The athleticism needed to perform in a pro wrestling ring is quite real. Beyond that, writers dictate the quality of the show. You know the names of some writers, others maybe not. Paul Heyman and Jim Cornette are two of the best ever. Kevin Sullivan and Eric Bischoff have had their fair share of success. Mike Quackenbush is an up and comer with his CHIKARA promotion. One writer’s legacy stands above all the aforementioned names due to his great success and terrible failures. The man is Vince Russo. That brings us to this week’s What If….
Unbeknownst to most, WCW had a stronghold on ratings in the late nineties. Vince’s WWF was filled with stagnant storylines and mediocrity. A few channels away on WCW, the nWo was beginning their take over. The man they call Sting was lurking in the rafters. The cruiserweight division was home to Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Ultimo Dragon, Dean Malenko and Rey Misterio Jr. In an effort to freshen things up and compete, McMahon promoted his former WWF Magazine editor Vic Venom aka Vince Russo as head creative writer. So began the Attitude Era.
Course language became prevalent among top stars like Stone Cold. Degeneration X expanded their numbers and served as WWF’s anti-establishment establishment. Women like Sable began wearing outfits that left little to the imagination. WWF soon regained the upper hand in the ratings war and WCW was left with one option: Hire Vince Russo.
WCW hired Russo in October 1999. In the next year, WCW would show flashes of decency but Russo eventually ran the company into the ground. The writing had a sense of panic. All titles were vacated at one point to give the company a re-birth. Russo became an on-air personality. David Arquette and Vince Russo would go on to win the WCW World Title on two bizarre occasions. The stability was gone. Vince McMahon would go on to purchase WCW and integrate what was left to salvage into his company. Vince Russo spent the last few months of his WCW contract sitting at home collecting paychecks with no involvement.
Had Russo stayed with WWF, their product wouldn’t have changed too much at that time for better or for worse. WCW on the other hand was indeed in need of some new life. Signing Russo seemed like a blockbuster deal, but the thought behind his hiring was far too circumstantial. The suits at TNT believed WCW + Russo = success. Everyone from Russo to the jobbers felt that pressure. This allowed no time or leeway. If the angle or personality didn’t boast the ratings , it was scrapped immediately. The usual formula for success in the wrestling business was disregarded entirely in an effort to create something new or interesting. It ultimately failed at both.
While it seems cut and dry that WWF made out in this, Russo’s WCW run had a negative effect on all of wrestling that we’re all still experiencing today. Killing WCW left WWE with no competition meaning they no longer had a reason to raise the bar in sports entertainment. The acquisition of WCW also left WWE with an over abundance of talent. In an effort to use everyone they were paying, the brands eventually split into Raw and Smackdown. The idea seemed great, but there was soon a disconnect in the quality of products with Smackdown considered the B-show. While WWE would never admit this and they do their best to combat this perception, one could only imagine what WWE would be like with 2 shows a week. It could be more of the same or it could be an opportunity to build more quality angles.
In terms of finding true competition in the industry, TNA is the closest contender but they’re still not close enough to push WWE. Sadly, the brains behind TNA include Bischoff, Hogan and….you guessed it, Vince Russo.