To some wrestling fans, three letters will forever represent true greatness in the industry, and believe it or not, they aren’t WWE. No, for those who reject Vince McMahon’s version of sports entertainment and preferred a more traditional version of the genre, instead choosing to watch World Championship Wrestling, better known simply as WCW. Well, up until the last few years, anyway, at which point WCW almost inarguably began to produce the absolute worst wrestling product in the history of the business.
The rise and fall of WCW was anything but expected, and it didn’t exactly happen overnight. Despite having birthed out of the NWA, it took a few years for WCW to take off, not truly competing with WWE until they stole Hulk Hogan and turned him heel with the New World Order. After that, it was smooth sailing and unprecedented ratings…for all of two years, if that. And then, complete and utter chaos, with each week of programming somehow more chaotic than the last.
Ultimately, there are dozens of reasons why the history of WCW is such a rollercoaster, and neither the company’s successes nor failures can all be placed on a small number of people. However, fans can and have single out a few individuals who did the most to kill WCW, pointing at specifically horrible moments that slowly led to the company’s death. To learn all about them, keep reading for 15 dumb AF decisions that drove WCW out of business.
15 Starrcade 1997
WCW didn’t die until March of 2001, so blaming the company’s death on something that happened almost a full three and a half years earlier might seem like a bit of a stretch. That said, knowing the full significance of what happened at Starrcade 1997, the most successful Pay-Per-View WCW would produce, it feels entirely apropos to say the company in fact sounded its first death rattle that very night. Ironically, WCW’s downward spiral began with the most anticipated match in company history, with Sting returning to the ring after over a year out of action to challenge Hollywood Hogan for the WCW Championship.
Fans were rabid to watch the Stinger dismantle the Hulkster once and for all, and instead, they saw an evenly paced match that Hogan won entirely fairly, only for Bret Hart to complain to the referee and get things restarted for no good reason. The whole mess was apparently a political ploy by Hogan, who refused to wrestle the match in logical fashion, and allegedly even bribed the ref to perform what was supposed to be a “fast count” especially slowly. Bucking to Hogan’s egomania was the sort of mistake WCW never stopped making, and massive fan let downs like this match would soon become the norm.
14 Having Goldberg Lose
Once Hollywood Hogan made a fool out of Sting at Starrcade, WCW was pretty much out of viable main event heroes for a few months. Luckily, the company had an unexpected ace up their sleeves in the former Atlanta Falcon turned rookie sensation wrestler, Bill Goldberg. The main source of Goldberg’s immense popularity was his determined personality and more importantly his winning streak, which eventually reached as high as 173 consecutive victories without ever racking up a single loss of any kind.
WCW ratings had been on the decline since earlier in the year when WWE’s Austin-McMahon feud started to take off, and it wasn’t until Goldberg was champion that Nitro was back in the competition. Most insiders saw this trend and realized it meant Goldberg should remain champion for some time to come, but this is WCW we’re talking about, so he naturally lost his title and winning streak before 1998 was over. Fans were still interested in Goldberg after that, but then WCW had him lose several more times, completely destroying his mystique. By the time he suffered his last loss to Lex Luger at Sin, WCW had lost so many fans that Goldberg’s previous supporters probably didn’t notice or care how far he had fallen.
13 Killing The Cruiserweights
For a brief moment in time, the hottest scene in wrestling had nothing to do with the WCW World Championship, nor the WWE Championship, for that matter. While it was Hollywood Hogan and friends getting fans to tune in to Monday Nitro, his matches were usually a bit of a bore, so instead of talking about Hogan’s slow, plodding messes, fans gravitated more and more towards the incredibly innovative cruiserweight division. Stars like Rey Mysterio Jr., Chris Jericho, and Eddie Guerrero all started their rise to fame wrestling other smaller athletes in the middle of WCW broadcasts, putting on matches light years ahead of anything the so-called main event stars were doing. As standouts started getting injured or jumping to WWE, WCW was running out of top cruiserweights, but there was still plenty of talent around to make the division special. And yet, rather than move on to names like Psychosis or Elix Skipper, WCW made Cruiserweight Champions out of a terrible athlete in Evan Karagias, an aging Madusa, and the completely untrained, way-overweight-for-the-division and offensive Oklahoma, thereby killing the division. Things would never be the same again.
12 All nWo All The Time
Already, astute readers might be noting a trend with this list in that the name Hollywood Hogan has somehow managed to come up in every item listed thus far. This trend is going to continue as the list goes on, because WCW based their entire company around the Hulkster to such an extent it often felt like the other wrestlers didn’t even matter. Regardless of who was in the ring at the time, Tony Schiavone, Eric Bischoff, and the other announcers were constantly talking about Hogan and his nWo friends, openly ignoring ongoing matches to discuss the main events at absolutely all times. This made it hard for new fans to care about anything else, and before long, the nWo storylines started to drag on for so long that they didn’t care about those, either.
11 Letting The Inmates Run The Asylum
People who don’t have the whole story yet may be wondering why exactly the executives of WCW didn’t realize the trend of this list, in that the omnipresence of Hollywood Hogan was doing far more harm to the company than good. The truth is, while some higher-ups may indeed have noticed Hogan’s day was over, there wasn’t really anything they could do about it due to his contract. The same was true about Hogan’s nWo cronies Kevin Nash and Scott Hall, and also Randy Savage, Roddy Piper, “Diamond” Dallas Page, Bret Hart, Lex Luger, and many others. All of these names were given far too much creative control in their contracts, allowing them to refuse losses they felt could damage their careers. In due time, this also let them all pitch and write their own angles, where they always looked good, and everyone they wrestled looked bad.
10 Wasting Young Talent For The Same Old Shtick
Because this list has spent a lot of time piling the blame on Hollywood Hogan in one way or another, let’s be fair to the guy and acknowledge he truly was once the most popular name in wrestling. When working for WCW, he was also the most hated villain around, at least for a few years. The problem, though, is that by the time Hulk went Hollywood and became a bad guy, he was already in his mid-40s, and his in-ring talents were rapidly diminishing. Other names this list has mentioned, like the Macho Man, Kevin Nash, Sting, and Lex Luger, were also all over the hill or close to it as they dominated the WCW roster. Granted, some wrestlers have reached their peak around this point, but that certainly wasn’t the case for these guys in particular. Of course, WCW could have gradually replaced them with younger names like Eddie Guerrero, Chris Jericho, Goldberg, or Raven, and the fact they didn’t is one of their worst and most confusing choices.
9 Dragging Ric Flair Through The Mud
In stark contrast to Hollywood Hogan and the other aging wrestlers stinking up the WCW main event scene, “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair somehow never missed a step in the ring, even though he was a few years older than all the rest. Instead of rewarding Flair for being the one wrestler who actually knew how to age gracefully, WCW executives seemed to delight in mocking him at every possible opportunity, forcing the legendary athlete to do some outrageously stupid things. No matter how loudly fans chanted “We Want Flair,” WCW was intent on turning him into some sort of warped comedy character, forcing the man to regularly strip to his underwear, after which his character was declared legally insane and sent to a mental institution. He also got buried in a desert up to his neck, wore women’s clothing for reasons that were never explained, and lost to Hollywood Hogan more times than just about any other wrestler on the roster. In due time, even the loudest “We Want Flair” chants slowly faded away, likely because WCW fans finally accepted the company didn’t care what they wanted.
8 Creating WCW Thunder
One of the harshest criticisms against modern day WWE is that the company simply produces too much content for most fans to absorb. There’s at least 10 hours of new TV every week, and even people who have that sort of time might want to watch something else now and again. To Vince McMahon’s credit, this state isn’t entirely his fault, as the trend of producing too much wrestling actually began back in 1998 with the introduction of WCW Thunder. Monday Nitro was the hottest wrestling show on the air, and also the highest rated program on TNT altogether. In light of this, Turner executives basically forced Eric Bischoff to create a second weekly primetime show, a fact that seriously drained his creative abilities. As a result, Thunder very quickly deteriorated from being equal to Nitro to being a pathetic B-show where top stars couldn’t be bothered to show up. Any fan who tried watching the show was then left with an inferior product that either made them wish it was Monday or just cut their losses and give up on WCW.
7 Never Backing Down Against WWE
The story goes that on the day Ted Turner officially founded WCW, he called up Vince McMahon and told him he was "getting into the ‘rasslin’ business," thus beginning a rivalry that soon proved anything but friendly. Truth be told, it was mostly Vince pulling hot shots and playing dirty, but once WCW started gaining headway and the idea of competition was making both sides more popular, they started giving it back twice as hard as they were getting it. At one point, Eric Bischoff even took the time to slow down a jam packed Nitro so he could challenge Vince McMahon to a legitimate fight on Pay-Per-View, which Vince wisely decline.
On the other hand, WCW would never, ever back down from their competition, even when it became abundantly clear the war was over, and they had lost. The Monday Night Wars basically ended in October of 1998, the last time Nitro came anywhere near Raw’s ratings, but Bischoff and his announcers constantly brought up WWE superstars on their programming. Somehow, he never caught on to the fact that all this accomplished was getting fans to change the channel and watch the better show.
6 Thinking Surprises Were More Important Than Entertainment
Memes weren’t really around yet when WCW was still in business, yet Tony Schiavone still managed to create one with his hyperbolic phrase “the ultimate swerve.” In fact, Schiavone managed to turn the word “swerve” itself into a meme-ready concept with how much he overused it, and surprisingly, the problem wasn’t that he used it incorrectly. Generally speaking, when Schiavone called something a shocking surprise, it was, but that alone doesn’t necessarily make for good television. Sometimes, fans want to see what’s expected, like for example a simple wrestling match between two talented performers. If two other random performers run into the match, hit each other with garbage cans, and then get chased off by yet another fourth and fifth party, sure, none of that was expected, but it wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense, either. Once Vince Russo was running the show, logic flew out the window entirely, and all he cared about was the wow factor, resulting in truly bizarre television no fan could possibly follow.
5 Hiring The Ultimate Warrior
For all this list has complained about the aging WCW roster, and names like Hollywood Hogan in particular, at least most of them still had some star power justify their high positions in the company. That wasn’t quite the case with The Ultimate Warrior, who most fans had already cast aside as a past-his-prime lunatic during his last WWE stint in 1996. While the Warrior’s initial appearance did indeed earn a slight boost in ratings, fans who turned in to see the “legendary” debut were greeted with a bizarre rambling promo that didn’t make anything close to sense. Then, Warrior started doing magic tricks and appearing in mirrors that everyone except Eric Bischoff could see, all leading up to one of the worst matches in Pay-Per-View history. Every step of the way, Warrior’s time in WCW was horribly miscalculated, causing any fan who was actually interested in seeing him to inevitably run away in horror.
4 Bringing Back Vince Russo
Fool Ted Turner once, shame on you. Fool Ted Turner twice, shame on Ted Turner. Although most explanations about how WCW died eventually include the name Vince Russo, one thing some reporters tend to forget is that the company actually hired, fired, and rehired him before the worst of his damage was done. Russo’s original stint in WCW lasted all of three months, from October of 1999 to January of 2000, when he suggested Tank Abbott win the World Championship and got fired on the spot. This was after two months of utter chaos, with booking so inconsistent and horrible we can’t even begin to describe it here. And yet, a mere three months after that, WCW went and rehired Russo, letting him do it all over again. He also made himself World Champion, a decision most would probably call a little bit worse than the Tank Abbott thing. In fact, most of Russo’s championship choices were off base…
3 Pushing Jeff Jarrett To The Moon
With all due respect to Jeff Jarrett, who is the very definition of a perfectly acceptable wrestler, the man has simply never had what it took to be the main focus of a sports entertainment franchise. When looking for a WWE Intercontinental or WCW United States Champion, one couldn’t find a better option than Double J, yet move him up to the World Championship, and things simply don’t look right. Simply put, he didn’t have the charisma for that much spotlight, much better suited in a role of a midcard antagonist or irritating lackey in a group dynamic. Unfortunately, what Jarrett did have was a close friendship with Vince Russo, who therefore booked him to win the WCW Championship four times in the span of two months. No matter how hard he was pushed, fans never really accepted Jarrett in this role, and his competition made things even worse…
2 David Arquette… Enough Said
Hey, Jeff Jarrett might not have had the charisma of Bruno Sammartino, but at least the guy knew how to apply a headlock. In undoubtedly the dumbest decision WCW ever made, and by extension perhaps the dumbest decision in all of sports entertainment, they would take the idea of an unworthy champion to its absolute extreme by making Hollywood actor David Arquette the WCW World Heavyweight Champion. Naturally, Arquette won the belt in his wrestling debut by pinning Eric Bischoff in a tag team match where his partner DDP’s gold was on the line. That booking wouldn’t even make sense if Arquette was a wrestler, and for a movie star to win the title in this way pretty much destroyed any chance of it or the company it represented ever getting taken seriously again. Why did it happen? Because Vince Russo wanted attention, which he got. Somehow, though, he didn’t realize it would all be negative.
1 Canceling Monday Nitro
In the end, despite the many mistakes outlined on this list, the death of WCW shouldn’t be ruled a suicide, accidental or not. WCW wasn’t killed by executive incompetence, but rather high-level corporate business that had virtually nothing to do with wrestling and everything to do with Ted Turner restructuring his assets in a major way. AOL and Time Warner were set to merge, and part of the deal included a man named Jamie Kellner getting promoted from his position as chief of the WB Network to also becoming the head of TBS and all Turner programming. For whatever reason, Kellner was adamant that there should be absolutely no wrestling whatsoever on his networks, instantly canceling Nitro and Thunder. While WCW was indeed slouching in ratings at the time, Nitro was still one of the highest rated shows on TNT, and cheap for Turner to produce, nonetheless making it a pretty questionable move. In any event, without the TV shows, WCW was pretty much worthless, leaving Vince McMahon the only interested party and essentially killing the company.