2001 was not the first ECW invasion of the WWE. Back on February 24, 1997, Paul Heyman and his merry band of hardcore heroes invaded Monday Night Raw in the very place it was born: the Manhattan Center.
Several ECW matches took place over the course of the evening with the penultimate match of the night featuring Tommy Dreamer going up against Devon Dudley. Dreamer picked up the win only for Bubba Ray Dudley to jump in post-match. This caused The Sandman to come out and make the save.
Moments later, Paul Heyman, who had been doing commentary during the ECW got fed up with Jerry Lawler’s shitty dad boner jokes and charged him only to be restrained by ECW wrestlers thus bringing an end to one of the weirdest nights in the history of Monday Night Raw.
So why was this allowed to happen? Why did Vince McMahon allow a rival wrestling promotion to have matches on his television program? To start with, the WWF was touring Europe (the European Championship would make its debut the following week) and the majority of the roster was somewhere in Germany when this episode aired so at the simplest level there was just a need for bodies to fill TV time.
Beyond that the WWE was losing badly in the ratings to WCW and Vince McMahon was willing to try almost anything to get back on top. WCW had become the top rated wrestling promotion with a fake invasion story line so why not see how a “real” invasion did? The short answer is, it didn’t work out very well, mostly because of ego and backstage politics, but that didn’t stop Vince and Company from trying it again later in 1997.
The second time around, however, the replaced the hot, up and coming promotion that represented the future of wrestling (ECW) with one that represent wrestling’s past and, at that point, was basically dead (NWA). Suffice it to say it was an abysmal failure.