Arnold Furious: With the WCW/ECW Alliance angle firmly put to bed at Survivor Series the WWF found themselves in an unenviable position. Even though they flubbed the invasion angle, for reasons noted elsewhere, how do you follow it? The biggest cross-promotional angle of all time may have sucked but fans still bought the InVasion PPV and the Survivor Series PPV based on promises of inter-promotional matches and a once in a lifetime experience. With Vengeance falling into the usual stop-gap dead-end month of December, the WWF felt they needed to do something equally as big to pop a buyrate. Their decision was a somewhat confusing one; to unify the WWF and WCW World Titles. It made sense at the time, as the whole crossover angle was finished, but with the benefit of hindsight and the WWF’s desire to expand into branding (RAW vs. SmackDown!) it made no sense at all. Ultimately they would need two titles and two different champions to give their shows distinctly different feels. Whatever the reasoning was for unifying the titles, it did nothing to pop the buyrate and indeed 2002’s December PPV, headlined by Triple H and Shawn Michaels, picked up more buys. At this point most of the casual fans had gone. We were down to the hardcore fanbase that would buy just about anything with WWF in the title. The WWF learned during 2002 that they didn’t really need something mega-special to sell a PPV event but in late 2001 the feeling was if they didn’t go into Vengeance super-hot then no one would buy the show.
Tangent: The WWF got even sneakier than that with their advertising. Leading into Vengeance, it was clear that Triple H was approaching acceptable fitness levels and there was a suggestion he’d be available to wrestle at the PPV. Ultimately the WWF weren’t going to take that risk with him and his return instead came at the Royal Rumble. But that didn’t stop them using his picture on the Vengeance poster and pointing out on WWF programming that he “might” be there, which in wrestling terms means he will be. It was underhanded stuff. Some of the WWF’s more devious marketing during 2001 turned fans off.
Another Tangent: Between Survivor Series and Vengeance the WWF landscape had changed quite dramatically as the WWF’s victory party didn’t last long. Almost as soon as the balloons and streamers were brought in, so was Ric Flair, which makes you wonder why he wasn’t used during the invasion angle as there are few figures in all of wrestling that scream “WCW” more than the ‘Nature Boy’. He was WCW champion eight times, plus he had another ten reigns as the NWA champion before that. Despite a brief WWF run in the early 90s he was synonymous with WCW. Anyway, the WWF brought him in as 50-50 owner with Vince McMahon, claiming Naitch had saved enough money to buy Shane and Stephanie’s stock. Those who know his lack of financial stability would find that laughable. Flair’s first act was to stop Vince’s power-mad attempts to get the WWF Title off Steve Austin (that sounds very familiar), with Vince blaming Austin for almost tanking the WWF against the Alliance. This whole scenario turned Vince, who owned the company, and Angle, who saved the WWF against the Alliance, into heels while the champion Austin, a heel pretty much since WrestleMania and a guy who attempted to destroy the WWF a month ago was a babyface, and invading former WCW champion Flair was a babyface. No, it didn’t make any sense to me either. I think they got the whole thing backwards. Either way the co-owners eventually agreed to book a mini-tournament rather than Flair’s initial idea (Austin vs. Rock for all the marbles) and that’s why this show is considered a bit of a mess.
9th December 2001. We’re in San Diego, California. Video Control gives us a bit of history with Fred Blassie watching old footage of wrestling with the WWF claiming there has never been an “undisputed” World Champion. It’s a pretty cool idea if it was true and there had never been an undisputed champion in the past. Lou Thesz unified all the available World Titles in the early 50s, for example. It wasn’t really until 1960 when the AWA split from the NWA and then in 1963 when the WWF did the same that the waters were muddied and different World Champions existed. If they’d said; there hasn’t been a unified World Champion in 50 years then I’d buy it because that would be closer to the truth although various Japanese and Mexican promotions could lay claim to World Titles and dispute this unified World Title. Although, their titles aren’t really defended globally so I’m not sure they’d count. Hosts are Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler.