The year 2001 for WWE fans will forever be remembered for one thing – Mr McMahon throwing away millions of dollars on the XFL and failed Invasion angle.
2001 was also known for a lot more things, of course. The end of the Attitude Era. The heel turn of Stone Cold Steve Austin. The greatest WrestleMania of all time. Chris Jericho becoming Undisputed Champion. And obviously the death of WCW and ECW.
2001 was an interesting year for all wrestling fans, to be fair. Vince McMahon managed to acquire his two biggest rivals – WCW and ECW – for a mere pittance, sending the creative minds of fans all over the world buzzing with the possibility of seeing three promotions collide for years to come. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen as McMahon opted to spend a small fortune on the doomed XFL instead of buying out the contracts of WCW’s major players, meaning we were left with Mike Awesome, Lance Storm and Chuck Palumbo.
If only McMahon had plumped down the cash for Goldberg, Sting and the nWo right from the off, the PPV buys alone would’ve tripled his investment. It would also have given fans the greatest storyline ever told. Without a doubt, the biggest “what if” in the history of professional wrestling.
Let’s start at the turn of the year, with the spectacular Royal Rumble event. The first four months of 2001 were WWE at its apex, it would all be downhill after that. The Royal Rumble has always been my favourite event, although that has slightly changed in later years with WWE seemingly doing everything possible to turn me off it. Fortunately, the 2001 edition is right up there as an all-time classic even if Kane did dominate much of it.
The rampant Stone Cold Steve Austin survived a mid-match assault by Triple H to win the whole thing and book a ticket to the main event of WrestleMania where he would take on The Great One, The Rock. Elsewhere on the card, Chyna faked a ridiculous neck injury. These type of things should never happen in a contact sport, entertainment or otherwise. Kurt Angle toppled Triple H to retain the WWE Championship in a bout overshadowed by the ringside shenanigans of Stephanie McMahon and Trish Stratus. Those two really did deserve their own WrestleMania match.
WWE continued their hot streak with the stellar No Way Out offering which saw Triple H and Austin steal the show in a brutal Three Stages Of Hell classic. For anyone who thinks The Game was only “that damn good” for just the year 2000, go and watch this. The actual main event of the night saw Kurt Angle lose his WWE Championship to The Rock to set up the WrestleMania match we all wanted to see.
Many call WrestleMania X-Seven the greatest of all time, and I’d be inclined to agree with them, although I would say WrestleMania 31 pushes it hard. The highlights of WrestleMania 17 include E & C, The Hardys and The Dudleys tearing it up in a TLC war, Shane McMahon beating his father in a fun Street Fight, Undertaker defending the Streak against Triple H in an underrated gem, and Stone Cold pinning The Rock to capture the WWE Championship, aligning with Mr McMahon and turning heel in the process, thus ending the Attitude Era and the last boom period for WWE to date. I wonder if it was worth it.
The wheels fell off pretty quickly for WWE, and it didn’t help that The Rock was leaving for a few months to go to Hollywood. That left a huge void at the top of the card for a new super babyface to take over, which was meant to have been Triple H. However, The Game wasn’t too keen on turning, so sided with Austin instead and formed the Two-Man Power Trip. The babyface side of things were slim pickings, to say the least, and it was left to The Undertaker and Kane to pick up the slack and feud with the newly-aligned pair for the next couple of months. The matches were unfortunately dire.
Then disaster struck when Triple H tore his quadriceps muscle during a Tag Team outing on Raw in May, keeping him out of action for the rest of the year. Austin was left to fend for himself and did so in efforts opposite Chris Jericho, Rob Van Dam and Kurt Angle, in particular. Right around this time, WCW and ECW stars began to invade WWE under the leadership of Shane McMahon. As the tension built and more stars joined Shane, it was revealed that Paul Heyman was also in cahoots with him, as was Stephanie, who had bought ECW. Mr McMahon’s worst nightmare, and it had the makings of something very special indeed.
Unfortunately, WWE messed it all up in a matter of months. It was all wrapped up by the time Survivor Series was over with, ending with Team WWE putting WCW and ECW out of business once again. To explain how bad the angle was, here’s the WCW & ECW team from that bout – Shane McMahon, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Kurt Angle, Booker T and Rob Van Dam. No Goldberg. No Sting. nWo. No nothing. A complete waste of time which saw McMahon flush potentially millions of dollars down the toilet.
In the midst of the Invasion angle, someone was caught filming Undertaker’s wife and stalking her. This would turn out to be Diamond Dallas Page, who was a beloved superstar in WCW, but a perverted jobber to the stars in WWE. Undertaker repeatedly beat on him mercilessly throughout the summer months, hammering home the point further that WCW posed zero threat to the WWE or its biggest stars. If only ego and pride had taken a back seat to business.
Once the embarrassment of a so-called angle was over with, WWE turned their attention to crowning one Undisputed Champion at the December PPV titled, Vengeance. The four participants would be Austin, Rock, Angle and Jericho. Everyone assumed it would come down to Austin and Rock, but we assumed wrong. The final two were Austin and Jericho. Despite how talented the pair are, they had zero chemistry in the ring together, and this was another dud which was a shame considering the magnitude of the bout.
Chris Jericho would shock the world by defeating The Rock and Austin on the same night (I think he may have mentioned it once or twice since) to become the company’s first-ever Undisputed Champion. It was a surprise, to say the least, but definitely deserved. However, we all knew Y2J was simply a placeholder for when The King Of Kings returned to reclaim his throne, but that’s another story for another day.
So, in closing, 2001 had its fair share of ups and downs in the world of WWE. The wrestling landscape changed forever with the purchases of WCW and ECW, and the subsequent failed opportunity with the Invasion angle which still must haunt McMahon to this day. The Attitude Era came to an official close with Austin shaking hands with Vince at the end of WrestleMania. WWE have yet to return to those giddy heights.
The output from the company felt completely different from what they produced in 2000. Maybe that had something to do with hiring new writers, giving Stephanie McMahon more control or having too bloated of a roster. Whatever the case may be, 2001 will be a year that lives on in infamy for WWE.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @JK_CFC3. Thanks for reading!