In one corner, an eventual WWE Hall of Famer, multi-time World Champion and one of the most dynamic stars in wrestling at the time. In the other, a 10-year veteran of the ring with a stellar physique and tremendous promise to perform consistently in main events. At stake was the WCW Championship, one of the richest prizes in the history of the medium, which, for the first time, was being defended on WWE programming. It seems historic, and it certainly still is, but perhaps not in the way it was originally intended.
“That match stands out for all the wrong reasons,” Jim Ross told WWEClassics.com. “It was abnormally bad and seemingly ill-timed.”
There are a number of theories as to what went wrong on the night WCW took over Raw and Booker T faced Buff Bagwell in the main event, but one fact remains clear — it was a tremendous mistake.
“I knew that Buff wasn’t prepared for that stage,” Booker T said. “But I still had a job to do and that was to represent WCW.”
Three months prior, the Monday Night War had come to an end when WWE purchased World Championship Wrestling. In the ensuing weeks, the stars of WCW, including Lance Storm, Diamond Dallas Page and Mike Awesome, began to appear on WWE television. On the July 2, 2001, edition of Raw, Shane McMahon announced that – for the first time ever – the main event of the evening would belong to WCW.
“That night was a test to see if WCW guys were better than WWE guys,” Booker said. “It was WCW versus WWE. That’s what that night was really all about, first and foremost.”
When it came time for the show’s final match to take place, WCW’s bright crimson logo sat at the bottom corner of the television screen and emblazoned the TitanTron and surrounding monitors, the ring skirt was replaced with a WCW-branded version, a WCW referee became the on-duty official, WCW's Stacy Keibler became the ring announcer and a WCW commentary team – Arn Anderson and Scott Hudson – took J.R. and Paul Heyman’s spot at ringside. Ross knew it wasn’t the best idea.
“I have a lot of respect for Scott Hudson, but he was a part-time guy,” J.R. said. “Arn was not an experienced broadcaster. He was one of the most talented guys ever in the business in a variety of ways, but he’d be the first to tell you that broadcasting was not one of them.”
As soon as the match began, the capacity crowd in Washington State’s Tacoma Dome instantly lost interest.
“We went out there and, of course, it was very, very awkward,” Booker said. “It was the first time I ever got the ‘boring’ chant and I was taken aback.”
But why wasn’t the crowd of more than 20,000 fans interested in witnessing such an historic moment? Perhaps it was because these were WWE fans, not WCW fans.
“I think the fans were looking at us as the invaders, as the bad guys,” Booker theorized. “They didn’t like the south, as far as what WCW represented. It was only fitting for them to support the WWE guys over the WCW guys.”
“Why wouldn’t you perceive them to be the villains?” Ross questioned. “They were playing for the other team.”
With the audience turned against him, Booker had the unenviable task of putting on a good match while trying to get a WWE crowd on his side — all while standing in a WCW ring.
“I was just trying to get as much as I could out of Buff,” the then-WCW Champion recalled. “I did the best that I possibly could, but I was pretty much on my own. I’ve known Bagwell for years. I knew him when he was a bright-eyed kid, excited about the [wrestling] business when he first got in. All the way back to when he was The Handsome Stranger in the Global Wrestling Federation, but he wasn’t capable of putting on a good enough match to impress anybody that night.”
WWEClassics.com attempted to reach Mr. Bagwell for this story, but the former five-time WCW Tag Team Champion declined to comment.
Eventually, two members of the WWE locker room – Kurt Angle and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin – dashed to the ring and began attacking both men, putting the Tacoma crowd out of their misery. Fans immediately leapt to their feet with the refreshing sight of the Superstars they’d paid to see.
“When you’ve got two WCW stalwarts coming into WWE territory and trying to make that a marquee match, I can see why some would have a bad taste in their mouth,” Austin said. “They want to see what they’re used to seeing.”
The four men brawled out of the ring and to the backstage area where the two WCW competitors were unceremoniously tossed out of the building. Booker went on to a WWE Hall of Fame career, but Bagwell made only one more brief appearance for WWE at a SmackDown taping the following night. A week later, Ross – in charge of all the performers at that time – dismissed “The Stuff” at a show in Atlanta.
“When I think of Buff Bagwell, he was so WCW,” Austin said. “He was ‘Buff the Stuff.’ ”
“He had some success in Atlanta, but I didn’t know how he’d fit culturally into our locker room,” Ross explained. “We were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and give him the opportunity.”
That was when Booker’s working relationship with his longtime colleague ended.
“We were in Atlanta and he showed up to the show at about 6:30,” Booker said. “That was the last time I saw Bagwell. I have not seen him or talked to him since that day.”
Over the following week, the WWE transformation into WCW occurred on several more occasions, including matches for the WCW Tag Team and Cruiserweight Championships. Booker was even given a second opportunity to create the magic he didn’t achieve with Bagwell.
“We did a follow-up match with Dallas Page and I,” the WWE Hall of Famer said. “We worked our butts off as hard as we possibly could. But it still wasn’t up to par. I still felt like it was proven that, from a certain perspective, that WWE had won. It was better than WCW.”
Many of WCW’s most recognizable stars were unavailable to WWE after the acquisition because of how certain contracts were structured with the organization’s parent company Time Warner.
“We couldn’t get Sting, Goldberg, [Rey] Mysterio, [Scott] Hall and [Kevin] Nash. Their contracts were guaranteed,” Ross explained. “Their contracts were ridiculous. They were outrageous. They were great for the talent, but horrible for the company. We interviewed virtually everyone else on their roster to see who had an interest in coming to work for WWE. Some we were successful at hiring, some we didn’t want to hire and some weren’t interested.”
Soon after the WWE fans loudly rejected the WCW brand, all of the invading performers merged with ECW wrestlers to create a massive villainous faction – one that ultimately was led by, of all people, Austin himself. The experiment of Booker as the exciting new hero crashing in from the outside had come to an end. And now, he stands as the last “WCW original” still with the company.
“I always said I was going to win by attrition,” Booker said. “All of those guys kept falling by the wayside. Sooner or later, they were going to have to give me the ball. I had to fight tooth and nail to make it in WWE. They threw everything they possibly could at me, but it really didn’t matter. Twelve years later, I’m still here.”