Less than a week before WrestleMania…so you’d expect that this would be ALL guns blazing towards that show. Well those of us who know their wrestling history will recognise the date of 26 March 2001. Just three days previously Vince McMahon had conquered his last true slice of competition when he purchased World Championship Wrestling (for what would prove to be a ridiculously cheap price all told).
This led to this famous night, with the last ever Monday Nitro airing on TNT whilst Raw continued here on TNN.
Gund Arena, Cleveland OH – TV Rating – 4.7
So it was really understandable that tonight of all nights Vince McMahon would open the show. As we start we focus in on a pair of monitors. One showing Raw, the other Nitro. A Slap Nuts guitar fills the WCW screen and we then pan to Vince McMahon who brags about buying his competition and says that this means that tonight he will be able to address both the WWE and WCW tonight via a simulcast on both shows! Vince then remembers Jeff Jarrett and how he spells his name “J-E-double F”. Well after tonight he will have to spell it “G-double O-double N-double E…goonnee!” We suspect Jarrett wasn’t sitting at home waiting for Vince to call him later in the week.
After JR and Paul Heyman introduce us to the show / Vince’s victory party the show proper starts with Kurt Angle making his way to the ring. He’s talks about the big news of the night…that he doesn’t have a match for WrestleMania. As luck would have it, out comes another man in a similar predicament. Chris Benoit. The upshot is the two jaw back and forth about their respective submission moves and then agree to a match at Mania. They fight and we get the visual of Angle tapping out to the Crossface until Edge & Christian make the save.
Backstage Trish and Vince are on a sofa, cosying up. Vince is on the phone to Stephanie telling her and HHH to enjoy their vacation but to tune in for the main event and the simulcast. Buff Bagwell and Lex Luger (neither of whom actually appeared on Nitro that evening unless I missed something) are shown on the WCW monitor. Vince informs us that the Lex Express is out of gas and Buff is stuffed.
After a break, Michael Cole is backstage and catches Debra leaving her husbands dressing room. He asks her whether Austin and Rock can co-exist in tonight’s main event tag team match against Kane & Undertaker. She doesn’t answer.
LUMBERJACK MATCH: Tazz Vs Val Venis
It takes far longer for the lumberjacks (the rest of Venis’ RTC buddies, the Acolytes and Jacqueline) to make their way to the ring than this fifty second match. That includes time for a wild brawl and the requisite interference spots before Tazz to get the win via a Northern Lights Tazzplex.
Backstage and William Regal is playing gooseberry with Vince & Trish on the sofa. Vince points out Road Warrior Animal on the WCW monitor and then wishes Regal luck for his “tune-up” match tonight.
William Regal Vs Crash Holly
Well we think he’s going to take on Cruiserweight Champion Crash Holly (who beat Dean Malenko for the belt on Heat the previous week) but Regal has other ideas and attacks Crash’s cousin Molly. In fact he beats both up for all of thirty seconds before Doink The Clown (who had been seen in the crowd earlier) makes the save. Doink is revealed to be Chris Jericho, besmirching the good commissioner once again.
Backstage Vince tells Trish of the time that Dustin “Goldust” Rhodes wanted to get breast implants before he gets distracted by Trish’s own. We also see Jonathan Coachman interviewing William Regal who says that Jericho won’t be laughing about what happened early when he has a non-title match against The Big Show later tonight. More time is killed as JR and Heyman talk about Rock/Autin before Coach catches up with Debra and asks her if Rock and Austin are in the right mindset. Now is not a good time to speak to her apparently and she walks off.
Finally all the time-killing / stalling brings us to Vince McMahon making his way to the ring to gloat about his acquisition of WCW. There’s a mis-step because the Nitro main event apparently hasn’t finished so Vince makes Lillian Garcia announce him again to kill a bit of time. Then the simulcast is on. In storyline terms Vince hasn’t quite made the deal; he is waiting until WrestleMania and will make Ted Turner step into the ring to witness the signing personally. Ok. Vince says that the only way to beat a billionaire was to become one himself.
He then asks the fans what he should do with WCW. He could, he surmises, just sit back and watch old WCW taps and laugh at how they ever thought they could beat him. He asks for fan input on some WCW stars. A mention of Hulk Hogan gets a mixed reaction, Booker T a polite one, Sting, Scott Steiner and, amazingly, Buff Bagwell get good pops. No one cares about Lex Luger but there’s a monster pop for the mention of Bill Goldberg. Vince decides he’s going to can WCW and fire everyone.
This is the cue for Shane McMahon’s music but the wily devil isn’t in Cleveland, he’s in Panama City and at Nitro! And in an (illogical) twist that surprises everyone Shane announces that a McMahon does own WCW…but it’s him, Shane himself. Vince sells it like his whole world has collapsed. A decent segment, if over-long, but in hindsight it shows that the idea of an “Invasion” was never going to be what a lot of people were hoping for.
So Nitro is dead forever, but we’ve still got an hour or so of Raw. Maybe there will be some matches. Oh wait, back from a break Vince is yelling at his lawyers (as well he should) and throwing around furniture and fittings.
The Hardy Boyz & Chris Benoit Vs Edge and Christian & Kurt Angle
Well despite this being your standard “mix some matches at the upcoming ppv to come up with a tag match” trope we’ve got to be looking forward to some great action here haven’t we? Oh, wait, what’s that? It’s not even going three minutes? Wonderful. Of course with these six in the ring it’s never boring but it’s never anything more than yet more in-ring filler. Benoit makes Christian tap to the Crossface. Angle and Benoit continue to brawl and Rhyno and Lita also interfere. Rhyno takes out both Matt Hardy and Lita with Gores.
Back from a break JR & Paul Heyman recap Triple H attacking Undertaker on Smackdown before Kevin Kelly is backstage with ‘Taker and Kane. He acknowledges that if he was Triple H he would have taken the night off too. And although he doesn’t have a particular beef with his opponents Stone Cold and The Rock tonight if they aren’t on the same page then they might not make it to Mania.
Test Vs X-Pac
This is non-title so once Eddie Guerrero is announced as the special guest referee you can kind of guess where this one is going since we already know Guerrero and Test will battle for the European Title at Mania. Still we have to overbook it so an actual referee comes out at one point, Albert interferes and Eddie makes the count after that. Eddie attacks Test post-match and says he will see him at Mania.
After seeing Stone Cold making himself a coffee backstage, Mick Foley makes his way out to the ring and he’s here to plug his book. No, wait. He’s actually here because WrestleMania wouldn’t be WrestleMania without him apparently and he’s got himself involved in one of the matches. Vince walks out and is far from amused, reminding Foley he fired him. Foley though has contracts that say otherwise. Basically when he was Commissioner the previous year he knew that Vince’s return would mean he would get fired so whilst he was still Commissioner he and Linda McMahon signed a number of papers. There’s even a video dated December 2000 that proves it. They’re all legally binding and one of the gave Foley the authority to referee any WrestleMania match he chooses. And yes, he’s choosing Vince McMahon Vs. Shane McMahon. It’s not been a good night for Vinnie Mac has it? The segment was fine but came out of nowhere. Some build-up to get us to this point would have helped a great deal.
Chris Jericho Vs The Big Show
This is of course non-title as William Regal wants to soften up Jericho prior to their match at WrestleMania. So I am sure that there are two things that will really shock you about this one. It lasts less than three minutes and Regal interference costs Jericho the match. And of course there is overbooking as Kane interferes to have a pop at the Big Show too. I mean it’s not as if he has a big tag match coming up tonight is it? Oh and Raven wanders out too. Ho hum.
The Dudleys are at WWE New York, either side of The Rock asking a backstage worker where Stone Cold’s dressing room is (you’ll never guess the catchphrase) and Austin and Rock agreeing to co-exist in the main event but after that, all bets are off.
Stone Cold Steve Austin & The Rock Vs The Undertaker & Kane
Debra is here (which means although they have downplayed the nonsense with her, she’s still technically involved in the Mania main event storyline) and once everyone is in the ring a Rock/Austin stare down gives Kane the chance to attack Rock and kick start the match. This is very much your WWE Main Event Brawl ™ of the time. It’s getting by on the star-power alone even though the only real storyline in it six days before Mania is Austin/Rock possibly failing to be a cohesive team.
In the end they pretty much are and within five minutes (yes, not even the main event breaches five minutes tonight) we’ve got Triple H interfering, attacking Taker with a chair enabling Austin to get the win. Austin celebrates with some beers but before he can down too many, Rock hits him with a Stunner and celebrates with a beer of his own. The show ends with Rock toasting his fallen Mania opponent.
There are no two ways about it. This episode of Raw is one of the most historic of the entire run of the show. With it being the night that Vince McMahon can crow to the world about buying up and killing off his competition it couldn’t be anything else. Regardless of circumstances, would it ever have been imaginable that Vince would one day be on Raw and Nitro at the very same time?
The show itself though is quite poor. Wrestling wise it’s almost non-existent. Six matches take up less than sixteen minutes of in-ring time. It would be churlish to have a go at the action in that sense as there’s not much the workers can do in those circumstances but go out and do whatever they can.
With this show, you just have to acknowledge it was in many ways a historic one-off that is memorable from that point of view but that doesn’t hang together very much in any other sense. McMahon style.