When wrestling fans today think back on WCW, they tend to remember the Monday Night War era best. The New World Order set the wrestling world on fire, Sting reached new heights, and stars like Goldberg, Diamond Dallas Page, and Scott Steiner all rose to the top of the business. No, this period wasn’t perfect. Nonetheless, the star power and big surprises did make for compelling television.
WCW was around for years before these developments, though. In particular, before Hulk Hogan signed with the company in 1994, WCW had a very different landscape. This article takes a look back at five of the promotion’s best moments before Hulk Hogan signed, as well as five of the worst.
10 Best WCW Moment: Ron Simmons Becomes The First African-American World Champion
The year was 1992, and while the United States, including the wrestling world within it, had made progress around race, pro wrestling still hadn’t seen a black man or woman attain a world title. That all changed when Ron Simmons pinned Big Van Vader to be crowned WCW Champion.
While Simmons wouldn’t spend a very long time in the main event, his real-life athletic credentials, physical power, and look all made him a legitimate choice for this featured role. Pinning Vader—an unbeatable monster up to that point in WCW—was an all-time great feel good moment, in addition to its historical importance.
9 Worst WCW Moment: Abdullah The Butcher Gets Electrocuted
Halloween Havoc was an offbeat, fun themed show as WCW expanded its catalog of PPV offerings. In 1991, the company went a step too far in booking a Chamber of Horrors Match.
The Chamber of Horrors featured an impressive cast. However, the entire gimmick rested on the idea that one team would win by positioning a member of the opposition in an electric chair and, well, electrocuting him. Predictably, it looked absurd when this resolution came, as Abdullah the Butcher flopped around acting as though he were being subjected to capital punishment.
8 Best WCW Moment: The Dangerous Alliance Loses Its War
In between the early incarnations of the Four Horsemen and the New World Order, there was The Dangerous Alliance. With Paul Heyman at the helm, and an impressive array of talent under him, they were an imposing heel unit. Not only did they tell compelling stories, but they also delivered in the ring.
The group reached its climax in a War Games match that ultimately saw them lose to a team captained by Sting. The cracks were starting to show as the group turned on Larry Zbyszko for costing his team. While backstage strife for Heyman was a key factor in the group ending once and for all in the months to follow, this loss signaled the end of their dominance, and at the right time. Rather than overstaying it’s welcome, The Dangerous Alliance offered a satisfying year-long narrative arc.
7 Worst WCW Moment: The Hollywood Blondes Split
The Hollywood Blondes paired Brian Pillman and Steve Austin into a makeshift tag team. It’s unclear that there were any big expectations for the tandem. Austin and Pillman showed glimmers of the stars they would evolve into when they took the gimmick and ran, becoming one of the most entertaining tag teams of their era.
Accounts vary as to whether WCW split up the Blondes to get more out of them as singles stars, or because higher-ups felt threatened by them getting so over, so quickly as a pair. Regardless, a great pair got cut short in favor of Austin attacking Pillman, to turn the latter face. Back in the singles ranks, it was clear WCW didn’t have much planned for either of them, and split up its best team for nothing.
6 Best WCW Moment: Big Van Vader Dominates Sting
WCW followed in the history of the NWA Mid-Atlantic and Jim Crockett Promotions traditions that came before it. Whereas WWE tended to push a face champion fending off heel challengers, WCW saw the money in the chase with longstanding heel champs. While Ric Flair represented that ideal, as the kind of heel who cheated or barely survived to retain his title, Big Van Vader represented a paradigm shift as an unbeatable monster heel.
Case in point, Vader positively steamrolled Sting at the Great American Bash 1992 to get his title reign off to a dominating start, and set him up to work on top for most of the year and a half to follow.
5 Worst WCW Moment: The Shockmaster Debuts
The idea of capitalizing on Fred Ottman’s massive size and face recognition from WWE was fair enough as WCW sought to build new stars in 1993. The Shockmaster concept, however, came across as snake-bit from the start.
The idea of the big man debuting as a face, masked in a sparkly helmet, with dramatic voice-overs by Ole Anderson wasn’t so great. That a set design issue led to him tripping, falling, and losing his helmet as he broke through a wall to debut immediately made him a farce. A guy whom WCW may have intended as a main event talent never recovered, scarcely featured at all from that point forward.
4 Best WCW Moment: Ric Flair Overcomes Big Van Vader
Starrcade 1993 saw a dramatic shift, as WCW had to scrap its plans for Sid Vicious to turn face and challenge Big Van Vader, after Vicious was let go for a behind the scenes incident. Ric Flair came through as exactly the talent the company could always count on him to be, and was positioned as an underdog—over the hill and outsized against the monster champ.
In a career of outstanding performances, few were better or more dramatically satisfying than Flair fighting from underneath and toppling Vader. The match proved Flair was still a top performer, and rates high on his list of best moments while playing a face character.
3 Worst WCW Moment: Sid Vicious Powerbombs Brian Pillman Inside War Games
The idea of Sid Vicious powerbombing Brian Pillman until El Gigante forfeited the match to save his little buddy made good, dramatic sense on paper. The moment would put over Vicious as a monster, sell Pillman’s toughness for not giving up, and get over El Gigante as an ally to smaller faces, and potentially even a rival for Vicious.
Despite these reasonable intentions, things got ugly when it turned out the steel cage used for War Games was too short for Vicious to properly execute the powerbomb, resulting in Pillman taking a legitimately nasty bump. Rather than improvising to keep Pillman safe, Vicious hit the move again. While the results weren’t as ugly, the whole situation came across as unsafe and hard to watch.
2 Best WCW Moment: The Wheel Lands On A Texas Death Match
The Spin the Wheel, Make the Deal concept was a fun enough gimmick for the Halloween Havoc PPV, built around an intense rivalry culminating in a gimmick match that was left up to chance. However, when the 1992 iteration led to a Coal Miner’s Glove Match it was hard for fans not to feel short-changed, with an outdated and dull match type.
Things were different in 1993. While a campy amnesia angle had threatened to derail Cactus Jack’s feud with Big Van Vader, the angle was redeemed when the Wheel revealed these two would battle in a Texas Death Match. The gimmick fit both performers’ styles and the brutality of their rivalry well,
1 Worst WCW Moment: Lex Luger Beats Barry Windham For The Title
In 1991, the powers that be at WCW decided that Ric Flair would drop the world title to Lex Luger. Flair didn’t agree that Luger was the right man for that spot, and amidst other turmoil between The Nature Boy and management, he wound up leaving the company without dropping his title at all.
As a result, Luger won the vacant title in a match with Barry Windham. While Windham was a great talent, he wasn’t’ Flair, and for the storyline purposes of passing the torch, Luger’s victory rung hollow. Worse yet, the match set up Luger to turn heel and essentially fill the heel main event void that Flair had left behind—a spot he was ill-equipped for.