ON THIS DAY IN PRO WRESTLING HISTORY... The former wrestling promotion, World Championship Wrestling (WCW), taped its WCW Thunder (or "Chunder") event on 12/21/1999 to be aired 12/23/1999. One could certainly argue that this taping was bad night for WCW promotion and possibly set things in motion to have the promotion sold more than a year from then.
This was head booker Vince Russo's version of the New New New New New New New World Order. Yes, the former lead writer of TNA Wrestling who was demoted and then released by the promotion through February 2012 for the newer wrestling fans out there. Vince Russo was a significant part of the Monday Night Wars between WCW and the WWE. Russo started with WWE Magazine during 1992 but worked his way onto the WWE Creative Team by 1996. He was a big influence on helping to change the WWE into a more adult-themed show or morphing it into the "Attitude Era" as they call it. The adult themed storylines were helping the WWE rebound, along with pushing new stars like the Rock and Steve Austin, and Vince Russo deserves a significant chunk of the credit for the promotion's creative success. Eventually, though, his crash TV style storylines began to attempt to shock people short-term while he disregarded storylines long-term. Just look at the many, many Intercontinental Title changes during 1999, for example.
During the Fall of 1999, Vince Russo saw an opening at WCW. WCW shook things up backstage which included removing Eric Bischoff as its head chief. They were looking to remake their product and the timing couldn't be more perfect for Vince Russo. His contract recently expired with the WWE and he was working on a verbal or handshake agreement. Thus, with no contract in place, he could jump to WCW without issue... That he did! He took Jeff Jarrett with him, who was also working with an expired contract. Jeff Jarrett was actually catching fire with an Andy Kaufman storyline where he was wrestling women with his feud with Chyna as the blowoff of that angle. Conspiracy theorists will tell you that then-Vice President of Talent Relations Jim Ross knew about their contract expirations and practically let them go out of disgust for both guys... But that's never been confirmed other than Vince Russo's writing partner Ed Ferrara also jumping to WCW and openly mocking Jim Ross with the infamous "Oklahoma" parody character which was hardly flattering towards Ross.
Russo and Jarrett's jump to WCW interested fans at the time, as during 1999, WCW fell on hard times. Business declined since the middle of 1998 and the WWE began to pull away on RAW ratings. The early 1999 NWO reformation failed to draw interest. WCW was struggling as a promotion yet when Russo arrived, interest jumped. After all, he was the lead writer of the WWE during 1998-1999 and was receiving much of the credit for the WWE's turnaround since things were revised and reorganized within the WWE during 1997. Expectations were high that Russo would actually "save" WCW. Initially, Russo to WCW was a success... On Russo's first Nitro 10/4/12 jumped to a 3.3 rating from a 2.6 rating the week before. Better yet, WWE's Monday Night RAW dropped in the ratings from a 6.1 to a 5.5. Russo's ratings held above 3.0 for October/November but returned back under 3.0 through December and Time Warner executives were watching closely.
WCW, before Vince Russo, was still a Southern based wrestling promotion. The South preferred their pro wrestling to be much like a legitimate athletic contest and storyline conflicts were based upon what happened in the ring, not backstage. Very conservative on the storylines, too, as the South still presented challenges for the traveling WWE even during the peak years with their adult themed storylines. Thus, when Vince Russo arrived and injected the "Crash TV" storylines at an even faster pace without Vince McMahon jerking the leash, WCW fans were in for the shock of their lives. Russo, now unfiltered in WCW, pushed adult themed storylines, more backstage segments, many heel/face turns, and tried to cram as much into his timeslots as humanly possible. With time, both Time Warner, the owners of WCW, and fans wore thin on Vince Russo's creative abilities. The writing was on the wall and he had to come up with something desperate to save his job... The return of the New World Order (NWO).
Vince Russo has said that he admired the NWO storyline and would have loved to write storylines for that angle. Well, on 12/20/1999, he created that opportunity... Bret "the Hitman" Hart was wrestling Bill Goldberg for WCW Nitro's main event for the vacated WCW Championship thanks to the bizarre Russo booked Starrcade 1999 finish between Hart and Goldberg during the night before (no-DQ match yet the non-referee Roddy Piper called the match when Hart had Goldberg in the Sharpshooter, maybe trying to imitate the 1997 Survivor Series Montreal Screwjob finish?). For the Nitro rematch, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash came down with baseball bats and attacked Bill Goldberg. Bret Hart grabbed a bat himself and hit Goldberg, eventually helping himself to win the vacated WCW Title. Roddy Piper, for whatever reason, came down to save Bill Goldberg but the 4th member of the "new" NWO destroyed him with a guitar. That man was Jeff Jarrett. Jarrett showed off his impressive spray painting skills (sarcasm) with the letters "N.W.O" on Piper and Goldberg and the loud speaker said "N.... W.... O...."
This column could go on and on about how this 5th edition of the NWO (1996 original, 2 split brands in 1998, and reboot of 1999 = 4) was a "failure", but one could easily argue that Vince Russo had BAD luck during this week and the following month. For one, Bret Hart suffered a nasty concussion against Bill Goldberg at Starrcade 1999 from 2 nasty blows to the head: (1) When Hart wrapped Bill Goldberg around the steel post for the Figure 4 off the side of the ring, Hart dropped off the side of the ring and crashed his head into floor on the outside. (2) Goldberg delivered a nasty mule kick to Hart as the Hitman was running off the ropes, possibly unexpectedly. These 2 blows to the head would give Bret a nasty post-concussion syndrome and eventually put him out of wrestling for good. But, through 12/21/1999, ON THIS DAY IN PRO WRESTLING HISTORY... Bret Hart worked through the head trauma. At this WCW Thunder taping, Hart wrestled Chris Benoit in a match. That's right... 3 Main Events, 3 nights for Bret... Hart continued to work with the post-concussion syndrome, including wrestling in a no-DQ violent match against Terry Funk during early January 2000.
Bret was scheduled to wrestle Sid Vicious at the next WCW Pay Per View, Souled Out 2000. Head injuries, however, were proving to be too difficult to overcome... Thus, Hart vacated the title and the match was reworked to Chris Benoit vs. Sid Vicious after Jeff Jarrett was forced to withdraw from his match against Benoit. And of course, Chris Benoit vs. Sid was the last time Benoit was going to wrestle for WCW before jumping to the WWE along with the other "Radicalz" (Perry Saturn, Dean Malenko, and Eddie Guerrero). Vince Russo was removed as lead writer before WCW Souled Out 2000 and the 4 Radicalz a contractual release from WCW as a result. As noted before, WCW was already souring on Vince Russo and grew impatient on him succeeding. The injuries could have been the last straw, as Russo scrambled to rebook Souled Out 2000 without the injured Bret Hart and Jeff Jarrett. Russo proposed an idea to possibly allow former UFC Fighter Tank Abbott to actually win the vacated WCW Title at Souled Out 2000. WCW management rejected this idea and offered to demote Russo in response... Russo left instead and Kevin Sullivan, ex-husband of Nancy Benoit , became head writer. Hence, why Benoit led his group of Radicalz out of WCW and joined the WWE, as Benoit took Sullivan's wife and it was assumed that Kevin Sullivan would screw Benoit over on the booking because of that. As you know, Chris Benoit murdered Nancy Benoit and their son during June 2007 while Benoit was still under WWE contract.
Wait, Sid Vicious and Tank Abbott as WCW Championship contenders? What ever happened to Bill Goldberg?!?
That's where this WCW Thunder taping, ON THIS DAY IN PRO WRESTLING HISTORY, gets interesting. After the Chris Benoit vs. Bret Hart match on this very Thunder taping, the NWO attacked Chris Benoit and Bill Goldberg made the save. Goldberg ended up chasing Bret Hart to the back and out of the arena where Hart entered a limousine. Improvising, Bill Goldberg actually punched at the windows with his bare hands. Upon punching out the 3rd window, glass cut deep into his forearm and bled excessively from his arm, reportedly coming close to forcing his arm to be amputated because of the severity of cut into the arteries of his forearm. This put Bill Goldberg OUT of wrestling for 5 months and completely eliminated any possible interest of the Bill Goldberg (top face) vs. Russo version of the New World Order. Lots of injuries certainly harmed Russo's January 2000 booking.
Bill Goldberg, I'd argue, was never effective again in World Championship Wrestling. He was a major draw for WCW during 1998 but seemed to have nothing serious to do after he defeated Hulk Hogan at the infamous Georgia Dome Nitro during July 1998. When Goldberg made his return during May 2000, Vince Russo was already rehired by WCW to become lead writer again. Russo would truly mess with Goldberg's character with a heel turn at Great American Bash 2000 and then put Goldberg into a storyline that if Goldberg lost a match, thus not replicating his Undefeated streak of 1997-1998, he would be forced to retire. The awesome (sarcasm) team of Totally Buffed (Lex Luger, Buff Bagwell) ended up "retiring" Bill Goldberg at the WCW Sin Pay Per View Sin during January 2001. This loss allowed Goldberg to recover from a legitimate shoulder injury. By the time he was ready to return, WCW was already sold to the WWE and WWE wasn't willing to acquire his expensive WCW deal. Thus, Bill Goldberg would join the WWE on the RAW following Wrestlemania 19 during 2003. He signed for 1 year, won the World Heavyweight Championship in the WWE once, and left by defeating Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania 20 during 2004. Goldberg has not competed on televised pro wrestling since.
ON THIS DAY IN PRO WRESTLING HISTORY... WCW Thunder Tapings occurred 13 years ago that continued to harm one wrestler, Bret Hart with head injuries, while injuring another via punching out limo windows in Bill Goldberg. The 5th edition of the New World Order was doomed to fail no matter how you could argue it was a recycled angle by Vince Russo. Granted, his questionable storylines heading into 12/21/1999 exposed him to trouble that would eventually get him demoted during January 2000, but the injuries are painful. The timeframe from Starrcade 1990, where Goldberg first injured Bret, through this 12/21/99 Thunder Taping was a major nail in the WCW promotion's coffin. Several attempts at creative life support were tried during 2000 (including a complete title reset) but all failed... By March 2001, AOL/Time Warner executives cancelled television contracts for WCW Nitro and Thunder and thus took out all interested buyers in the promotion to allow WWE to swoop in and buy the promotion and its entire video library for under $5 million. OUCH.