wrestling / Columns

Ask 411 Wrestling: Could Bret Hart Have Saved the WCW Invasion Angle?

October 4, 2021 | Posted by Ryan Byers
Bret Hart WCW

Welcome guys, gals, and gender non-binary pals, to Ask 411 Wrestling. I am your party host, Ryan Byers, and I am here to answer some of your burning inquiries about professional wrestling.

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Bow wow wow, yippee oh yippee ey, Tyler from Winnipeg is yellin’ “ariba la raza,” all day, every day:

Do you think we will see Konnan on WWE again?

I have a hard time believing that we’ll see him as a full-time performer with WWE. First off, it’s been twenty years now since WCW went out of business, and at no point in that time have we seen Konnan pop up in the E. One would think that, if there were mutual interest there, something would have happened in the last two decades.

Even if there were some interest, there’s a chance that K-Dawg just might not be able to do it. I feel like this story got lost in everything that unfolded a few weeks later with the COVID-19 pandemic, but Konnan actually had some pretty serious health issues in the early part of 2020, and I’m not certain whether he’s been left in a condition where a WWE road schedule would make much sense for him.

That being said, even though I don’t see him being a full-time employee, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised to see him show up for a one-off somewhere, particularly when we get to a point where Rey Misterio Jr. is inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. Their longstanding friendship would probably result in Konnan showing up on that broadcast, maybe even as the person doing the honors on the induction.

Bryan is taking us old school. To one of the oldest schools, in fact:

If Shakespeare were alive now do you think he would be a fan of wrestling? Do you think he would be effective as a booker for either the current major feds or the territories?

It’s almost impossible to say whether Shakespeare could or would have been an effective pro wrestling booker, because what Shakespeare was doing in his prime and what pro wrestling bookers are supposed to do are two completely different things. The entire purpose of pro wrestling is to put on a series of less significant shows that build up and prompt your viewers to tune in to larger shows, with the larger shows being the ones that fans pay money to see, whether that money comes in the form of tickets, pay per view buys, or, more recently, over the top streaming service subscriptions.

That’s not what Shakespeare was doing. He wasn’t telling stories week-to-week meant to climax at the end of a several week run. He was just writing plays intended as one off works of entertainment and/or art.

The other thing to keep in mind is that people largely do not read and study Shakespeare to this day because of what he was able to put together in terms of plot. Don’t get me wrong, his plays are well plotted, but what has given him longstanding appeal is more the unique way in which he used the English language, how he structured poems, monologues, and soliloquies. Flowery prose is not what has historically drawn wrestling fans, and I have a hard time believing that it would just because Billy Shakes was penning it.

Would he be a fan? Perhaps, but given that there are fewer people watching pro wrestling in the United States these days than at just about any other point in its history, it doesn’t seem like the odds would favor that outcome.

DownUnderDan has worked himself into a shoot:

At Halloween Havoc 1999, Hulk Hogan came out for his match with Sting in street clothes, and like Jeff Jarrett did to Hogan 9 months later, he just laid down and let Sting pin him. What was the point of this? I know this was Vince Russo’s first PPV in charge of writing WCW and this has his fingerprints all over it, but I don’t recall a payoff to this. Hogan turned back up in early 2000 and started yet another died with Flair and Luger. Was there a storyline reason you know of for this to occur?

You’re right, it didn’t pay off. It didn’t pay off because Vince Russo was ousted as head of creative before it could be.

According to the November 1, 1999 Wrestling Observer Newsletter, which covered Halloween Havoc, the idea behind the angle was that it would give Hogan the opportunity to take several months off before returning in 2000 with a new “anti-authority” persona, perhaps even using his real name.

Portions of this – though without the name change – were eventually incorporated into Hogan’s act when he came back for the New Blood vs. Millionaires’ Club feud, though that was part of Russo’s second run on top of WCW creative, not the first.

Gilles from Switzerland is taking it to he mat:

Woooooo Ryan, i have a question about the Nature Boy. Why was Ric Flair wearing his kneepads under his knees?

There are actually two reasons for this.

The first is that, according to Flair on his own podcast, he always felt that his legs looked underdeveloped, and wearing the kneepads low made it appear as though he had some more mass in that area.

The second is that, if you look at how wrestlers fall when they’re going down to their knees, they’re not landing on the kneecap itself. They’re landing on the shin. Thus, wearing the kneepad low gives you the protection where you actually need it. In fact, when Flair was going to do something that would put the kneecap at risk, like his classic kneedrop, he would usually pull the pad up over it.

Craig is in Khan-trol:

What if Tony Khan bought WWE in the future and put it on the shelf like Vince McMahon did for WCW – Do you think it would have more of a negative impact for the wrestling industry or would it be positive impact knowing McMahon would be out of the picture?

This question is really moot, because, even if the McMahon family were considering selling off their interest in WWE, I have a hard time believing that Vince’s ego would allow him to make the sale to someone operating a competing wrestling promotion – even though the Khan family has the financial resources to buy WWE several times over.

However, if we assume that this scenario were to play out, the smartest thing for Tony Khan to do would not be to put WWE on to the shelf so to speak but rather to continue to use the name in some manner, either through rebranding AEW as WWE or continuing to run it as a separate entity.

Why?

Because to a good portion of the population, professional wrestling IS WWE and there are no other wrestling brands, just as there are many people out there who generically refer to all MMA as “UFC.” Taking the WWE name out of the market would not be a positive for the industry, because hearing WWE has gone out of business would no doubt result in many people believing wrestling as a whole no longer exists.

Richard U. is here with one of his standard perplexing questions:

Is the “make it, take it” rule always true in professional wrestling?

As far as I know, “make it, take it” is a rule common in pickup basketball games in which, contrary to the rules of professional, collegiate, or high school basketball, the team that makes a shot retains possession of the ball on the next play.

I do not believe that this rule is applicable in professional wrestling. There are no plays to speak of. There are no baskets. In fact, in the vast majority of professional wrestling matches, there is not even a ball.

Mohamed wonders whether we are seeing some women’s devolution:

I’ve seen that the women’s division is in a decline of talent and feel that if the current bunch aren’t up to standard then things could be looking bleak for WWE unless Vince doesn’t care. What do you think of its current state?

I’m not really sure what you’re talking about, because the core talent of the WWE women’s division still consists of Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks, and Bayley (who really needs a last name), and they are the same people who were the core talent of the WWE women’s division five years ago. Of course, some people might consider that to be a problem in and of itself, but I do not know how you could consider the level of talent to be in “decline” when it’s the exact same talent.

Granted, continuing to play that same hand over and over for years to come could create some problems when most or all of those women are no longer with the company, but there are still some skilled women in the company that could be promoted with the appropriate push, with Bianca Belair and Toni Storm immediately springing to mind. Granted, it’s not like WWE is at All Japan Women’s levels of talent or anything with its women’s roster, but they never have been and likely never will be. (Heck, based on what I’ve seen, I’d probably take the peak AJW roster over the current WWE men’s roster, let alone the women.)

Barry smells something fishy:

Betting on wrestling these days is quite common, but the first time I ever saw it here in the UK was in 2001.

Ladbrokes, a UK betting chain, where offering odds on “who would be WWF Champion on New Years Eve 2001”.

The answer was Chris Jericho, but let’s be honest, in 2001 who would have thought Y2J would end up with the gold?

Do you think it would be safe to assume that the now WWE and Ladbrokes had some sort of agreement going on?

I would actually say that it’s a safe assumption the two companies did NOT have any sort of affiliation. Though the history of professional wrestling and really professional sports in general is full of instances in which promoters and/or players have been in bed with those running books, by the dawn of the Twenty-First Century we were at a point where these things were so heavily regulated that I have a hard time believing that anyone involved would want to risk the sort of criminal and civil penalties that would come from an all-out conspiracy.

That being said, websites like this one have reported on pro wrestling betting odds for pay per views since the 2010s, and there have definitely been periods where the odds shift a couple of hours before the show, which some have taken as an indication of “smart money” coming in from those who were aware of the finalized finishes.

Also, though it wasn’t the main thrust of the question, I don’t know that Chris Jericho holding the WWE Title at the end of the year would have been too wild a prediction in 2001, particularly in the last quarter of the year. His program with the Rock was clearly setting him up for something significant. Even before the Invasion, he was part of the title picture in his program with Steve Austin and Stevie Richards.

I am disappointed that LannyPoffoAsTheGenius did not write out this question in the form of a poem:

Obviously the WCW Invasion angle was an unmitigated disaster mostly because of Vince’s pettiness towards WCW and because outside of a few like DDP and Booker T, most of the big WCW names didn’t immediately go to WWE

But do you think WCW would have fared better if Bret Hart hadn’t gotten hurt? I’m not suggesting they would have “won” the angle – as they clearly wouldn’t have – but I do think regardless of the Screwjob – Vince did like and respect Bret and Bret clearly would have stayed loyal to WWE had Vince been able to pay him.

Or do you think Bret would have also initially sat out after the WCW sale? Or would Bret have been considered a WWE guy in the feud?

There are a lot of variables that would have been at play here.

Ultimately, I suspect that the most likely answer is that the Hitman would have sat the whole thing out. Chris Harrington has assembled an excellent site containing quite a bit of WCW contract data from the Monday Night War era, most of which was disclosed in various legal proceedings, including the infamous racial discrimination lawsuit against the company.

If you comb through that information, you will see that Bret Hart had a five-year contract with WCW that paid him $2.5 million per year. That would have continued through December 1, 2002, and I have a hard time believing that Hart, who still had a lot of ill will towards Vince McMahon, was going to give up that level of pay to come back and work for a guy whose guts he hated, particularly when wrestlers who also had substantial contracts were sitting out for significantly less guaranteed money.

(Some might point out that Hart was not under WCW contract when the company folded. He was released in October 2000. However, I strongly suspect that he’s not getting released but for the injury that put him out of wrestling, so for purposes of question I’m going to pretend that cut did not happen.)

Let’s take it to the next level, though. Let’s pretend that both the WWF and the Pink and Black Attack were willing to come to a new deal in 2001.

From a creative perspective, the decision that makes the most sense is continuing to have Hart on the WCW side of the invasion. Everybody watching WWF television saw him get screwed less than five years earlier, and there would be no value in a story that aligned him with Vince McMahon. Of course, the difficult thing probably would have been making Hart into a heel, because the fact of the matter is that the WWF had already tried to make McMahon the babyface in the grudge between he and the Hitman when the ’97 Survivor Series first went down, and that failed miserably, which is what lead to the Mr. McMahon character.

Would that have resulted in the Invasion being more of a success?

Perhaps this is the cynic in me, but I have a hard time believing that to be the case. You are correct in that, in a certain sense, McMahon has some respect for Bret Hart, but we’ve also seen over the years that Vince is a pretty vindictive person, and he has often sought revenge against those who he has perceived as slighting him. I suspect that, if anything, having Bret Hart on the WCW side of the invasion would have resulted in him having even more incentive to make that side of the storyline war look incompetent, because he would have been able to kill two birds with one stone. Not only would he have been able to establish in fans’ eyes that his wrestling company was always the superior one, he also would have been able to prove to those same fans that Bret Hart was not the superstar that everybody believed him to be.

For those reasons, I don’t think that Bret would have been booked more strongly than any other member of the Alliance, and the failure to book the Alliance as a credible threat was among the chief reasons – if not the chief reason – that the angle ultimately failed despite generating some excellent business in its earliest months.

That will do it for this week’s installment of the column. We’ll return in seven-ish days, and, as always, you can contribute your questions by emailing [email protected]. You can also leave questions in the comments below, but please note that I do not monitor the comments as closely as I do the email account, so emailing is the better way to get things answered.

article topics :

Bret Hart, WCW, WWE, Ryan Byers