By JEREMY HARPER
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
ith World Wrestling Entertainment making one of its rare stops in Youngstown on Friday, this is a perfect opportunity to thank WWE owner Vince McMahon for the contributions he has made to professional wrestling since its last visit.
An appropriate place to begin is with McMahon's purchase of the dysfunctional World Championship Wrestling and the financially challenged Extreme Championship Wrestling.
Besides earning a nomination for the Bill Gates Spirit of Competition Award, McMahon stalled -- or ended -- the careers of top WCW performers. Are Sting, Scott Steiner and Bill Goldberg still alive?
Now that he had complete control of his rivals, McMahon tried to pull off the greatest angle in wrestling history -- a WWE vs. WCW "invasion" angle.
But he was unable -- or unwilling -- to buy out the contracts of WCW's former top stars and had to run the angle with former WCW midcard wrestlers.
The much anticipated "invasion" turned into a mere skirmish, with WCW midcarders getting crushed by a WWE roster stacked with superstars. If Canada decided to invade the United States, it would have better odds than WCW had.
As WWE's ratings continued their swan dive, McMahon decided to revive the New World Order, the former superfaction that pushed Ted Turner's WCW ahead of WWE in the ratings for 84 consecutive weeks.
The NWO, the most dominant and destructive stable of wrestlers ever assembled, was brought back to inject WWE with a "lethal dose of poison." After a brief and embarrassing run, the group was dismantled. NWO's legacy is all that was poisoned.
Going with a rookie
After failing to successfully revive some of WCW's old gimmicks, McMahon turned to his own talent to help jump-start his sputtering company.
Rather than properly pushing deserving midcard wrestlers like Edge and Rob Van Dam, McMahon decided to hand the future of WWE over to a rookie, Brock Lesnar.
The best way for McMahon to show fans that Lesnar truly was the Next Big Thing would be for him to run through WWE's top star, Stone Cold Steve Austin. Austin saw that he was being used and wasn't about to hand his top spot to an unproven talent.
So the disgruntled "Rattlesnake," arguably the most popular star in pro wrestling history, slithered away and hasn't been seen in WWE since. WHAT? I said, the book is closed on Austin 3:16, and that's the bottom line.
Excuse me for a minute while I reminisce about some of the factors that led to WCW's downfall: Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash and Eric Bischoff; pushing older wrestlers while holding back younger performers; matches that didn't advance angles; inadequate buildup for pay-per-views; hot-shotting and dropping angles; too many disqualification finishes; wrestlers having too much control; not giving fans what they wanted.
Wait, what am I thinking? Fans can relive the dark days of WCW by tuning in to "Raw" every Monday night.
If you're not down with the WWE product, I've got two words for ya: Brand Extension. Since McMahon eliminated all his competition, he decided to compete against himself and have wrestlers perform exclusively on either the "Raw" or "SmackDown!" shows.
This angle of having separate brands within the WWE family competing against each other doesn't go over very well when there's so much cross-promotion. And besides, the idea is too implausible. Is this our substitute for the failed invasion angle?
And speaking of angles -- where is Kurt Angle? The WWE's most entertaining performer isn't the only star who won't be making the trip to Youngstown. WWE champion The Rock and other top "Raw" wrestlers like Triple H and Chris Jericho will be nowhere in sight, while area fans will be treated to such "talent" as the Big Show, Bradshaw and Trish Stratus.
Ever since the World Wildlife Fund successfully forced McMahon to stop using the WWF initials, remembering to say -- and type -- WWE instead of WWF is nearly impossible. The two WWFs had an agreement to share the letters, but McMahon all but dared the other WWF to sue him for the exclusive rights to the letters, and they did.
Doing the math
What this fan is most thankful for is all the time and money McMahon has saved me in the past year. During pro wrestling's boom in the late 1990s, an average of roughly 11 million fans were tuning in Monday nights to watch WCW's "Nitro" and WWE's "Raw."
Neither company could satisfy fans' hunger for wrestling. A third hour was added to "Nitro," and both WCW and WWE later added two-hour shows Thursday nights. Now I could watch 36 hours of wrestling on television each month.
Factor in two pay-per-views and ECW's one-hour Friday show, and we're now talking 43 hours per month. Forty-three hours and a $60 pay-per-view bill each month -- that's quite an investment for a "casual" fan.
But after McMahon bought out WCW and ECW and turned them into nothing more than fodder for a future Professional Wrestling Channel, I was left with only 19 hours of wrestling a month, and my pay-per-view bill was cut in half.
Now that McMahon's "ruthless aggression" has allowed the quality of WWE to sink to a level that would make Doink the Clown and the Red Rooster proud, I now spend only eight hours a month watching wrestling. From 43 hours down to eight, in little over a year.
Oh, and my pay-per-view bill has been slashed to ZERO.
No, this time I really mean it ... THANKS, VINCE!
While there's nothing to miss about shelling out $60 a month on wrestling pay-ver-views, we fans do miss the excitement of the Monday Night Wrestling War between WCW and WWE.
When the two companies were battling for the No. 1 spot on the Nielsen cable ratings, fans were treated to some of the most entertaining and compelling shows on television.
But with the demise of WCW and ECW, there's no urgency for McMahon to put on the best shows each week. Competition isn't a bad thing ... it's a good thing. And I'm sure the 7 million viewers who have turned the channel on professional wrestling in the past year would agree.
Losing more than half of its audience would spell cancellation for most television shows, but not for WWE. McMahon has a track record for drawing fans to professional wrestling, and he has a track record for losing them as well.
But no matter how many times McMahon's shoulders are pinned to the mat, he manages to kick out before the three count.
Pro wrestling's popularity has traditionally been a testosterone-fueled roller-coaster ride. So though both WWE shows attract fewer than 4 million viewers each week, critics are eagerly waiting for pro wrestling to take its final breath.
But longtime fans know that wrestling's popularity will rise again when the Next Big Thing -- and I'm not talking about Lesnar -- comes along and breathes life back into WWE.
It's just too bad there isn't another promotion on free television to watch in the meantime.