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Turner Selling Ailing WCW to Rival WWF
By Justin Bachman   Associated Press
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ATLANTA — The World Wrestling Federation is buying the ailing World Championship Wrestling business from AOL Time Warner Inc., ending an intense rivalry that has inflamed professional wrestling fans for nearly 20 years.

WCW, a division of AOL's Turner Broadcasting System Inc. unit, had been planning to stop production after Monday night, but the deal announced Friday gives it new life. Stamford, Conn.-based WWF, whose Monday show is the top-rated program on cable TV, said it will produce new WCW programming to run on The National Network cable channel.

"This is a smart business decision and a good investment for us," said Linda McMahon, chief executive of World Wrestling Federation Entertainment Inc., which also owns the XFL in a partnership with NBC. "We're grabbing it because it is simply that kind of opportunity."

Neither company would discuss terms of the deal, although people familiar with the WCW's business said the prime asset WWF is acquiring is an extensive film library dating to the 1970s, merchandise and some production and exercise equipment.

Fans of the two wrestling rivals have debated for years about which company's wrestlers were tougher, and WWF said they would start "cross-brand story lines" soon.

That means Goldberg, a wild-eyed, bald, goatee-wearing WCW star, could be matched against "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, a wild-eyed, bald, goatee-wearing wrestler for WWF.

In a conference call with reporters, McMahon declined to say which WCW performers would be offered work at WWF.

The sale eventually could lead to the return of Hulk Hogan, the biggest name in wrestling. Hogan rose to fame with the WWF and moved to Turner, which paid him more, in the 1990s. He has been off the air since July and has sued Turner alleging defamation.

Turner had been looking for a buyer for the troubled WCW, which lost an estimated $80 million in 2000, since last summer. A deal with Fusient Media Ventures, a New York media investment company, fell through after Turner decided to stop airing pro wrestling on its networks.

"We think the WCW has found its proper home now," Turner spokesman Jim Weiss said.

Wade Keller, editor of the Pro Wrestling Torch, a pro wrestling newsletter, said the deal will help the WWF freshen its story lines and inject new talent.

The two companies are expected to operate independently as the WWF tries to revive WCW, but Keller expects WWF would merge them if the WCW continues to struggle.

"They're successful today but ratings are down from their peak," Keller said. "I think they were kind of looking for something and this can definitely do it. People are going to be excited."

The WCW still has several other well-known names, including Rowdy Roddy Piper and Ric Flair as well as Hogan and Goldberg. WWF stars include The Rock, The Undertaker and Chyna, a Playboy centerfold and best-selling author.

Throughout the 1980s and '90s, the two companies battled for ratings as fans and stars bounced back and forth between the two groups. WCW took the ratings lead in the mid-90s, thanks in part to signing Hogan from the WWF. But in the late 1990s, as the WCW's top performers aged and its talent-development efforts lagged, the WWF began to regularly trounce Turner.

The decision to scrap pro wrestling was one of the first major programming decisions made by Jamie Kellner, Turner's new chief executive.

He assumed control of Turner when AOL Time Warner merged the company's channels — TBS, TNT, Turner Classic Movies, the Cartoon Network and all of the CNN networks — into the WB network. Kellner helped establish the WB in 1993.

WWF shares closed down a penny at $12.10 Friday on the New York Stock Exchange, while AOL Time Warner shares climbed $2.75 to $39.52.

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