If you just go by what the narrative says about the final years of WCW, you may be inclined to think that the promotion had nothing to its name except washed up veterans whose prime was spent in WWE. That's partially true, but looking back through the roster in the 1990s, you'll also find plenty of quality in-ring talent that was misused and poorly booked. In fact, much of this talent went on to great success in other promotions after leaving WCW, which tells you all you need to know about the management and creative teams that were employed at the time.
Many of these wrestlers were great talents in the ring but were seldom permitted to perform up to their full capabilities. What WCW management never understood was that trying to out-entertain WWE was always a bad idea. Instead of offering an alternative wrestling product that could have sustained itself over the long term, WCW tried to beat Vince McMahon at his own game, and failed miserably, albeit after some initial success. The names listed here should have provided the talent for WCW to succeed for years to come. Instead, they were under utilized, and the company folded relatively soon after their departure.
Ranked below are the 15 wrestlers WCW should have pushed to save the company.
16 Perry Saturn
One of the most underrated talents of all-time, Saturn could wrestle in singles or tag competition, and had an athletic, high-impact style that was well ahead of its time. During his time in WCW from 1997-2000, he was shuffled all over the card, going from hardcore, tag team, and singles matches seemingly on a whim. He had some limited title success, but should have been more a part of the main event scene than he was. This would have provided a clear alternative to what WWE was doing at the time, and Saturn had the talent in the ring worthy of a high-stakes title match. He was never used in this manner however, and he departed for WWE before 2001, when the promotion folded. Another wasted opportunity.
15 Shane Helms
By the time he debuted in WCW in 1999, Helms was already a ring veteran. Instead of using this to their advantage, management decided to put him as a part of gimmicky 3-Count trio that parodied the boy bands that dominated the pop music charts of the time. This hamstringed his ability immediately, and despite winning the Cruiserweight Title on one occasion, Helms was not utilized properly. He should have been able to be an integral part of the burgeoning high-flying, Cruiserweight division, but wasn't afforded the opportunity. Similar limitations arose for Helms in WWE, when he was shuffled in as The Hurricane, a gimmick destined for the lower card. Helms has caught many bad breaks in his career, and it all began with misuse in WCW.
Again, this was a name that had no connection to WWE, and could have put a fresh spin on things in the WCW landscape, instead of recycling the stars from years past. Kanyon was a solid in-ring worker, and a dominating, young personality. Most of the time however, he was slotted as just another face in factions like The Flock, and The Jersey Triad, rather than giving him a chance to succeed on his own. He had the athleticism and look to play a much larger role than he did, but ended up playing second fiddle to Diamond Dallas Page by the end of his run in WCW. He would eventually get his run at a title in WWE, when he won the United States belt as a part of the "Invasion" angle. Unfortunately, when it mattered most, a title-shot for Kanyon was no where to be found in WCW.
12 Jushin Thunder Liger
Leave it to WCW to have the ability to feature one of the best light-heavyweight stars of all-time, and mitigate his role with the company, by constantly featuring him on the mid-card. Now, as a wrestler who was predominantly popular in Japan, it wouldn't have made sense for Liger to win a dozen titles with a mainstream company like WCW. Still, the fact that Liger wrestled as a part of the WCW roster for a combined total of about six years, and there's no marquee feud to his name in that span (perhaps excluding the one with Brian Pillman from the early 90's), is insane. Liger is and was, legitimately one of the best wrestlers of all-time, and he was generally just an afterthought in the mid-card with WCW. Featuring him on a bigger stage would have provided a well-time alternative, especially at a time when WWE wasn't able to feature much Japanese talent on their shows.
11 Dean Malenko
Malenko certainly won a few titles while in WCW, but the main complaint always revolves around the fact that he was never really given a chance to take center stage, and show off his full capabilities. He was an extraordinary in-ring talent, and like many of his peers who also were while in WCW, they were often just used to fill space on a card, despite the fact they would consistently put on great matches. It wasn't that they were ignored, but rather were recognized for their abilities, and were never rewarded for it, which ultimately led to a mass exodus of quality talent around the year 2000. Malenko was just another name on this list, and never received the push he truly deserved. Unfortunately, this trend would continue into his time with WWE as well.
10 Glenn Gilbertti (Disco Inferno)
It's hardly ever acknowledged now, but Gilbertti was a great wrestler, who was given an absolutely ridiculous, annoying gimmick, and never was able to shed it. Another massive mistake by WCW management; there's never a reason to give a quality in-ring talent a character that is easily mocked and ridiculed. Despite the fact that he often put on good matches, the Disco Inferno gimmick had him slotted into the mid-card as soon as he debuted in 1995. Characters like these should always be portrayed by wrestlers with limited skill, so the character can still serve a purpose in the lower cards, and not be wasted on someone who could be otherwise wrestling in upper-level matches. Gilbertti's talent should have made him a star, and instead his character is and was, one of the most maligned in wrestling history.
9 Eddie Guerrero
At the time, Guerrero was a true world-class wrestler on the WCW, and did find some initial success in the mid-1990s, winning the United States and Cruiserweight straps. Then, inexplicably we was placed in a myriad of stable roles, including the ridiculous L.W.O. gimmick, as well as a member of The Filthy Animals. It didn't make any sense for a guy who had the mic skills, ability and talent to get by on his own, but such was WCW decision-making at the time. Guerrero's talent far exceeded what he was being asked to do with the company, and to no one's surprise, he up and left in 2000. Despite producing excellent matches on a timely basis, he was never rewarded, and opted to see the door.
Often forgotten, Sabu was indeed a part of the WCW roster during 1995. He didn't stay particularly long, and one could argue that he was never a great fit for the company to begin with, but WCW still could have used some foresight to make it work. Having a wrestler with the hardcore pedigree that Sabu had, even at the time, could have added another layer to the roster, which was mainly notable for just bringing in used-up WWE talent. Imagine if WCW had taken that next step into the hardcore world around the time that ECW was first taking off as well. The variety would have been a welcome change of pace, and Sabu could have been the marquee name for that aspect of the promotion. Instead, he didn't even make it to the year's end in 1995, and went on to wrestle just about everywhere else. He wasn't the only future-ECW star to appear on the WCW roster, which also included the likes of...
7 Rob Van Dam
Yup, Van Dam wrestled for WCW during the early-1990s. While he wasn't anywhere near the "Whole F'n Show" that he would eventually morph into, the fact that WCW relinquished him as well, showed their lack of devotion to the development of new talent. While he wasn't wrestling in the hardcore style at the time, Van Dam was still an athletic specimen, incorporating moves into his arsenal that simply weren't utilized in any mainstream American promotions. With some thinking outside the box, and a timely push, Van Dam could have been an essentially homegrown, major star in WCW. Instead, he left for ECW in 1996, where he reached his full potential. The inability for WCW management to maintain these young talents on their roster during the 90s was a prominent reason why the promotion folded when it did.
6 Shane Douglas
"The Franchise" had three different runs with WCW, and a result of seeing so much action there, he did have several title wins in the tag division, as well as one occasion with the Untied States belt. Still, with the success that he had in the Heavyweight title scene just about everywhere else he went, it's a surprise that he never received a shot at the main WCW gold at any point in his tenure there. It can be debated at how great of a talent Douglas actually was, but there's no arguing the fact that he was over in just about every promotion he was ever a part of. As such, he probably should have gotten a push in the late-1990s, especially when WCW was running thin on ideas, and starting to recycle the same things every week.
5 Jerry Lynn
Known as Mr. JL during his time in WCW from '95-'97, Lynn was another future star that management should have kept on board. His style was several years ahead of his time, and would have been an asset as the decade progressed. Unfortunately, Lynn was let go and went on to WWE and ECW after his departure. Another poor estimation by the WCW brass. Lynn was one of the most underrated wrestlers of his era in general, and had the athleticism and innovative style to remain interesting in the ring over the long term. His time with WCW was the longest he ever saw with a mainstream American promotion, and went on to work a lot of the Indy scene over the years, never fully getting the credit he deserved.
A mainstay on the upper-mid card in WCW, Raven at least deserved a chance to received some kind of a push into the main even scene of the time. As many others on this list saw during their time with the company, Raven won several mid-card titles, but never got the chance for the Heavyweight gold. He deserved to be at least a transitional champion circa 1997, when ideas were beginning to become recycled, and fans were seeing the same old thing. He was a veteran at the time, with an interesting character, and reasonable mic skills. Instead, he was slotted into several poorly contrived factions, before leaving to make a return to ECW. Consistently underrated, Raven could have provided a necessary change of pace to the Heavyweight Title scene at the time, but was cast off in favor of the same tired names.
3 Steve Austin
Of all the young talent that WCW let slip through their grasp in the early and mid-1990s, this may have been the most crucial mistake. Before he was "Stone Cold", Austin was one-half of the Hollywood Blonds tag team with Brian Pillman, and was one of the company's foremost rising stars. He had the required charisma, in-ring talent and mic skills to achieve the top of the main event scene, and was well on his way to doing so. It wasn't a priority for management however, and next thing fans knew, he was slugging beers in the ring, giving Vince McMahon the middle finger, and ultimately winning the Monday Night War for WWE. Had he stayed on the WCW roster, the fortunes may have been reversed. Letting a future star like Austin walk away was one of the death knells of the promotion.
2 Chris Benoit
Benoit wrestled with a much more intense style than was typically seen at the time, and had he received the necessary push, would have given WCW the alternative identity they so badly needed. Like many others on this list, Benoit represented a kind of in-ring skill that WWE didn't have at the time, and WCW refused to capitalize on this advantage. For years, Benoit and others like him were marginalized within the company, never really being afforded the opportunity to showcase the best of what their skills had to offer. It was a gigantic mistake, and the company never recovered from the way they used this type of talent. Instead of playing to their strengths, WCW management just consistently tried to copy WWE, and paid the price.
1 Chris Jericho
Jericho may have gotten a push in the Cruiserweight division, but always had main event-caliber talent, that again, was ignored by WCW. There wasn't a flaw in his entire character; elite mic skills, an entertaining in-ring style, and all the charisma in the world. As per usual, he was limited within WCW, because he wasn't a household name already. Developing new stars wasn't high on the company's radar, and Jericho fell through the cracks just like everyone else, and ended up being a certified superstar in WWE. His story best embodies the failures of WCW, and just how lost the company was in terms of dealing with the talent that was right under their nose. It's something that all future promotions can learn from, and never attempt to replicate. For as much talent as WCW possessed, they should have been atop the wrestling world. Instead, they were trampled under Vince McMahon's stamp on the industry, which made use of much of the talent they were willing to throw away.
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