WCW and WWE famously went head to head during the Monday Night War—that period when Ted Turner gave Eric Bischoff a primetime spot, opposite Monday Night Raw to earnestly compete. Even before that time, WCW was the closest thing WWE had to competition. Whether it was WCW, or the NWA Mid-Atlantic territory/Jim Crockett Promotions that it grew out of, the cast of characters featuring Ric Flair, Sting, and Lex Luger appealed to a subset of fans who found WWE too cartoonish, or otherwise rejected Vince McMahon’s product.
Over the years, it wasn’t unusual for talents to defect between WCW and WWE. If a performer were good enough to hack it one nationally televised promotion, it was reasonable enough to think he could succeed in the other. More often than not, WWE was viewed as the prime destination for a serious wrestler. From the mid 1980s into the early 1990s, it was definitively the promotion with better exposure. Even when the Monday Night War did get rolling, and the exposure was more or less equal, WWE was known to be more professional, featuring more consistent leadership and creative direction.
Some WCW talents who moved on to WWE saw their talents flourish. Take Steve Austin—written off as a mid card mechanic in his time with WCW before he was unceremoniously released. WWE signed him to play a similar role, but in organically letting the character evolve, the worker shape his identity, and listening to the crowds he became an all-time legend. On the contrary, there are the many WCW acts that moved to WWE for the InVasion angle after WWE bought out the company. Most wound up soundly defeated by WWE stars, and didn’t make it to the other side of the angle with any kind of credibility. This article looks at eight talents WWE ruined, and seven the company made better.
15 Ruined: Diamond Dallas Page
Diamond Dallas Page was a rare example of a home grown talent in WCW. He progressed from working as a manager, to working as a color commentator, before starting as a middle aged wrestler. The odds were certainly against DDP, but a combination of hard work and charisma got him over as a main eventer, and a guy who could legitimately claim to be the people’s champion.
Page has spoken in interviews about the last episode of Monday Nitro. While a lot of the talents around him were nervous about their futures, he was calm because WWE had already reached out to let him know he’d have a spot. That spot, however, wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Page would debut not in his own unique persona, but cast in a generic heel stalker gimmick opposite The Undertaker. While DDP vs. The Deadman may have felt like a dream match, the result set up The Undertaker to beat the piss out of the heel who dared violate his privacy. That’s exactly what happened as The Phenom dominated every meaningful part of the feud. Page would do better than many of his peers, retaining a roster spot for a year, and getting to fulfill his goal of working a WrestleMania. He was never treated a serious upper card, guy, though, and it was little surprise that he didn’t re-sign after that first year.
14 Made Better: Booker T
WCW built Booker T, not unlike DDP, as a home grown talent who worked his way up from the tag team ranks, to the mid-card, to a main eventer in the final months of the company’s existence. When Booker transitioned to WWE after the buy out, things didn’t look great. He worked the first WCW branded match that WWE put on, defending the WCW Championship against Buff Bagwell in an awful match, rumored to have been set up for failure. Despite having been WCW’s top face in the end, he quickly transitioned to just another cog in the Alliance of WCW and ECW alumni.
Booker T held out, though. He retained his spot as an upper mid card, and occasional main event talent for the years to immediately follow the initial InVasion angle. From there, he won the King of the Ring tournament, and his rebranding as King Booker absolutely reinvented the man. He quite arguably rose to new heights in the gimmick, including winning the World Heavyweight Championship. While Booker’s WCW tenure made him a star, his time with WWE elevated him to full on legend of the squared circle.
13 Ruined: Scott Steiner
Scott Steiner was a staple performer for WCW. Despite a year or so away to work with his brother as a tag team for WWE, he was otherwise synonymous with the WCW brand. Rick and Scott were that tag team big, bruising, and talented enough to be treated as fringe main event guys, despite mostly sticking ot the tag scene. Steiner would break out on his own in the end, though. He became a main event heel in the final years of the Monday Night War, combining his freakish physique and gift for loud mouthed, vulgar promos to become a legit star.
WWE signed Steiner to work a main event program with Triple H. The results were pretty awful. Part of the responsibility is on Steiner himself for showing up a bit out of shape and, to be fair, past his prime. WWE didn’t set him up for success, though. One of the great heels of his generation had little business kicking off his run as a face. Despite perceptions to the contrary, Triple H wasn’t exactly equipped to pull a great match out of him either. Soon enough, Steiner was demoted to the mid card, and when he did turn heel, it was too little too late to salvage his poor run.
12 Made Better: The Big Show
WCW debuted The Giant as a main event talent, pitting him as a monster heel against Hulk Hogan. He’d remain featured throughout the beginnings of the New World Order angle, including bouncing between face and heel lines. He was big enough to be treated as a special talent, not to mention that his natural athleticism made him worth pushing. However, when his contract was coming up, Paul Wight asked Hogan for advice about his next move. Hogan said that if he really wanted to make the most of his talents, he needed to go to WWE to work with Vince McMahon.
Recast as The Big Show, Paul Wight wasn’t always treated as quite as big of a star. Under the tutelage of people like McMahon himself and The Undertaker, he did become a better rounded performer and a star with real longevity. It’s telling that, more than 20 years after his debut, he’s remained a consistent star and one of the most recognizable figures in the wrestling world.
11 Ruined: Big Van Vader
Big Van Vader was a dominant monster heel champion for WCW. Particularly in 1993, he positively dominated the main event scene as the world champion for almost the entire year. His star faded a bit in the years to follow, as he was recast as a relatively generic monster heel opposite Hulk Hogan. That was only a hint of what was to come when he signed with WWE, though.
Though Vader started out strongly enough in WWE. He attacked Gorilla Monsoon in an era when performers hardly ever put their hands on authority figures, and got the better of Yokozuna. Rumors abounded that he was slated to win the WWE Championship off of Shawn Michaels at SummerSlam 1996. A combination of politics and failing to gel in the WWE structure sent him in a tailspin, though. Vader would fail to win the title, and never really be treated as a main eventer again.
10 Made Better: The Undertaker
Mean Mark Callous was a completely forgettable big man during his stint in WCW. When Vince McMahon got his hands on him, though, he recognized the potential in recasting a stiff, pale big man as a zombie heel—The Undertaker.
The Undertaker would more than hold up his end of the bargain, playing the original gimmick to perfection, then showing an uncanny ability to evolve with the times. He made a big face turn then became the evil leader of the Ministry of Darkness, shifted into a biker, and then took a turn back toward his original gimmick, but with the added dimension of MMA-inspired offense. Through these transitions, he maintained relevance for 25 years. WWE rewarded his loyalty and growing talents in kind spurring one of the greatest acts in professional wrestling history.
9 Ruined: Buff Bagwell
It was widely theorized that, out of all of WCW’s home grown talents, Buff Bagwell may just have been the most natural fit to transition into WWE. He had a great physique and a big personality, befitting the traditional WWE star. However, when he actually got his shot in the first ever WCW-branded match aired on WWE TV things didn’t go so well.
According to Bagwell, WWE management, and in particular Jim Ross, sabotaged him. He claims the company purposefully booked his match with Booker T for a Raw in Tacoma, WA when, if they’d waited a week longer, the show would have been in traditional WCW country in Atlanta GA. From there, he claims Ross concocted a story about Bagwell’s mom calling in sick for him that made him look absurd, and led to him being released from WWE before he’d have another match. Bagwell never got a real shot at starring on the national scene again.
8 Made Better: Diesel
Kevin Nash didn’t do so well in his initial run in WCW. While his big body made him someone WCW wanted to do something with. They tried him out as a Master Blaster, Oz, and Vinnie Vegas, but he was never treated as more than a mid-card novelty gimmick guy.
Nash famously told WCW management that wrestling wasn’t working out for him to get out of his contract, only to turn around and sign with WWE. Vince McMahon saw dollar signs in the big guy, and he quickly moved from Shawn Michaels’s heater, to a mid card star, to world champion and the face of the company inside of a year. While his world title reign as Diesel didn’t end up the biggest success in the world, it would make him a star. He’d end up bouncing back to WCW as a legit star and thrive as a co-founder of the nWo.
7 Ruined: Goldberg
Goldberg was a dominant force in WCW, booked to demolish the competition and rise from obscurity to a main event level star. He peaked by all but squashing Hulk Hogan on an episode of Monday Nitro to win the WCW Championship.
In 2003, WWE aimed to cash in on Goldberg’s WCW fame by signing him to a one year deal that saw him immediately slotted into a main event spot. The problem is that, while Goldberg was an attraction, so much of his appeal was rooted in his shock and awe style that saw him mow through guys. WWE booked him more like a traditional face, chasing the title and often battling from behind, which, among other things exposed his limitations as an in ring performer.
Interestingly, WWE would get things far more right over a decade later, when Goldberg returned from Survivor Series 2016 to WrestleMania 33. He never worked a match over five minutes in this run, but looked a lot like the Goldberg of old, and left off this run with a much better taste in everyone’s mouth.
6 Made Better: Razor Ramon
Scott Hall was a forgettable mid-card player for WCW who peaked as The Diamond Stud, a big heel managed by Diamond Dallas Page. In signing with WWE in 1992, he’d enjoy a complete career reinvention as Razor Ramon.
Ramon pioneered the new ground of the cool heel—a bad guy who was nonetheless a fan favorite. He built his legend all the further when he turned face and became the top star of the mid-card, and a gate keeper to the main event scene. He’d end up bettering on his legacy when he defected back to WCW to launch the New World Order. He’d never have had the notoriety, nor the charisma to thrive in that role had it not been for the mentorship and opportunities he got in his four years with WWE.
5 Ruined: Sean O’Haire
Sean O’Haire emerged in the final years of WCW as a blue chip prospect. As part of the Natural Born Thrillers faction, Stasiak stood out as a big man with a killer look, good athleticism, and good personality. When WWE bought out WCW, it seemed like he’d be a natural to flourish under WWE’s guidance and booking.
O’Haire did not thrive in WWE, however. First, he and tag team partner Chuck Palumbo were largely jobbed out in the InVasion angle, dominated, in particular, by The Brothers of Destruction. From there, WWE tried rebranding the O’Haire as a singles performer. First, he was a trench coat clad heel who spouted off uncomfortable truths. Later, he was paired with Roddy Piper. The character never really connected and O’Haire was ultimately demoted to developmental before he left the company. He’d work for a stint in New Japan before transitioning to MMA; the guy would never realize the potential he’d demonstrated in WCW.
4 Made Better: Hulk Hogan
Hulk Hogan was, in many regards, a WWE invention. He had started to develop the gimmick that would make himself so successful in the AWA, but WWE placed him squarely at the center of its national expansion and made the guy a household name.
Hogan went to WCW in the mid-1990s and started out as a pale imitation of what he’d once been. To be fair, he did find his footing and arrive as one of the greatest heels of the 1990s as the leader of the New World Order. In time, however, that act grew stale, too. WCW would later turn Hogan face again for a fun enough little run, but a period that would be easy enough to forget for a casual fan.
WWE did right by Hogan again when he came back in 2002. First, the nWo reprise was a fun enough angle. From there, the aftermath of Hogan’s legendary showdown with The Rock offered one of the best nostalgia runs in wrestling history as WWE truly capitalized on the charisma and nostalgia embedded in the performer for one last great chapter in his career.
3 Ruined: Lex Luger
Lex Luger was a star for WCW. He played Sting’s best friend and a face or a main event heel in the late 1980s or early 1990s. Later, he’d masterfully play a tweener who was, again Sting’s best friend, but in most other regards a heel. From there, he’d become one of WCW’s top guns against Hollywood Hogan and the nWo, before later joining the Wolf Pac version of the faction, and winding out WCW’s run as an upper card heel.
For all of Luger’s successes in WCW, his WWE run is generally remembered less fondly. As The Narcissist, he was a forgettable upper card heel. As an all-American hero, he was exposed for his limited in ring ability, and not being able to successfully connect with the crowd enough to replace Hulk Hogan, or even Bret Hart as the top face in the company.
2 Made Better: Mick Foley
As Cactus Jack, Mick Foley was a fun enough act for WCW. First, he was a madman heel brought in to challenge Sting. Later, he was recast as an upper card face for a violent rivalry with Big Van Vader. In the end, he was largely squandered in the tag team division, working with Maxx Payne and then Kevin Sullivan.
In WWE, Foley debuted in the unique gimmick of Mankind, a successful enough upper mid card character who memorably feuded with The Undertaker. While Foley didn’t necessarily seem like a fit for WWE’s aesthetic, he would end up making the most of his every opportunity and getting over with the crowd. He’d win world championships and quite arguably be the single most important figure in helping The Rock, Triple H, Randy Orton, and Edge all get over at the main event level.
1 Ruined: Lance Storm
His contemporaries generally recognize Lance Storm as one of the greatest in ring workers of his generation. While charisma and a gift for gab were never his strong suit, his fundamentals and technique were largely beyond compare, and he demonstrated excellent attention to detail. In WCW, he never quite made it to the level of main event fixture—though he may well have if the company had survived another few years. Nonetheless, he was a highly decorated upper mid carder who led the Team Canada stable and notably holding the US, Cruiserweight, and Hardcore Championships all at the same time.
In WWE, Storm wasn’t so well appreciated. He played a background role for The Alliance in the InVasion angle, and was largely the least featured player in the Un-Americans stable afterward. He’d achieve some success in a tag team with William Regal. What potential Storm had was largely erased for good in a dubious angle that saw Steve Austin chant 'boring' during his matches, and undermine what credibility Storm had left.