The pro-wrestling business can be a complicated scene. It can often take just the right set of circumstances for a Superstar to reach their full potential. A wrestler can fail miserably in one company, while being able to thrive and grow in another. The original set-up of the wrestling business included a territory system that had a certain promoter in control of each region of the country. Wrestlers would travel around to different areas to keep the talent pools fresh. A talent could get over in Florida as a babyface and be reviled in Kansas City as a heel. When Vince McMahon innovated the wrestling business, what he essentially did is unify the country with his nationwide cable television programming. This gave nationwide exposure to talent, allowing them to dig their heels in and stay with one promotion for a long while, building and working on their character.
WCW wasn’t far behind, but it was often a poor man’s version of what Vince was doing. This didn’t change until Eric Bischoff took control of things, and even then, all he did was bank off of the talent that was able to grow and make their mark in the WWE. The WCW went through various regime changes and often those that would go on to be the next top talent were disregarded and overlooked.
These 15 WWE Legends would go on to make wrestling history, but they tanked during their tenure in WCW.
15. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin
It’s hard to imagine the landscape of professional wrestling without the contributions of Stone Cold, but this sad time did exist. The man who helped save the WWE during the Attitude Era was once just another bleach-blonde under-utilized talent at Turner’s dream killing factory, known to you as WCW. Steve Austin spent time in WCW from 1991 to 1995. He was a part of the tag team known as The Hollywood Blonds.
He formed this faction with the soon to be infamous Brian Pillman. “Stunning” Steve Austin also joined the legendary group known as The Stud Stable. Eric Bischoff, in one of many moves that ended up shooting him in the foot, fired Steve Austin after an injury, leaving Austin free to go to ECW and begin to develop his Stone Cold persona under the watchful eye of Paul Heyman.
14. Mick Foley
Mick Foley is a hardcore legend, having made his name primarily in ECW and the WWE, but he got his big start in the WCW. It wasn’t his first wrestling gig by far, but it was his first big corporate opportunity. Foley worked in WCW under his Cactus Jack persona from 1991 to 1994. In typical Foley fashion, Mick left it all in the ring and devoted his body to the business, a sacrifice that was lost on WCW at the time.
During a feud with Vader, Foley infamously had his ear ripped off by the behemoth. Foley opted to finish the match, but became infuriated with the company after they refused to acknowledge and build any story arc out of the lost appendage. He soon moved to ECW and eventually to WWE as another element that helped bury the WCW as a result of The Monday Night Wars.
There are several wrestling families that have multiple generations of talent in the business, but the Rhodes family stands-out as one of the most impressive. You know Dustin from his time as Goldust in the WWE, but he spent a few runs in WCW during his career, as well. We’re going to focus on the failed 1999 return to the company when he was the pale-faced “Dark City” style creeper dubbed “Seven”.
He appeared in vignettes that showed him learing outside of a sleeping child’s bedroom. The gimmick was quickly scrapped, since it screamed child abuse. The rest of this contract was spent in the mid-card as “The American Nightmare” Dustin Rhodes (his brother Cody is currently using “The American Nightmare” as his gimmick in the indies) and was rarely seen on television for WCW again.
12. Rob Van Dam
Rob Van Dam is an ECW hardcore legend. He has had epic tenures in both ECW and the WWE over the past two decades, but he started his mainstream career in WCW. When Van Dam came into the company is was under the control of Bill Watts, whose tenure as the head of the company was toxic for many that would become top talents.
He debuted in the company as Robbie V and got a decent reception, but he only lasted half a year and was without any memorable feuds or match-ups. Paul Heyman would recognize his talent and in 1996 he would bring him into his promotion, ECW, and history was made.
11. The Undertaker
When wrestling fans think of a guy that is WWE all the way, they often come up with The Undertaker, but his journey didn’t start in the WWE. The man that would become the company landmark, the pinnacle WWE guy was once a WCW talent. Performing under the name “Mean Mark Callous”, Taker was once a Paul Heyman guy (when he was still Paul E. Dangerously).
You may be wondering why the WWE wouldn’t exploit this fact when building the Brock Lesnar vs Undertaker battle that ended the infamous WrestleMania streak. The reason is that his run in WCW was less than impressive and all parties involved would rather forget it ever happened. His run in WCW included highlights like being pinned by Lex Luger and losing to The Road Warriors. Heyman recognized his potential and pushed for Taker to get a tryout for the WWE and the rest is history.
Rikishi is a major part of the legendary Anoa’i wrestling family. He enjoyed a lengthy career in the WWE from 1992 to 2004, a success by anyone’s standard. He was able to morph his character over the years and is remembered as a WWE Legend. His journey prior to arriving in the WWE was filled with a variety of promotions, including WCW.
Rikishi worked as a part of the tag team, the Samoan Swat Team, enjoying some high profile battles against the likes of The Road Warriors. The tag team would soon leave the WCW for greener pastures, eventually ending-up in the WWE has The Headshrinkers.
9. Jake “The Snake” Roberts
There was a time when Jake was a top heel in the WWE and that is certainly where he made his name, but he also tried his hand at WCW for a short time. In 1992, Roberts had a run in the company and worked with talent like Sting and Cactus Jack, but ultimately past relationships brought his run there to a quick end.
Jake had to wait for 90 days before he could actually work in WCW after leaving the WWE and he had signed a high paying contract. Unfortunately, before he could start, Bill Watts came in as the new head of WCW, a promoter from Mid-South that Jake had previous heat with and suddenly he was making significantly less money. Roberts would start in August of 1992 and didn’t last through the end of the year.
8. Curt Hennig
Curt Hennig, better known to the fans for his Mr. Perfect gimmick, had a high-profile run in the WWE from 1988 to 1996. A second generation wrestler, Hennig left the WWE for a chance at the big money and guaranteed contracts of the Monday Night Wars era in 1997.
He started out his run as a member of the popular nWo faction, which seemed to be a huge win at the time, but as time went on and multiple knee injuries kept Hennig off of television, he would eventually be kicked down to the infamous nWo B-Team, and then out of the faction all together. The rest of his run in WCW was spent tagging with Barry Windham, as the two exploited a redneck cowboy gimmick. Hennig left the company in 2000.
7. Triple H
Triple H is the man in WWE. He’s married to the daughter of the boss and he has taken their developmental program and turned it into a highly successful brand in NXT. He stayed with the company throughout the Monday Night Wars, even when his Kliq buddies Hall and Nash took off for WCW.
The punishment that he endured thanks to the infamous Curtain Call event at Madison Square Garden certainly could have provided motivation to jump ship, but perhaps it was his previous experience at WCW that kept Trips loyal to the McMahon muscle machine. He spent just one year in the company as a sad villain named “Terra Ryzing” and was later rebranded Jean Paul Levesque and had to speak with a silly accent. Needless to say, it wasn’t the pro-wrestling experience that Trips was looking for.
Adam “Edge” Copeland had a great run in the WWE as “the Rated-R Superstar” and managed to rise to the level of a main event attraction. A lesser known fact is that Edge actually wrestled for WCW very early on in his career. He worked for WCW Pro under the moniker of Damon Striker back in 1995.
He worked against the infamous Kevin Sullivan and soon found encouragement to branch-off and audition for the WWE by Bret Hart’s business manager, Carl DeMarco. DeMarco would become the head of WWE Canada and put in a word for Edge, helping him gain a spot on McMahon’s roster. He would only be in the WCW for a short time and by 1996 he was off to the WWE.
5. Bret Hart
The Hitman has had an illustrious, but controversial career. He hails from Canada, trained in his legendary father’s wrestling dungeon. He was a staple of the 1980s WWE golden era and managed to rise to the top of the card throughout the 1990s. The allure of Ted Turner’s guaranteed contracts and giant piles of money were just too much for Hart and he left Vince McMahon for WCW.
He was a main eventer over in WWE and the WCW tried to utilize him, but it seemed like the wind was taken out of his sails by the “Montreal Screwjob”. Bret just wasn’t Bret and couple that with the toxic addition of Vince Russo to the company and the death of his brother, Owen Hart, and the run was doomed from the start. Hart never ended up fully committing or engaging in any decent storylines during his time with WCW.
4. The Iron Sheik
The Sheik isn’t just a pro-wrestling legend, he’s also a legendary internet troll. If you haven’t checked-in with Sheik in a while, do yourself a favor and look him up on social media. You may remember him as a pinnacle heel from the Hulkamania era, but Sheik didn’t always work for the WWE. Sheik departed the company in 1988, after some scandal involving him breaking kayfabe and getting arrested for a drug bender. Sheik would work the indies for a while and then sign-on with WCW in 1989.
He was signed to a one-year deal, which was rather lackluster, despite an angle with Sting. He was supposed to be let go, but a loophole in the contract wasn’t noticed due to some regime changes in booking and Sheik was kept on for another year. After that he returned to the WWE in an infamous pro-Iraqi angle with Sergeant Slaughter.
3. Jim Neidhart
Jim Neidhart was one half of the 1980s tag team sensation, The Hart Foundation, alongside his brother-in-law, WWE Legend Bret Hart. The Anvil had two rough runs in WCW. The first was in 1993, when he was with the company for a brief five month stint. He then went back to WWE for the majority of the decade. In 1998, Neidhart followed Bret over to WCW after the infamous “Montreal Screwjob” incident.
The Anvil formed a short-lived tag team with The British Bulldog, but he had an even worse run there than he did back in 1993 and soon Anvil was off television all together. Anvil suffered from substance abuse problems and arrest after his release from WCW, but can be seen nowadays alongside his daughter, WWE Superstar Natalya, on the Total Divas reality series.
2. The Ultimate Warrior
He hailed from “Parts Unknown”, but after a powerhouse run in the WWE, The Ultimate Warrior drifted off into obscurity for a while from 1992 until 1996, when he had a brief and forgettable return to the WWE. In 1998, the nWo was dominating WCW and to counter that they signed Warrior to created the One Warrior Nation faction to renew his once legendary rivalry with Hogan from their babyface days.
It seemed like the perfect recipe for the rivalry of the decade. The build to the Warrior’s return garnered plenty of fan anticipation, but the end result was less than stellar. The promos were more bizarre than usual and thanks to poor booking and writing, Warrior would only end up working three WCW matches before he left the company.
Dave Bautista may be a big movie star these days and former MMA star, but wrestling fans will remember a time before the ill-fated “Boo-Tista” return for the build to WrestleMania 30 a few years back, when the WWE was Batista’s yard. The Animal started his pro-wrestling career in the WWE back in 2000 when he entered the OVW developmental territory. Prior to that, Batista was a talent that the WCW could have utilized.
In fact, back in the late 1990s, he was desperate for a better paying job and he forked over $300 for the privilege of trying out at the WCW Power Plant. Batista recalls a very negative experience, where they basically drove him off. He would soon after join the WWE and make plenty of money for Vince McMahon instead.
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