down for him. It was a controversial angle which had elements of realism. Russo has always claimed it was part of the storyline, but we found out later that Russo had fired Hogan because Brad Siegel, the Time Warner executive in charge of WCW, no longer wanted to pay Hogan’s extortionate costs per appearance. Russo felt Hogan wasn’t a big enough draw anymore, so it all ended up with Hogan being fired, and a new WCW Champion being crowned. Hogan and Bischoff had no idea Hogan would be fired until after they had left the arena. Russo was forced to make something up on the spot to keep the product moving forward.
AOL/Time Warner Merger
The merge between AOL and Time Warner was something Ted Turner agreed with initially. The two companies merged, and AOL had 55% share in the new company. This inevitably led to repositioning of key personnel, leaving Ted Turner’s networks at the mercy of a man called Jamie Kellner. He wanted nothing to do with wrestling on the network. Kellner wanted to aim for different demographics (so even if WCW did attract large audiences again, it didn’t matter) so they could attract the right advertisers to buy airtime.
In other words, he didn’t want programs for adult males, he wanted family-friendly programming. He was responsible for cancelling cartoon shows like: Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, Freakazoid!, Superman: The Animated Series, The New Batman Adventures, and Histeria!. He was more interested in shows like: 7th Heaven, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Gilmore Girls, Dawson’s Creek, Felicity and Charmed.
An Inside Job?
In June 2000, WWF announced on its corporate page that they had hired Stuart Snyder as President and COO of the company. You can find that announcement here. Snyder was a former Time Warner executive, and even worked alongside Brad Siegel. They had become colleagues during their time together at Time Warner.
WCW was still getting the highest ratings of any program on the TBS and TNT networks, despite the obvious decline and financial difficulties in 2001. Despite that, Eric Bischoff was willing to buy the entire company. Bischoff and a group of investors known as Fusient Media Ventures, signed a letter of intent to buy the company in late 2000. Bischoff and Fusient briefly withdrew their offer when the WWF made an
inquiry on WCW (due to the terms of a settlement, WWF had a right to bid on WCW’s properties, should they ever be up for liquidation). When then-WWF broadcaster Viacom objected (fearing a WWF-owned show on a competing network), the Bischoff-Fusient consortium signed a new letter of intent
And here comes the interesting part. Brad Siegel, the Time Warner executive in charge of WCW, had meetings with Vince McMahon, Linda McMahon, and Stuart Snyder. In late 2000, McMahon set up a new company called W. Acquisition Company (which still holds the rights to the WCW video library and other intellectual property to this day), and the meetings appeared to go well. WCW was cancelled shortly after, and Bischoff-Fusient had to withdraw and bring a new bid to the table, as they initially expected to remain on a network.
Viacom was no longer objecting to WWF buying WCW. Bischoff-Fusient continued with their intent to buy. Jerry Jarrett (represented by one of the best law firms in the country) had all the documentation ready to purchase WCW as well. Randy Savage also expressed interest in buying WCW’s video library at the last-minute. There were many potential buyers for WCW. Just days before the sale, Fusient made a bid of $48.3 million, but their attempts were blocked.
Stuart Snyder – Former WWF President & COO
WCW, a company worth $600m in 2000, was sold to Vince McMahon for $4.5m on March 26th 2001. The biggest question is, with so many potential buyers, why did AOL Time Warner decide to sell it for so cheap? Once again, it came down to the meetings between two former Time Warner colleagues Brad Siegel and Stuart Snyder. WWF was willing to take WCW off Siegel’s hands, as long as WCW was taken off the air first. Siegel could easily tip Kellner off and convince him to cancel wrestling (as it’s not like WCW didn’t have many problems at the time) so a quick sell could happen.
Everyone else was blocked so Siegel could get rid of it. WCW was not his baby, it was Ted Turner’s, and it was no longer Ted Turner’s responsibility, Turner had lost control. Nobody working for WCW could do anything, Ted Turner couldn’t do anything, it was left at the mercy of Brad Siegel, Jamie Kellner, and the WWF Team of Stu Snyder and the McMahons.
Was it legal?
Technically the way the purchase went down was illegal. Siegel was purposely sabotaging the sale, and costing AOL Time Warner millions of dollars. He could have sold it to the highest bidder, but instead he met with WWF and blocked everyone else from having a fair chance to buy. With WCW gone, it was no longer his problem, and he must have assumed Vince would keep WCW on as a product. There’s a lot of evidence to suggest Vince McMahon had a plan to keep WCW on as its own show. He was getting everything in place to do so .. however, after he saw the terrible WCW match between Booker T and Buff Bagwell, he u-turned on the idea. We got the Invasion storyline with WCW/ECW being buried instead.
Linda McMahon said this about the deal “”Stu was really able to craft and to negotiate this deal and put it forward. He had prior relationships with Turner. He was there for several years and knew Brad Siegel very well, and I believe it was that relationship that helped cement this deal and negotiate the particulars.”
Fusient had a deposit of £5m on the table, so even if the deal fell through, AOL Time Warner would have earned more than they did selling to WWF. Fusient was also willing to pay all the remaining contracts, which would have saved AOL Time Warner (at least) $15m in salary payouts. AOL Time Warner had to pay wrestlers such as Sting, Goldberg, Kevin Nash and others as they had contracts with the parent company, not WCW. Those wrestlers sat at home and got paid, and they had every right to do so, because if they had decided to opt out of their contracts, they would not have received all the money they were owed, and they likely would not be compensated by WWF if they signed a new contract. Any worker with a contract (it doesn’t matter how famous you are) should get paid in full, and if that means sitting at home and waiting til the contract runs out, then so be it. Was we robbed of an awesome Invasion angle involving those stars? Yes, but I would have done the same thing in their position. Anyone who claims they would opt out of a fat contract just to sign a new smaller one .. is a liar. You would sit at home too.
Sorry for the harsh wording there, but in the past when I have discussed this subject, some fans blame the wrestlers for sitting at home, when they had every right to do so. It’s a selfish mentality, and to say such things is blasphemy.
I can believe the story behind the inside job, but it can never be 100% proven. To prove it, someone would have to come forward with evidence of foul-play, and anyone involved has likely moved on. They won’t talk about it, because if WWE (or Time Warner executives) heard about it, they could take the accuser to court for slander. Finding the evidence would be tough now. Any court cases would have happened back in 2001.
Vince is a ruthless business man. He’s been known to have no mercy for his competition, and he will exploit loopholes. I know Vince was in character during the Monday Night Raw/WCW Nitro simulcast, but when he said the words “Turner begged me to take WCW”, it was such a real insult. Turner couldn’t do anything about the sale, so there’s no way Turner begged him, but Vince simply wanted to rub salt into the gaping wounds. He was so excited about the purchase, you could see the enjoyment in Vince’s eyes as he publicly fired Jeff Jarrett on television. He stuck a middle finger up to Ted Turner and anyone who tried saving WCW. He saw a window of opportunity, and he took WCW right under Bischoff’s nose. He would join WWE later, as all he could do was accept that Vince had won. It’s like that old saying, “If you can’t beat ’em .. join ’em!”
We may never know the exact details of the sale. What we do know, is that WCW died in executive meetings. It would have continued if those executives in power decided to keep it going. WCW fell into the wrong hands, and Vince made the right decisions at the right time to gain leverage over potential buyers. If Ted Turner had remained in power, he would have kept pumping money into the promotion, as WCW was far from dead, and it was still getting high ratings (compared to other shows on the same networks, but not compared to WWF). so It could have thrived with the right leadership.
So who was responsible for the death of WCW?
- Ted Turner – The bank account of Turner was enough to keep it going, but without a dedicated leader like Vince McMahon in the WWF, he was relying on others to lead the promotion. They either didn’t have the skills, or they spent too much. He can be blamed because he allowed the merge of AOL and Time Warner (which ended up being one of the worst mergers in the history of business), which led to him losing control of his networks. Without Ted Turner in power, WCW was left at the mercy of executives who simply didn’t care.
- Brad Siegel – The man in charge of WCW in its final days can be blamed for selling WCW to Vince McMahon at a low price. He didn’t need to do that, but he was no longer answering to Ted Turner so he didn’t need to keep WCW going. Why he decided to sell to Vince remains a mystery, although it could be as simple as Siegel assuming it would fall into good hands as Stuart Snyder led the negotiations.
- Stuart Snyder – Hired as President and COO of the WWF at such a coincidental time, Vince knew WCW was going through financial troubles, and Vince knew that Snyder and Siegel were former colleagues. To hire someone straight into the position of President and COO does sound fishy, and Snyder didn’t stay in the WWF for long after the purchase of WCW.
- Jamie Kellner – Hated any programs he did not see as family friendly. He didn’t need much convincing to cancel WCW from the networks after he acquired the position. Canceling it from television allowed Siegel to open negotiations with WWF for a quick sale.
- Eric Bischoff – He can be partly blamed for his lack of management. During his time, he did help WCW to reach its peak, but was also responsible for its downfall. The booking became questionable, and leaving someone like Kevin Nash in charge was another bad decision. His management got him fired, which allowed Russo to be hired. With no real leader in place, Russo had the freedom to do whatever he wanted, and the product suffered, but the product/company was already suffering before he got there. Bischoff did everything in his power to save WCW in the end, more than anyone else. He could have been the savior.
The reason fans often blame Russo, or wrestlers such as Hulk Hogan or Kevin Nash, is because we saw the product decline and they were the faces everyone saw each week. It’s easy to blame the person serving you, but if the food you ordered turns up cold, it’s not their fault, it’s the cooks fault. But then again .. it might not be the cooks fault, maybe the cook had not been trained properly; and it would be managements fault. We often blame the first face seen, and fans did a similar thing.
Fans couldn’t understand how WCW died so suddenly considering how popular the show was (even in 2001). It didn’t make sense, so the blame game has always been there. Fans saw the shoot promos, and David Arquette winning the title, and they automatically jumped to .. “Russo killed WCW” .. without even thinking about it. Fans saw the fingerpoke of doom, and they blamed Hogan and Nash. All the while, it was the faces behind closed doors who killed WCW. If they had decided to keep WCW, it could still exist today under Bischoff’s lead. Who knows? Maybe Jerry Jarrett could have bought WCW, meaning TNA wouldn’t exist today? We could have seen WCW under Jerry & Jeff Jarrett’s rule. The landscape could have been completely different with a rejuvenated WCW, filled with stars like AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, and other stars who made a name for themselves in TNA, ROH, or the Independents. Goldberg could have carried on in WCW. Booker T could have been the face of the company in 2001. There’s no telling what could have happened if Brad Siegel sold WCW to the highest bidder.
Sadly, wrestling died in 2001. With the purchase of WCW, Vince McMahon had no more competition. The excitement was gone, the attitude era died, and the fans were forced to watch WWE or just stop being wrestling fans. I have a friend who was a die-hard WCW fan, and he stopped watching wrestling in 2001. He loved Sting, Goldberg, the New World Order, Booker T, Vampiro, and many others. It was he who introduced me to WCW in the 1990’s, and I saw a few episodes over here in England. It was chaos, but it was different, and that’s exactly what we don’t have anymore … something different. WCW could have been the true alternative, but we will never know.
I feel bad because I feel I have missed something important. I didn’t want to add everything, because there is a lot of information out there. I will post my sources below, so if you want to delve deeper into this subject you can. Do you believe Vince used underhanded business practice to swipe WCW away from the bidders? Did the Time Warner executives use their existing relationship to get rid? On the other side of the spectrum, do you believe it was any of the wrestlers fault? And was Vince Russo really to blame for the death of WCW? Let me know in the comments, but try to do it in a mature way .. if that’s possible! I appreciate you for sticking it out and reading through all of this. Feel free to share this article around, and give me credit when you do.
- The virtually unknown story about how the WWF may have purchased WCW so quickly and for such a bargain price..
- Bob Ryder calls for ‘criminal investigation’ of WCW sale
- Ted Turner Sends Self Back In Time To Prevent AOL Time Warner Merger
- The Sale Of WCW to WWE
- Tom Zenk on WCW purchase and still unanswered questions
- Wikipedia pages – World Championship Wrestling, Eric Bischoff, Vince Russo, (other WCW leaders), Jamie Kellner, Ted Turner and others.