For better or worse, 2001 will be remembered as the Year of the McMahons in pro wrestling.
Vince McMahon and his family finally accomplished the goal they set out to achieve in 1983 - a virtual monopoly of the wrestling business. McMahon purchased his top competitor, World Championship Wrestling, from Time-Warner for a meager $2.5 million last March, while Extreme Championship Wrestling folded amid financial troubles. That left the WWF as the only major promotion remaining in the U.S. and Canada.
The WWF also promoted the most successful card in company history last April. Wrestlemania XVII, headlined by The Rock vs. Steve Austin, smashed almost every financial record for a wrestling show in North America.
But seemingly from the time Austin turned heel in the main event, WWF business began to crumble.
McMahon's XFL came to a merciful death later that month after a disastrous inaugural season. The embarrassing television ratings for second-tier football, which rank among the lowest ever in prime-time television for a major network, ended McMahon's hopes of garnering mainstream respect as the greatest promoter of his generation.
McMahon then began experiencing problems in the business where he made his fortune. A combination of the Austin turn flopping, Triple H getting injured and Rock missing several months while filming his upcoming movie The Scorpion King helped lead to a rapid slide in the WWF's popularity.
The WWF also flubbed what should have been the greatest "invasion" angle in wrestling history with the performers acquired in the WCW purchase as well as those signed from ECW. The newcomers became victims of backstage politics, as WWF veterans sabotaged their debuts through bad-mouthing to the promotion's matchmakers or refusing to make the WCW performers look credible. The one-sided Undertaker vs. Diamond Dallas Page feud exemplifies some of the problems.
The WWF also refused to buyout the contracts of several well-paid WCW performers from Time-Warner. That left fans disappointed such long-time WCW stars as Bill Goldberg, Scott Steiner, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall weren't part of the invasion.
Instead, the stars of the invasion were McMahon's children. Shane and Stephanie McMahon were pushed on WWF television ad nauseum until the invasion angle was dropped in November.
Entering 2002, the WWF still plans to split into two promotions, laying the groundwork perhaps as early as the January 7 episode of Raw (which is also when H is scheduled to make his return). Under rosters headed by McMahon and Ric Flair, one group of wrestlers would appear exclusively on Monday Night Raw and the other on Smackdown. There may be separate pay-per-view and live shows at some point if the idea works.
Unfortunately for fans, the WWF remains the industry's only viable product.
Two upstart groups - the XWF and World Wrestling All-Stars - plan to feature a combination of ex-WCW stars and younger talent. The WWAS even has a pay-per-view show tentatively scheduled for February 24.
But without a mainstream television outlet and quality product, the XWF and WWAS have as much of a chance of succeeding as the McMahons removing themselves as the focus of WWF television.
-An alternative to the WWF is Backyard Wrestling, Incorporated - provided you're into young adults mutilating themselves while trying to emulate their hardcore heroes.
The BWI just issued the third and fourth editions in its violence-laden series. The tapes are not intended for anyone under the age of 18 because of their violent nature and brief female nudity. To order, visit http://www.backyardwrestling.com.
-There was a rare real-life skirmish in the ring during a Heartland Wrestling Association show December 12 in Dayton, Ohio when things went awry during a match involving Rikishi and Russ McCullough. Upset with being hit for real several times during the bout, Rikishi clocked McCullough with a chair, prompting the latter to walk out on the match.
Rikishi was working in that WWF developmental territory to get his in-ring timing back after missing several months following shoulder surgery.
McCullough was one of the developmental talents released by the WWF earlier this month.
-The Raw episode next Monday will air for three hours and feature 10 of the promotion's best matches of the year ... DDP should soon be back on WWF television as a babyface ... The two Tough Enough winners have started working in the WWF's developmental territories. Maven was assigned to the HWA, while Nidia is cutting her teeth in Louisville-Ky.-based Ohio Valley Wrestling.