The first decade of the new century was one of massive upheaval in the wrestling world. When the decade began, the WWF, WCW, and ECW were in a triple-threat match for wrestling supremacy. Within a few years, two of those companies were gone and the third was forced to change their name.
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Vince McMahon was on a roll at the end of the century. He became a billionaire when his company went public and he was beating Ted Turner in the ratings. Vince decided to branch out from wrestling and set his sights on the NFL. Joined by NBC, who had recently lost the rights to cover the league, they created the XFL. The league started off great with huge ratings for week one. While fans were anxious to see what the XFL was all about, they thought the product stunk and the ratings plummeted in future weeks to the point where the league had record low ratings for primetime network television programming. The league was disbanded shortly after the end of their first season.
The Rock has succeeded where others have failed. He has used the fame he garnered as a wrestler to have massive success in Hollywood. His glorified cameo in The Mummy Returns was the start of a career that has seen him change his name to Dwayne Johnson and make the move from an action star to a Disney family-friendly paternal figure. His stature as an actor was boosted when he was deemed worthy enough to hand out an Oscar at the Academy Awards.
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In 2002, Brock Lesnar burst onto the wrestling scene like a comet and within months became the youngest WWE Champion in history when he beat the Rock to win the title. While Brock's career was a success, just like a comet it was a bright show when it lasted but it didn't last too long. Within two years of his debut, he was gone. After a failed attempt to join the Minnesota Vikings, Brock found great success in MMA where he quickly won the most coveted title in the business, the UFC Heavyweight Championship. Brock's success as a legitimate fighter has had a trickle down effect where people can no longer laugh at pro wrestlers as being fake fighters that would not be able to win a legitimate contest.
While the beginning of the decade saw the company growing in popularity, this growth was not enough to save it from some severe financial difficulties. In 2001, the company filed for bankruptcy. It later came out that the WWE was helping keep the company afloat and they wound up owning the asets of the company once it emerged from bankruptcy court. In 2004. the WWE released The Rise and Fall of ECW on DVD which led to a one-night reunion the following year called One Night Stand. The success of both were so great that the company brought ECW back to life in 2006. ECW now ranks as the third brand in the WWE hierarchy and is seen by many as a televised training ground for new wrestlers to experience before moving on to RAW or SmackDown.
6. The Brand Split
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With WCW and ECW out of business, the WWE had no real competitors and a giant roster. In 2002, they created their own competition by splitting their roster in half and creating two brands, RAW and SmackDown. Both brands took their names from the two biggest shows the company runs weekly. While both brands are a part of the WWE, they are portrayed as rivals to each other on television. Wrestlers switch back and forth between the brands through an annual draft, trades between the group, and free agent signings. This "feud" between the companies has led to a gimmick based PPV called Bragging Rights
and the title of the very popular video game franchise, SmackDown vs. RAW
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With the WWE winning the wrestling wars against WCW and ECW, there was an opening in the market for a new wrestling company. Founded by Jerry and Jeff Jarrett, TNA began as a weekly PPV program in 2002. However, the company was soon almost destroyed when their financial backer, HealthSouth, was caught in the accounting scandals that plagued corporate American during that time. Panda Energy became the new backers of the company and Dixie Carter was named as their President. Under her leadership, the company has grown slowly and steadily. The company ended this decade with a bang as they announced they have signed Hulk Hogan and Eric Bishoff. That team was the force that led WCW to their greatest success in the '90s.
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Hulk Hogan has been the most recognizable name in pro wrestling for the past 25 years. During that time, he became a pop icon but was always viewed as just a wrestler. That all changed when Hulk Hogan allowed cameras into his home to film Hogan Knows Best. Hulk went from being covered in the pages of Pro Wrestling Illustrated to becoming a part of the TMZ culture of celebrity scandal when he got hit with the one-two punch of having his son involved in an automobile accident that left a friend of the family with permanent brain damage and then his wife filed for divorce. Hulk Hogan is now known more for his legal battles with Linda and the Graziano family than for his battles against Andre the Giant and Roddy Piper.
3. Get the "F" Out
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Things were looking good for the World Wrestling Federation at the turn of the century. They had just acquired their biggest rival and had a virtual monopoly on the wrestling business. Unfortunately, the company was forced to submit to a panda bear. In 1994, the two had come to an agreement over the use of the initials. In 2001, a court in Britain found that the company violated the terms of the agreement. Instead of appealing the decision and continuing a length and costly legal battle, the WWF changed their name to World Wrestling Entertainment. Since then, the WWE has gone out of their way to blur out the "illegal" scratch logo (photo of it to the left) while the WWF did nothing with the website wwf.com they fought so hard for.
2. The Fall of World Championship Wrestling
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During the '90s, the WCW and WWF were involved in an incredible feud (dubbed the Monday Night War) that saw the popularity of wrestling grow by leaps and bounds. At the beginning of the century, the WWF had the advantage in the feud but with Ted Turner backing WCW they were far from being out of this fight. Unfortunately for WCW, when AOL and Time Warner merged, the fate of WCW was sealed. Ted Turner lost his power base in the company and he was the biggest supporter of them. To make matters worse, the merger was an abysmal failure and within months of its approval, the company had a massive fire sale of their non-core assets to pay for the severe debt they incurred. One of those assets was WCW, which was sold to Vince McMahon and the WWF.
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During the first-half of the decade, famous wrestlers from the '80s and '90s were passing away before the age of 50 at an alarming rate. The story of wrestlers dying young picked up some mainstream publicity when Eddie Guerrero passed away in 2005. However, the worst was yet to come. During a horrible weekend during the summer of 2007, Chris Benoit killed his wife, his son, and then himself
. This led to Congress getting involved and interviewing the most powerful people in the wrestling business. Congress determined that
"illegal use of steroids and other drugs in professional wrestling is a serious problem that the wrestling organizations are not effectively addressing".