January 16th, 2000 was a night that WCW fans would remember…but management would’ve loved to forget. It was filled with drama, firings, releases, promotions…demotions and in the end…was left right back where they initially started.
The pay per view was called ‘Souled Out’ and the scheduled main event was WCW champion Bret Hart defending his title against Sid Vicious. The problem was, a month prior at Starrcade….Hart suffered a severe concussion at the hands (or foot to be technical) of Bill Goldberg. Bret Hart was out…so Jeff Jarrett was slotted in his place…only he too suffered an injury knocking him out of the Souled Out pay per view. With Bret Hart on the injured list…he was stripped of the WCW title. WCW head booker Vince Russo was assigned the task of finding someone to become the new World heavyweight champion.
Russo, who was brought into WCW from the WWF, was expected to be the savior of the company. The problem was that Vince had very tumultuous tenure up to that point. Ratings were not improving…buy rates were getting weaker and his storylines were not connecting with WCW fans as they had when he was writing for the WWF. After bouncing several ideas off of then WCW Executive Vice President Bill Busch (All of which were turned down)…Russo last ditch idea was to have a Battle Royal with the winner being crowned the new WCW world champion.
His idea was to have Sid Vicious appear to have won the Battle Royal only for a last entrant…Tank Abbott…to make his way in and KO Vicious with one punch and win the WCW title. Bill Busch, growing tired and frustrated with Russo’s ideas…decided to remove Russo as head booker and implement a 5 man booking committee that consisted of Ed Ferrara, Bill Banks, Mike Graham, J.J. Dillon and Kevin Sullivan. Sullivan would head the committee make the final decisions.
The announcement of Russo’s demotion and Sullivan’s promotion sent shock waves through the entire locker room especially with the younger talent. The younger talent favored Vince Russo more because they knew he was trying to build around them and not the older stars that WCW had been using for years. So in a counter move, several of the younger wrestlers asked for their unconditional releases from the company including Billy Kidman, Shane Douglas, Perry Saturn, Konnan, Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko and Chris Benoit.
Seeing a potential disaster right before a big pay per view, Kevin Sullivan gathered many of the wrestlers who asked for their release and assured them that their “spots” were safe. He promised them all a fair opportunity and as a result….Konnan and Billy Kidman withdrew their release requests. The others were not so convinced…especially Chris Benoit who had legitimate heat with Sullivan for having an affair and later marrying Sullivan’s ex wife Nancy (Woman in WCW) Realizing Benoit’s value to the company, Sullivan needed something to draw him back in.
Kevin Sullivan decided to book Chris Benoit in the main event of Souled Out with Benoit winning the WCW title. Sullivan stated that he felt it wasn’t so much placating a disgruntled Benoit (Although that was part of it)…but because he felt that Benoit truly deserved the belt. Sullivan also stated that part of the plan was to have Benoit champion only for the short term…and that the plan had Kevin Nash as the committee’s choice as the long term champion. Sullivan laid the scenario down for Benoit and despite severe reservations about working under Sullivan he agreed.
With one half of the problem seemingly solved (At least for Souled Out)…their was the other half of the equation that needed to be dealt with…Benoit’s opponent…Sid Vicious. Up until the night of the show, Vicious was refusing to job to the much smaller Benoit. Sid wanted to be booked as the winner and get the title. Sullivan stated in interviews later….the only way he could convince Sid to do the job was to have some sort of screwy finish. A reason to show fans that Sid really was never beat by Benoit. This reasoning actually favored Kevin Sullivan because there were still no guarantees from Benoit that he would stay with WCW. If Benoit decided to bolt…they would have an excuse to take the title away from him.
The finish of the match would have Sid’s leg underneath the bottom rope which would mean that the referee had to break up the pin/submission attempt. It was booked that the referee (Arn Anderson) didn’t notice Sid’s foot and signaled for the bell anyway awarding the belt to Benoit. The match went off as planned and after applying the crippler crossface….Sid Vicious tapped out and Benoit became the new WCW world heavyweight champion.
Everything seemed alright with the world. After years of ups and mainly downs in WCW…Chris Benoit finally became a world champion. The WCW fans were happy….management seemed happy…but Chris Benoit was not. In what was a move that was expected but still shocking….Chris Benoit quit WCW.
Just like that…Benoit was gone and not even the prospects of being considered a world champion could keep him in the company. His bad blood with Kevin Sullivan ran too deep. So, to save face…Sullivan implemented plan B and the title was stripped from Benoit. The next night on Nitro….Eddie Guerrero was granted his release from WCW. Dean Malenko, Shane Douglas and Perry Saturn showed up for Nitro, but were immediately sent home with Malenko and Saturn eventually released.
15 years later…
Bret Hart was forced to retire 9 months after his concussion at Starrcade ’99.
Jeff Jarrett went on to form TNA wrestling with his father Jerry Jarrett after WCW was bought out by the WWF. He is now forming a new group called Global Force Wrestling.
Vince Russo went on to become head writer for Jarrett’s TNA project. He is currently out of pro wrestling.
Kevin Sullivan is eventually replaced by Eric Bischoff and Vince Russo. Sullivan occasionally works indie shows..but for the most part is out of wrestling.
Sid Vicious goes on to hold the WCW world title a number of times before breaking his leg and ending his full time wrestling career.
Chris Benoit is involved in a murder/suicide incident where Benoit strangles his wife Nancy and son Daniel and then hangs himself.