World Championship Wrestling looked finished in early 2001. However, a takeover by Fusient and the eleventh-hour resurrection of negotiations to remain on Turner airwaves for the time being allowed Eric Bischoff and his new team to bring things back to life.
Conceding defeat in the Monday Night Wars, switching back to the popular timeslot of Saturday at 6:05pm, having access to the last remaining Time Warner contracts and continuing the solid work of the booking team headed up by Johnny Ace and David Penzer from the start of the year led to people, dare we say it, actually enjoying WCW once again.
Now, it was time to celebrate. Starrcade 2001 was in the books, and all that remained of a worrysome calendar year was a special edition of the weekly TV show to celebrate avoid near doom. In 2002, more excitement awaits as well as a weekly hour of television for the cruiserweight division.
The day before the show, WCW.com confirmed the PPV schedule for 2002:
- January 27: WCW Genesis (Atlanta, Georgia)
- February 24: WCW Superbrawl XII (Nashville, Tennessee)
- March 24: WCW Spring Breakout (Orlando, Florida)
- April 28: Event name TBA (Toronto, Canada)
- May 26: WCW Slamboree (Winston-Salem, North Carolina)
- June 30: WCW Great American Bash (Baltimore, Maryland)
- July 28: WCW Bash at the Beach (Jacksonville, Florida)
- August 18: WCW Battlebowl (Greenville, South Carolina)
- September 15: WCW Fall Brawl (Charleston, West Virginia)
- October 27: WCW Halloween Havoc (Detroit, Michigan)
- November 24: WCW Victory Road (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
- December 22: WCW Starrcade (Washington DC)
DECEMBER 29, 2001: SATURDAY NITRO #34 – END OF 2001 SPECIAL
The show opens with The Cat in his office, thanking everyone for a successful Starrcade and a huge 2001 which has seen WCW escape the clutches of doom and find its feet in the wake of the Monday Night Wars as the action-packed alternative.
He says on behalf of Eric Bischoff, he is dedicating this special PPV-quality episode of Nitro to those fans who stuck by the company through thick and thin. Also tonight, they’ll be announcing the winners of some 2001 end-of-year awards.
The action kicks off with a four-way cruiserweight tag team contest which sees Jamie Knoble and the returning David Kash leap straight into title contention after Kash’s injury with a win over the Jung Dragons, Jason Jett and Shannon Moore and the Full Blooded Italians.
Glenn Gilbertti’s attempt to help his charges the FBI backfired as he pulled the top rope down on Maritato by accident, leaving Yang and Kaz free to Unleash the Dragon on Marinera only for Kash and Knoble to blindside the now-Meow-free Dragons and steal the pin on Tony in 8:58.
We get a video package hyping the main event of Rob Van Dam vs Mike Awesome for the WCW World title. It notes how Awesome requested the shot after emerging from the Starrcade Series as the only man to pin the eventual winner and new champ, and also points out that the two men are 1-1 in WCW after RVD retained his US title against Awesome a few months prior.
Sit-down interview excerpts depict Van Dam as wanting to teach Awesome a lesson after his actions helped bring ECW to its knees, while Awesome coldly states that he is hunting titles and money.
Sean O’Haire made his first appearance as the new United States champion, and immediately put that belt on the line against the man he dethroned at Starrcade in Shawn Stasiak. O’Haire proved himself as the real deal in this one-on-one title contest, putting his former stablemate away with the Seanton in 5:42. Stacy Keibler was none too impressed with her man afterwards and the two were bickering for a while.
Stills of the cruiserweight title contests from Starrcade precede the upcoming six-man tag featuring all those involved. First, we hear from Air Paris who says he is next in line and wants the added satisfaction of dethroning AJ Styles, who he points out has never beaten Paris one-on-one.
Match of the year 2001 is announced as the WarGames from Fall Brawl.
It looks like someone else is in the line ahead of Paris, however, as Skipper got the pin on Styles after 14:38 of Triple X vs AJ, Super Crazy and Tajiri thanks to cheating from Daniels and Ki. Elix then took the mic to say that he is going to use his rematch clause and wants to do so on the January 9 debut of AirTime!
We get a recap of Billy Kidman and Shane Helms’ Best of Seven Series, which will also lead to a cruiserweight title shot for the winner, and stills of Kidman taking a 1-0 lead.
Helms then levelled the score at one apiece in match two, ending a lengthy and creative sequence of different pinfalls and cradles by getting his feet on the ropes for the decisive swing of the pendulum and stealing one over Kidman after 11:31 of action.
Newcomer of the year: the new WCW champion, Rob Van Dam!
Backstage, DDP, Kanyon and Bam Bam Bigelow are with Mean Gene. Page says the Guerreros have a receipt coming their way after they cheated to dethrone the tag champions, but as for tonight the Jersey Triad reunites one more time to put an end to the Chosen Few once and for all.
They may well have come through on that promise, as well – the Triad defeated Shane Douglas, Mark Jindrak and CW Anderson when Douglas and Jindrak finally reached breaking point with each other and began brawling, leaving Anderson 3-on-1 and victim to a Diamond Cutter for the pin in 9:22.
Tag team of the year: Sean O’Haire and Chuck Palumbo!
Things were volatile backstage as Jarrett and Anderson kept Douglas and Jindrak apart whilst trying to tell them that he expects them to stand at ringside for his upcoming singles match, united, and put this behind them. Not a single member of JJ’s group seemed thrilled about this.
As promised, the Few came back out with Jarrett for his contest with Norman Smiley. It didn’t take long for Jindrak and Douglas to butt heads again, however, with Torrie Wilson failing to keep them apart.
CW Anderson went to try and help, leaving Smiley to score a huge upset over the former world champion with a roll-up at 6:30! He fled as the heels argued amongst themselves. Jarrett took CW with him and stormed off as Jindrak and Douglas had to be kept apart by officials.
Lance Storm was asked by Mean Gene where does he go from here, after his superb run of form was halted in a technical clinic at Starrcade by the old veteran, Ric Flair.
Storm embarks on a rant about how the apparent ‘spirit of Starrcade’ ran through DC and helped Flair pull off a fluke result against all odds, unjustly ending the hottest run of form in the company. He warns Flair that what goes around, comes around – and that their issue is far from over.
Wrestler of the year: Booker T!
Speaking of Flair, he and Sting challenged new tag team champions Los Guerreros in Eddie’s first Nitro match since returning. Highlight of the bout was Eddie and Ric’s one-upsmanship of dirty tricks – in fact, Sting was the only completely clean-cut competitor in the bout.
That said, nobody did anything in front of the ref to provoke a disqualification until a desperate Eddie lamped Sting with the ring bell after 13:47 to have the match thrown out before Chavo could submit. As the champs fled with their straps and Flair tended to the fallen Stinger, Lance Storm came in through the crowd and superkicked Flair down.
A recap of the events of Starrcade ends with a look at the Caged Heat bout which saw Goldberg rid WCW of Scott Steiner. The announcers mention that it wasn’t without a price as Goldberg is expected to miss around a month with injuries of his own sustained in the violent match, but they point out that he earned a Superbrawl title shot in the process.
New WCW champion RVD tells Mean Gene he was set to celebrate his title win on the special end of 2001 Nitro. However, Mike Awesome requested a title match after beating Van Dam in the Starrcade Series and RVD told Cat to make it happen. He says he wants to prove his title shot and victory were legit, and once he wins his rubber match with Awesome tonight, he will celebrate his big win next week on the first Nitro of 2002.
Moment of the year: WCW lives on with a Big Bang!
The final sit-down interview of the year – and of the series as a whole – saw Eric Bischoff discuss the return of the company and their first nine months back.
Bischoff admits that he misses the adrenaline rush of the Monday Night Wars but that this war had casualties, mostly the long-term health of one of wrestling’s steepest traditions. He says it also came close to even more casualties, because if WCW ceased to exist the fans and the workers would have suffered in the event of a monopoly.
Bischoff says it means the world to him that he was able to give back to the industry after it gave him the platform to revolutionise the 1990s scene and make his name. Over the last nine months, WCW has made him as proud as it did in the mid-90s, he said.
By reducing to one venue for TV taped two or three weeks at a time and running pay-per-views in the few established markets they didn’t alienate during the low points, WCW is on course to turn a profit in the near future for the first time since the glory days, and in addition he announces that he’s in talks with a consortium to provide further financial backing which will allow WCW to visit more towns and train more future stars.
He reiterates that they may never again compete with “their friends in the North” but that the wrestling industry deserves an alternative. It deserves cruiserweights. It deserves legends like Sting and Flair. It deserves twice as much marquee wrestling as there could have been. And, he adds, it deserves compensation for the mistakes of recent years. Bischoff concludes by telling viewers to buckle up for a big 2002.
Finally Rob Van Dam made a successful first world title defense against Mike Awesome, putting his only Starrcade Series defeat behind him in the process with the Five Star Frog Splash in 12:10.
Even though he was putting his official title celebration back a week, he didn’t even get a chance to even briefly celebrate this first defense as he was immediately blindsided by bitter former champ Booker T, who had Sharmell egging him on. This beatdown was particularly brutal and culminated in a Book End through the announce table.
END OF 2001 SUMMARY
Some end-of-year releases were made, as contracts expired and the company looks to continue to move in its new direction. Some of those released may appear on the next Nitro, which was actually taped after the live end-of-2001 special.
After dropping a loser-leaves match in the double main event of Starrcade, Scott Steiner will indeed be moving on at the end of his contract. Joining him will be his valet Midajah and former ally Buff Bagwell.
Leia Meow has also left the company, while Norman Smiley has ended his days of in-ring enhancement to head up the new, re-budgeted Power Plant. Alex Wright is returning to Europe.
AirTime will screen on Wednesday nights at 10pm, on a one-year deal with two rolling 12-month options that TV can choose to activate. The debut show will air on a 2-hour delay, then after that Nitro and the following AirTime will be taped in batches based on venue availability and cost efficiency, with hopes of finding a steady taping pattern once the show has been established.
In addition, WCW are now in a position to rotate their TV taping location and will begin by alternating between Universal Studios, Orlando and Centre Stage, Atlanta for the time being.
Next time: The first Saturday Nitro of 2002 – and the very first episode of WCW AirTime!