There is an argument, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that the “Invasion” storyline and its success means that Vince McMahon was a genius. After all, WWF Invasion 2001 remains the WWE pay-per-view with the biggest non-WrestleMania buyrate in company history. Of course, 2001 was the year that Mania first hit the 1 million mark so business was booming like never before but 770,000 buys for a non Mania PPV is impressive in any era.
Naturally, I’m being slightly disingenuous there. If Invasion in its watered-down form was that successful, imagine what could have been done with a little more long-term planning and, to be fair, a few more pieces of the puzzle falling where they could have fitted better. But if people are going to say Invasion was a “failure” they have to at least admit that by some measures it was anything but. Still, let’s get on with the show.
The grandiose and overblown opening promo video where WWE is facing its “biggest challenge” yet is in some way ludicrous. But by god, it works. If you watch this blind, with no knowledge of the weeks of TV leading up to this show you would be sold on the concept immediately.
After Chavo Guerrero had defeated Scotty 2 Hotty in Sunday Night Heat to give the invaders a 1-0 lead, we kicked off the show proper.
Edge & Christian Vs Lance Storm & Mike Awesome
In a way, this opener was a microcosm of certain parts of the Invasion storyline. Edge & Christian had been heels for more than a year and were teasing a break-up as Edge went on his way to winning the King of the Ring tournament. From out of nowhere, that was dropped/postponed because loyalty to the WWE (presumably) trumps all. And because this is a WWE show, Edge & Christian become the babyfaces (and wrestle as such here) because anyone who pays to go to a WWE event has little interest in mid-card WCW guys the WWE has spent years telling them are worthless.
Still, the match itself is a good solid opener. Again I’m presuming that we’ve not quite got to the point where Undertaker kills Awesome’s career by deciding he doesn’t know how to work. The match builds to a hot finish, as Edge pins Awesome to wrap things up.
Vince is backstage celebrating the win. William Regal shows up and tells him that Stone Cold has arrived in the building. Vince doesn’t need to see Austin right now and instead talks about revolution and war. Regal just walks out.
Earl Hebner Vs Nick Patrick
I mean, look. Logically if all the wrestlers have heat, then why wouldn’t the referees? And there’s always a place for “comedy” matches in wrestling, even between two non-wrestlers at times. But on a night that should be filled with “dream matches” (I know, I know…) featuring stars from the three national promotions of North America they give us this.
Mick Foley is the special guest referee, presumably because he was a star in all three promotions battling it out tonight. The “action” is less than basic but the crowd seemed to enjoy it and they certainly popped when the WWE’s Earl Hebner won it. Post-match, Foley got into it with Patrick and gave him the Mr Socko Claw. Again, the fans loved that one.
We now see footage from “moments ago” as Debra and Sara discuss how there will be nothing left of DDP after Taker gets hold of him tonight. Bear that in mind later when they battle without any of the intensity a grudge feud would require.
The APA Vs Sean O’Haire & Chuck Palumbo
This is WWE Tag Team Champions against WCW Tag Team Champions, though neither set of belts are on the line. You fear for the wellbeing of O’Haire and Palumbo going into this one, semi-legitimately. Of course, Bradshaw’s hard-man act was proven to be something of a fallacy by Joey Styles years later but if you’re effectively given the green light to bully people who can’t fight back you can get away with a lot. But whilst the WWE guys are stiff in this one they don’t seem overly stiff. This is little more than a physical brawl but in that sense, it’s exactly what it should be. It doesn’t really “flow” as a match but it’s fine for what it is. The WWE guys go over, which at the time made little sense because theoretically O’Haire and Palumbo had an upside. 20 years on what does that really matter? For those keeping counts, it’s 3-1 to the WWE and three in a row on the PPV.
Vince is in his office talking to Chris Jericho. Chris insults Heyman by calling him a “white Shrek” and Vince purloins Y2J’s “never be the same again” catchphrase.
Shane, Stephanie and Paul Heyman are in the locker room with Billy Kidman. They tell him he HAS to win this one coming up.
X-Pac Vs Billy Kidman
This is Light Heavyweight Vs Cruiserweight champion but again neither title is on the line. The weird dynamic rears its head again. No one likes X-Pac but he’s a babyface here simply because he works for the WWE. There’s no sense in trying to work Pac as the heel and Kidman as the face though because no one in attendance would buy it. It’s a fast-paced back and forth and so make a nice contrast from the previous match. It never quite REALLY gets going but it’s solid enough. Kidman wins in around seven minutes following a Shooting Star Press.
DDP is in the WCW locker room with the McMahons and Heyman. Is it weird that these teams of five in the main event aren’t’ together talking tactics? Page claims he is in the heads of all the WWE guys.
Torrie Wilson and Stacey Keibler are backstage talking about their breasts and bums… Moving on.
William Regal Vs Raven
It seems obvious going in that this is going to be nothing but a huge clash of styles and the chances of them pulling anything watchable out of that is slim. They make things worse by dragging it out for seven minutes. The crowd don’t really seem to care and it’s so quiet that Jim Ross tries to cover for it by suggesting isn’t normally a fan favourite so fans can’t quite bring themselves to get behind him. Eventually, Tazz runs out and hits a suplex on Regal which gives Raven the chance to hit his Raven Effect DDT and get the win. It’s really all quite dull.
Vince is with Kane, Undertaker and Sara. Vince is trying to motivate his boys but when he mentions DDP filming Sara, Taker gets upset, grabs Vince by the throat and says we’ll see the best of Taker tonight
The Big Show, Billy Gunn & Albert Vs Shawn Stasiak, Chris Kanyon & Hugh Morrus
Again, another dream match, huh? I suppose the only surprise is that Show didn’t immediately turn on WWE to join WCW and then reverse his defection two weeks later or something. There’s not much that these six can do in five minutes although to be fair to them they pack it with stuff. Again though, the fans seem to have little interest in this one, but why should they? Are any of the WWE trio really over? Do WWE fans even know who the WCW guys are? Morrus pins Gunn to get another victory for the invaders which puts them 4-3 up on the night. Just so we remember who the real stars are though, Show runs through the WCW guys afterwards anyway.
Booker T and Shane are jawing backstage. Shane is delighted his team are in the lead. Booker is just bragging about how good he is. Elsewhere, Tajiri is in William Regal’s office and our Commissioner is telling him to get the win for him, Vince McMahon and the entire WWE.
Tajiri Vs Tazz
Of course, both of these found their fame in ECW but Tajiri chose to stay with the WWE. This has some storyline behind it so the fans are more into this than the last three matches. Tazz dominates the early going, which at least makes sense in terms of his opponent’s size for once, but can’t put Tajiri away. Tajiri fights back, spits the green mist, and gets the win in a little over five minutes. Not a classic by any means, but better than the two matches that preceded it in some way and were the very definition of “short, but sweet”.
Jeff Hardy is backstage, as his brother Matt gees him up for tonight. It’s all an excuse for Rob Van Dam to attack Jeff before their match. Because we wouldn’t want Jeff not to have an “out” if he loses would we? Or perhaps they’re just trying to dampen the cheers that RVD will inevitably get tonight.
We’re then at WWE New York where Hardcore Holly is signing autographs. A guy who comes up for one is wearing a WCW shirt so Holly rips the offending garment off him.
Jeff Hardy Vs Rob Van Dam – Hardcore Title
The closest thing to a genuine “dream” match we’ve had on this show. Of course back in 1997 at the time of the Extreme Invasion of Raw, the two clashed in a two and a half minute match. They were also on opposite sides of a tag match on the preceding Smackdown. Interestingly on an NWA event in February 1998, Matt and Jeff Hardy took on Rob Van Dam and Sabu. (Fan-cam style footage is available on YouTube). But I digress.
Rob Van Dam is clearly the only one of the Alliance crew that the WWE fans want to cheer. He almost has to stop and have a cheeky nod at the reaction he gets as he comes to the ring. His appearance in WWE works in two ways really. Those fans who have followed him in ECW are behind him because they know how different to anything else they will see on this card he is. They want to see him succeed in the only “big-time” North American promotion there is left. Fans who haven’t seen much of him, on the other hand, either know the reputation and are eager to see if he lives up to it or don’t know much about him and are wowed by his flash moves and superstar charisma anyway.
The match itself is very good. Unlike many Hardcore matches, there wasn’t really overkill on weapons as such, we just get chairs and ladders, but they made it work. It’s crisp, believable (within the confines of wrestling anyway) and the fans are REALLY into it. Sometimes things just click. Expectations were met with this one. RVD wins after the Five Star Frog Splash.
Vince is with Kurt Angle this time. Vince wants Kurt to be in the right frame of mind. Angle says he kicked ass at the 1996 Olympics and he’s going to do it again tonight.
Trish Stratus & Lita Vs Torrie Wilson & Stacy Keibler
Mick Foley is your special guest referee again. I mean it made sense for him to referee the, erm, referee’s match but is it so important to have an “impartial” referee here who isn’t impartial. After all, the only way to win this match is to strip your opponents down to their underwear. It was hardly Gotch/Hackenschmidt levels of technical wrestling here so we’ll forgo and play by play. Trish and Lita win, and the fans seem to get as much out of this match as they do anything else on the card.
We see Steph and Shane give their guys a pep-talk, whilst Vince is attempting to give Austin one. Stone Cold isn’t there for a pep talk, he’s just here to kick some ass.
The “Inaugural Brawl” Invasion 2001
WCW-ECW Coalition (Booker T, Bubba Ray Dudley, Diamond Dallas Page, D-Von Dudley and Rhyno) (with Shane McMahon, Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley, and Paul Heyman) (The Alliance) defeated Team WWF (Chris Jericho, Kane, Kurt Angle, Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Undertaker) (with Vince McMahon) (WWF)
In the words of George Costanza “If you take everything I’ve accomplished in my life and condense it down to one day, it looks decent!”. On a similar note, if you put together a highly polished video package together of the WCW and ECW invasion of the WWE you could actually believe it was a logical and well thought out storyline that was superb! It’s a really great promo video that leads us into this match.
And yes, there are really only two “non-WWE” guys in this match in the form of Diamond Dallas Page and Booker T (which says a lot about the Invasion on a number of different levels when you think about it) but the fans are into this one and perhaps in spite of how we’ve got here it does genuinely come across as a big deal.
The match itself is very good too. With all the talent in there they are able to keep up a fast past and it never really has a chance to get dull. And of course whilst with hindsight, the “shock” ending could be said to not work and really be the death knell for any idea that this will ever be a “proper” invasion, you have to say it’s well done. At the time of the event, I genuinely thought that Stone Cold was legit injured at ringside and it’s a top-notch production crew effort to get that over. Of course, the end itself becomes overbooked and has to involve the McMahons but for once that is more than understandable given what’s at stake (ish) in the storyline. Stone Cold turning his back on the WWE certainly was a talking point and perhaps a necessary evil if the Alliance storyline was to have any legs at all. And hey, even if it’s not WWE Vs WCW, at least the prospect of Angle and Austin tearing it up in the months to come is a welcome one.
So that was Invasion. As we’ve said, the whole storyline is not looked back upon with much fondness by long-term fans and if six months earlier you had brought up the idea of a PPV where the WWE was taking on WCW and ECW there’s a fair chance that not much of what we got here would have been high on your “fantasy booking dream match card”. And that’s a fair point. But on its own merits Invasion is a reasonable enough show and for the most part, at least comes close to feeling like we’re seeing something “special”. In an alternate universe where Vince brings in some of the bigger WCW stars in the weeks after this event and the Invasion really picks up then this would be seen as a decent first step. Sadly, for all that, it’s a footnote in history. Worth a watch on that basis but ultimately the disappointment of what it could have been is always in the back of your mind.