After battling for the better part of a decade, WWE owner Vince McMahon bought his lead competition WCW in 2001, but it almost did not happen that way. Beginning with the emergence of Hulkamania and the purchase of what would become WWE by McMahon from his father in the mid-1980s, the company became the clear standard bearer for American professional wrestling.
Offering an alternative was the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), a union of multiple wrestling territories. Over time, Jim Crockett Promotions became the lead territory of the NWA, playing host to legendary world champions like Harley Race, Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat. That was until Jim Crockett Promotions was sold to media magnate Ted Turner, becoming World Championship Wrestling (WCW). WCW was seemingly content to play second fiddle to WWE until ambitious executive Eric Bischoff rose to power in the mid-1990s. Bischoff signed away major WWE stars like Hulk Hogan and “Macho Man” Randy Savage, eventually taking the fight directly to WWE by programming Monday Nitro opposite Monday Night Raw.
Beginning with the historic formation of the nWo faction and lasting for about two years, WCW and WWE were neck and neck, with WCW even sometimes clearly pulling ahead. As Bischoff loves to point out, Nitro beat Raw in the Monday Night War for ratings for 83 weeks straight. Sadly, bad management at the corporate level, Bischoff being forced into a lesser role, and bad creative from incoming WWE writer Vince Russo sent WCW into a tailspin from which it never recovered. McMahon purchased WCW in March 2001, mere days before he actually wrestled a match at WrestleMania 17. That day changed wrestling forever, but it very easily could have happened differently had only a few small things not occurred.
Eric Bischoff Almost Bought WCW Before Vince McMahon
By the start of 2001, it was clear that with wrestling fan Ted Turner out of power, the recently merged AOL Time Warner did not want to own WCW anymore. Eric Bischoff attempted to do the logical thing and purchase the company he had led to prominence, working alongside a group called Fusient Media Ventures. Bischoff and Fusient made an offer to buy WCW, but after AOL Time Warner announced it would no longer be willing to air WCW TV programs Nitro and Thunder, one of Bischoff and Fusient’s primary financial backers exited the deal. As Bischoff has said many times, without a place to air WCW programming, the company’s value plummeted, leaving the often scandal-prone Vince McMahon to swoop in and buy WCW’s assets for a mere $4.2 million. However, if Bischoff and Fusient had bought WCW as planned, the entire wrestling world of 2022 could look different.
With WCW Still Around, The WWE Network May Never Have Happened
WWE Network’s current status as a subsidiary of the Peacock streaming service – at least in the U.S. – may annoy some, but it cannot be understated how much it changed wrestling as a business. Before WWE Network, WWE pay-per-views cost $50 to $70 per show, with sometimes more than 12 events a year. On the network, all pay-per-views were included in the $9.99 monthly fee. While AEW may still charge big bucks for pay-per-views it only does 4 to 5 a year. If Eric Bischoff had bought WCW and kept it going, the WWE Network likely would have never even happened, as instant access to nearly the entire WCW tape library – complete with bizarre RoboCop cameo – was a huge selling point to wrestling diehards. Without WWE Network’s creation, wrestling would be a different beast in 2022 than it is to be certain.
AEW Might Still Exist, But Probably Not
Today, WWE’s closest, although still pretty distant, competition in wrestling is All Elite Wrestling (AEW), headed up by billionaire Tony Khan. At only 39-years-old, Khan is the kind of diehard wrestling watcher that likely subscribed to WWE network when it launched, and as is well-known, was a huge supporter of WCW once upon a time. Khan’s love and respect for WCW is apparent onscreen due to his treatment of WCW legends like Sting, Arn Anderson, Dustin Rhodes, Tully Blanchard and “Diamond” Dallas Page, as well as AEW shows airing on TBS and TNT. Had WCW never been bought by WWE, and of course never gone out of business afterward, it is highly likely that the AEW CM Punk calls home would not exist today. Without the WCW-shaped hole to fill, Khan may never have felt the need to get into the wrestling game, depriving wrestlers and fans of all the great moments AEW has provided.
The Monday Night War May Never Have Ended, But Wrestling Still Would Have Lost Popularity
Professional wrestling as a whole has never been hotter than during the Monday Night War era of the late-1990s and early-2000s, with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin giving WWE a new attitude and the nWo redefining cool and selling mountains of t-shirts. If WCW had never died, it is possible the Monday Night War may never have ended, with Raw and Nitro remaining rivals in perpetuity. Even if that had happened though, it is highly unlikely that wrestling’s massive growth period would have continued for long. Wrestling history is littered with boom periods and bust periods, and a bust was inevitable even before WWE bought WCW in 2001. Still, WCW being around also could have prevented WWE’s first ever brand split in 2002.
Why Pro Wrestling Would Be Better If WWE Had Never Bought WCW
Regardless of all the other things that may have gone down differently if WWE had never bought WCW, it is a near indisputable fact that the wrestling business is worse off 21 years later than it was in 2001. Sure, WWE rakes in billions of dollars in TV rights fees, but their actual onscreen product is widely seen as some of the worst TV they have ever produced from a creative standpoint. Years without real competition has made Vince McMahon complacent and reticent to try anything new, which ironically would have prevented the Attitude Era had McMahon thought the same way in 1997. AEW is trying, but by the time they came around, WWE was just too entrenched as the 800-pound gorilla of wrestling. WWE‘s stranglehold and near-monopoly on at least the general mass perception of what wrestling is in a post-kayfabe world has hurt the scripted sport for the worse. McMahon is at his best with his back against the wall, but instead he has essentially become a king sitting on a throne.