In the modern era, there are (generally speaking) three primary ways for an American professional wrestler to make end’s meet: work for the WWE Universe, constantly travel between dozens of American independent companies, or try their hand at one of the few major foreign promotions in Mexico or Japan. The same is of course true for Japanese and Mexican superstars with the obvious substitutions made with each nation’s respective biggest wrestling company—in fact, Japan and Mexico are a bit more evenly segmented than the US in terms of high-end employment options for the most talented grapplers in the world). The point is, for as wide and expansive as today’s pro wrestling landscape is, sports entertainers don’t have that many options when it comes to actually making money in the industry.
It wasn’t always like this, though. Not two decades ago, WWE and WCW were in the middle of the Monday Night Wars, some of the bitterest and most exciting days in wrestling history. With two competing media conglomerates on top of the wrestling world, there were nonstop jumps back and forth between the Turner and McMahon empires, plus the various independents clouding the scene at the time. The practice was hardly new, having taken place all throughout the ‘80s during wrestling’s territorial era, and still persists to this day on a smaller scale. Not every one of these jumps came with a major impact, so keep reading to remember 15 jumps from one company to another you completely forgot about.
15 Ray Traylor – WCW to WWE in 1998
Better known as The Big Bossman, Ray Traylor went through quite a few other names during his time in WCW. He actually bounced back and forth between WCW and WWE fairly often, starting back in the ‘80s when WCW was still the NWA. That Traylor would jump to WWE at that early point in his career was almost a no-brainer, with his size making him a natural foil for Hulk Hogan and Vince McMahon’s other monsters. When the steroid scandal caused WWE to size down, Traylor took off for WCW for most of the mid ‘90s. McMahon had apparently always liked him, though, and thus Bossman was welcomed back when he was suddenly fired from WCW in 1998. It would be understandable if you didn’t notice at the time. Traylor’s sudden WWE return as the Big Bossman made him a star again, while he had been fading into obscurity during his last year with Turner.
14 John Tenta – WWE to WCW in 1994
Debuting as a fan in the crowd who helped Dino Bravo and Jimmy Hart attack The Ultimate Warrior in late 1989, the “Canadian Earthquake” John Tenta fast became one of the most dominant and imposing figures in the WWE Universe. With his size and his villainous charisma justifying his early success, Quake’s destructive streak saw him go so far as to crush the allegedly “Immortal” Hulk Hogan’s ribs and become one of the most hated wrestlers of his era. He turned face while teaming with Tugboat/Typhoon as The Natural Disasters, only to get lost in the solo division when his partner infamous jumped to WCW as The Shockmaster in 1993. Earthquake followed him there the next year, suddenly disappearing from WWE in the summer during what looked like a significant push against Yokozuna. Perhaps jaded by suddenly getting fired and definitely needing money, Tenta turned to his friend Hulk Hogan, who got him a job in WCW as Avalanche.
13 Tony Schiavone – WCW to WWE in 1989
Often considered “The Voice of WCW,” that Tony Schiavone worked for WWE at all is a pretty big shock to people who remember him as the lead announcer on Nitro. Maybe it makes things a little more palatable to realize Schiavone’s short year in WWE came when WCW was at a major crossroads, or rather, the NWA was at a crossroads, turning into WCW. Schiavone didn’t want to deal with the many management changes involved when Ted Turner purchased Jim Crockett Promotions, so he signed a one-year contract with Vince McMahon and called a number of WWE Pay-Per-Views while things settled down in his home company. For as short as his time with WWE was, Schiavone would later claim his days working beside Lord Alfred Hayes and Gorilla Monsoon were amongst the best of his career thanks to all they were able to teach him. Schiavone instantly returned to WCW when Vince McMahon decided he was no longer needed, and he stayed there until Ted Turner sold the company in 2001.
12 The Steiner Brothers – WCW to WWE in 1992
Looking through WCW history, both Rick and Scott Steiner look like mainstays in the main event scene from the moment the company switched names from the NWA until the day they went out of business. The Steiner Brothers were indeed WCW icons in every sense of the word, spending most of their time suplexing hapless victims and winning tag team and singles championships, but this hardly means they spent their entire careers working for Ted Turner. Scott was actively reigning as Television Champion in late 1992 when he and Rick’s contracts were up with the company, and executives allegedly attempted to lowball them when getting them to stay. The brothers balked and immediately went to Vince McMahon, who must have offered them a whole lot more, because Scott simply vacated the belt and both he and Rick were in WWE before the year was over. Apparently, they didn’t love their time working for Vince that much either, though, because the Steiners were back in WCW by early 1996.
11 Sunny – WWE to ECW in 1998
In her theme music, Sunny boasted “I know you want me,” which just may have been true of virtually every man watching WWE during her time as the so-called “original wrestling diva.” Beautiful and sultry in a way sports entertainment had never before witnessed, Sunny’s youth and exuberance made her a huge hit with young male fans, and more importantly, her new boss, Vince McMahon. The wrestlers loved Sunny, too, making her an all around popular figure in the WWE Universe. However, it wasn’t meant to last, and her fall from grace was fast accelerated by various drug and romantic problems. Like many struggling workers in the ‘90s, Sunny appeared in ECW mere days after she was fired from WWE in the summer of 1998. Technically speaking, she had already been making unadvertised appearances with her boyfriend Chris Candido throughout the prior year, but she made it official with a contract the second she was legally able. Candido and Sunny kept jumping around from there, generally sticking together until Candido’s tragic death in 2005.
10 Steven Regal – WCW to WWE in 1998
Believe it or not, Steven Regal’s WWE career actually experienced not one but two false starts in the year of 1998 alone. While these days he’s much better known as William Regal, back in the mid-‘90s he was a staple of WCW’s midcard as Lord Steven Regal, a multi-time TV Champion who occasionally challenged top stars like Sting and Goldberg. He was clearly starting to fall out of favor with WCW management by then ‘90s end, not to mention gaining weight, and a misunderstanding regarding the Goldberg match was the nail in the coffin for his WCW contract (at least at the time). Regal jumped to WWE in the summer of 1998, getting introduced by Sable as Vince McMahon’s special guest, wrestling one match…and then disappearing for five months. He returned as “A Real Man’s Man,” a lumberjack who shaved with a straight razor. This time Regal stuck around for two months, although it wasn’t enough to make any impact, owing to why the whole ordeal is generally ignored when viewing his career in retrospect.
9 Marc Mero – WCW to WWE in 1996
At the time, nothing about Marc Mero’s career was typical of the sports entertainment industry. These days, it isn’t totally uncommon for a pro wrestler to spend a year in NXT and then make their mainstream debut, learning as they go along, yet when Mero did it he was truly one-of-a-kind. Add in that he rose to fame as a Little Richard impersonator named Johnny B. Badd, and it seems like a rib that Mero went on to win three TV Championships as his tenure in WCW continued. The Little Richard aspects of his character slowly went away, and he was eventually forced to participate in a story where he would steal Kimberly, the wife of his rival Diamond Dallas Page. Deeply religious and married to another woman, Badd jumped ship to WWE rather than continue the angle. He debuted barely three weeks after leaving WCW using his real name, but despite some early success, he was soon completely overshadowed by his wife, Sable.
8 J.J. Dillon – WWE to WCW in 1997
Of all the names on this list, J.J. Dillon might be the most obscure, at least to fans of the modern era. There’s a pretty good reason for this, though, such to the extent you wouldn’t be blamed for having no idea who he is. One of the best managers of the 1980s for his work with The Four Horsemen, when Dillon jumped to WWE, he immediately took a backstage position as Vice President of Talent Relations (the same position later held by men like Jim Ross and John Laurinaitis, and now part of Triple H’s many duties). Included amongst his acquisitions were names like The Undertaker, Triple H, and Steve Austin, though how large his role was in each signing varied on a case to case basis. For whatever reason, likely at least somewhat financially based, he decided to leave the executive position behind in 1997 and jump to WCW as their on-screen Commissioner. Dillon probably should’ve stayed backstage, because he wasn’t that great in the role, and he retired from the mainstream spotlight with little aplomb the next year.
7 The Brainbusters – NWA to WWE in 1988
Speaking of the Four Horsemen, both Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard had the skills and the star power to be hugely successful on their own, although most would agree they were even better as a package deal. Owing to that reputation, the two made the jump from the Horsemen to the Heenan Family in 1988, making the switch shortly after Tully learned their NWA manager J.J. Dillon was making three times as much money as they were despite the fact they were the Tag Team Champions at the time. The Brain must have treated them better, because they were working for Vince McMahon the month after they dropped the belts to The Midnight Express. Their success continued into the WWE Universe, where they became World Tag Team Champions again by ending the then-record 14 month championship reign of Demolition. For whatever reason, they didn’t love their time in the company and wanted to return to NWA before the ‘80s were over.
6 The Messiah – XPW to CZW in 2001
It would be easy to confine this list to higher profile stories than that attached to The Messiah, an independent wrestler who never made it to the big leagues, let alone appeared to give it too serious a try. The biggest story related to Messiah’s short stay in the industry is nonetheless shocking and sensational enough it bears repeating for many years to come. He started making waves on the hardcore independent scene working for XPW in the early 2000s, fast becoming the top name in that company. Allegations broke that Messiah was having an affair with XPW owner Rob Black’s wife. The juries still out on that one, but even if that wasn’t true, Messiah most certainly had problems with the fact Black funded XPW through his side career as an adult film producer. True or not, the affair story remains relevant because shortly after Messiah jumped from XPW to the equally ultraviolent CZW, two hitmen broke into his home and cut off his thumb. He decided to turn it into an angle, accusing Black of paying the assailants as revenge for his change of employment.
5 Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat – WWE to WCW in 1991
Bridging the gap between the territorial ‘80s and Monday Night Wars of the ‘90s, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat was one of the few wrestlers respected enough to jump back and forth between all the top companies in the world across several decades. In a rare case of Vince McMahon failing to understand a wrestler’s strengths, Steamboat always did better in the NWA than in WWE. The most glaring example came in 1991, when a highly questionable fire-breathing WWE run as “The Dragon” lead way to a bombastic WCW return at Clash of the Champions 17. Appearing only months after experiencing a WWE undefeated streak, Steamboat helped Dustin Rhodes win the Tag Team Championships from Larry Zbyszko and Arn Anderson, then went on to have one final run as a main event player in the company. The only reason this moment is more remembered by fans is that it was Steamboat’s fourth or fifth big comeback, though it may have been his best.
4 Curt Hennig – AWA to WWE in 1988
This list has largely focused on the big three wrestling promotions of the ‘90s, which is more a sign of that era’s popularity than how prevalent wrestlers making controversial inter-promotional jumps was at the time. Like our intro covered, it happened just as often in the territorial days of the industry, and ultimately proved integral in Vince McMahon destroying dozens of smaller businesses throughout the ‘80s. Focusing on one of the most high profile jumps of the era, Curt Hennig was arguably the last saving grace AWA had left, reigning as their World Champion for over a year in the late ‘80s. Only months after losing the belt to Jerry “The King” Lawler, vignettes started airing on WWE television hyping the debut of Mr. Perfect, the third time that decade Vince stole away Verne Gagne’s top star (the other two: Hulk Hogan and Rick Martel).
3 Jim Neidhart and Davey Boy Smith – WWE to WCW in 1998
Even a wrestling fan who never watched Vince McMahon’s programming during the Monday Night Wars probably understands most of the finer details surrounding Bret Hart jumping from WWE to WCW in late 1997. Bret wanted more money, Vince couldn’t pay, then Bret wouldn’t drop the WWE Championship, people were screwed, shadows were wrestled, and so on. What sometimes gets lost in the shuffle is that a number of people decided to join Bret in the aftermath of the ordeal. Rick Rude gets remembered because he appeared on Raw and Nitro in the same night, but almost completely glossed over is that both Jim Neidhart and Davey Boy Smith soon followed in January of 1998. Granted, neither was able to find much success as solo wrestlers or in their short-lived tag team. Part of the problem was that there was a legal block preventing WCW from pairing Smith or Neidhart with Hart in any way.
2 The Nasty Boys – WCW to WWE in 1990
Real life friends from childhood, Brian Knobbs and Jerry Sags minimalist punk rock look made stand out instantly upon arrival in the late 1990s. That they were able to hold their own against The Steiner Brothers in a number of early hardcore brawls made them look like superstars, but as per usual WCW made a problem in not pulling the trigger fast enough and leaving the Nasties weary. Another huge problem was that the Nasties were working without a contract, so WWE didn’t even have to wait to offer them a huge money deal that significantly sped up the process. Three months after their WCW debut, The Nasty Boys were fleeing for the WWE, where they won the Tag Team Championships by the next WrestleMania. In part due to their bad attitudes backstage, they were unable to last in WWE, and eventually returned to WCW.
1 The Midnight Rockers – AWA to WWE in 1987
Things were getting pretty dire in the AWA throughout the late 1980s, and yet just as Curt Hennig looked to revitalize the singles division, the Midnight Rockers were both the most exciting team in the company and indeed the entire country. Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty were high flying and coordinated on a level no other team had ever been to that point, explaining how they won the AWA Tag Team Championships only one year into their storied history as a team. They won and loss the belts as 1987 raged on, ultimately deciding to jump to WWE while still in the middle of their second reign. The Rockers stuck with the AWA long enough to drop the belts to Badd Company, but appeared in WWE a mere five days later. While they never won any WWE championships as a unit, Shawn Michaels would shoot to unmatched superstardom by breaking up the team and kicking Jannetty through a window.
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