A full 20 years after World Championship Wrestling reached it’s greatest height, fans of pro wrestling still talk about the company in revered terms as the one challenger to Vince McMahon that nearly took him down. The catch is that we’re also just 19 years removed from when WCW made such constant and egregious mistakes that they were already basically a lost cause, and it kept going downhill from there. As the company circled the drain, WCW had more problems backstage than any one list could possible compile. It’s much easier to just look at the onscreen moments that made fans tune out before they even knew how chaotic things truly were.
That said, for as terrible as WCW got, the fact fans are still interested in the company to this day suggests the potential for the company to one day be saved was always there. In some cases, WCW wrestlers and executives even had brilliant ideas that could have turned things around, only for plans to fall through before they could have any true impact. Other times, WCW simply refused to acknowledge the great potential staring them in the face, making audiences shake their heads when the company instead made the worst choices possible. Keep reading to learn about 10 potential WCW storylines that could have brought down WWE and the 10 storylines WCW actually did instead that sunk the promotion.
20 COULD HAVE SUNK WWE: Cruiserweights Fly To The Top
When WCW was at it’s peak, the company had a well-known reputation for putting on incredible matches at the start of Nitro and Pay-Per-Views and gradually following them up with some pretty boring, slow main events. Part of the reason for this was that all the guys on the bottom of the card were innovative, high-flying cruiserweights, while the top was filled with the superstars of yesteryear who couldn’t quite perform at their peak levels any longer.
Put this way, the solution seems almost too easy—start treating those small cruiserweight wrestlers like they belong in the main event.
In classic WCW fashion, the company only seemed to make an effort at this obvious plan twice. First, for a few short weeks in 1999, Rey Mysterio gained a reputation as “The Giant Killer” by feuding Kevin Nash. Rey also main evented an episode of Nitro against Ric Flair, and was certainly one of the promotion’s most popular stars. And then…they kind of moved on to other things, shunting Rey back down to the cruiserweight and tag team divisions. They should have done the exact opposite, bringing Eddie Guerrero, Billy Kidman, and others up to his level. Then again, the other time they tried did involve Kidman, and that proved simply having them hang with Hulk Hogan wasn’t going to help elevate them.
19 SANK WCW: Vince Russo and David Arquette as World Champions
Once the most respected chunk of metal in sports entertainment, the WCW World Championship changed hands so many times in it’s last two years of existence the decades of hard work that came beforehand barely mattered anymore. Not only was the Big Gold Belt passed around like a hot cake between a bevvy of questionable wrestlers, but a handful of non-athletes also got involved in the mix. First up was Hollywood actor David Arquette, who pinned Eric Bischoff in a tag team match also including then champion Jeff Jarrett, thus winning the gold. Fans were instantly confused and outraged, deeming Arquette’s victory the lowest point any major title had ever seen…
Until about five months later, when WCW writer Vince Russo booked himself to win it in an even more audacious affair.
The small plus side to these two title reigns is that neither of them lasted all that long. Arquette lost the gold back to Jarrett only slightly over a week later, and Russo similarly vacated the title shortly after winning it, upon acknowledgement he wasn’t a wrestler. Unfortunately, it was much too late to undo the notion that the WCW World Championship was not something elite wrestlers strived for anymore, but rather a silly prop that the writers gave to random celebrities, or themselves.
18 COULD HAVE SUNK WWE: Mean Mark Rolls Into Town
Depending on which source one chooses to believe, this either came extremely close to happening or was never even discussed by anyone with power. Knowing how WCW ran at times, it also feels weirdly possible the answer could be that both are true. The story in question is that The Undertaker was considering a move to WCW right before he reinvented himself as The American Bad Ass character. According to Kevin Nash, the company was incredibly close to signing the Dead Man, suggesting he would have debuted as the Biker character as a wholly fresh face in the main event scene.
No matter how exactly it would happen or how things would progress from the initial surprise, there’s no denying The Undertaker was still a huge star in 2000, and his presence alone would have put all eyes on WCW.
He could easily reignite old feuds with Kevin Nash and Hulk Hogan, or start entirely new ones against men like Scott Steiner or Booker T. However, regardless of what Nash had to say, Eric Bischoff later shut down the rumors by saying neither he nor any other major executives ever exchanged a single word about the idea. Whether or not the story actually holds any water, the fact remains if it were somehow true, Vince McMahon would not have been happy.
17 SANK WCW: New Blood Rises… Uh… Kinda
Considering the primary issue most fans had with WCW was the main event scene all being over the hill, the idea of a bunch of young bucks forcibly demanding a spot on the top should belong on the other half of the list. In fact, a few of the items indeed follow that same basic concept, yet for some reason, when WCW actually tried doing something like this, it was a massive bomb from beginning to end. The problem with the New Blood stable is who WCW chose to represent it. By and large, the New Blood were minor names the crowd just didn’t care about, with a few genuine stars who didn’t fit in the group. And for some reason, Eric Bischoff and Vince Russo were the leaders, rather than an actual wrestler.
It also didn’t help that the New Blood’s enemies were the Millionaire’s Club, a group consisting of every single popular name in the company.
There’s a way to elevate rising stars above the main event, but having Billy Kidman stand toe-to-toe with Hulk Hogan and making the announcers pretend they’re equal isn’t it. Worst of all, the New Blood rose in the era when WCW was getting painfully meta about the idea of writing wrestling, making it hard to even understand what the heck was going.
16 COULD HAVE SUNK WWE: Goldberg Never Loses The Streak
Despite the constant mistakes WCW was making at times, the company also had one incredible diamond in the rough who could have single handedly saved the promotion. In fact, he nearly did, until someone backstage decided to ruin the best thing WCW had going in years by ending Goldberg’s 173 match undefeated streak. No one disagrees with the fact that all good things must inevitably come to an end, but Goldberg had been one top for less than a full year before WCW threw it all away with the flick of a Taser.
On that note, the worst thing about Goldberg’s first big loss is how it all went down.
Rather than give some up and coming star the rub of defeating him, Goldberg was felled by a weird, unrealistic looking “shock stick” that Scott Hall jabbed against his abs. This allowed Kevin Nash to drop him with a weak power bomb at Starrcade 1998, ending everything the company worked for over the past 16 or so months. Again, there would have inevitably come a point when Goldberg had to lose to someone, but this was neither the time nor place to pull that particular trigger. Fans would have been happy to watch Goldberg plow through 173 additional matches or more, and depriving them the opportunity is what made so many people tune out.
15 SANK WCW: Hogan Buries The WCW Championship With His Finger
Forget about David Arquette, Vince Russo, or the 25-ish other WCW Championship reigns that began between 1999 and 2000. The real worst moment of all came on January 4, 1999, when Hollywood Hogan poked Kevin Nash in the chest, reuniting the nWo Black & White and nWo Wolfpac into one super faction. Simultaneously, Hogan was proving he was still the only name in WCW that mattered, that the nWo would never die, and that they would literally destroy absolutely everything the company held dear until it just didn’t exist anymore. Of course, that wasn’t really their intention, as someone must have genuinely believed the Fingerpoke of Doom would bring in ratings and intrigue, or else it never would have happened.
There have been bad matches that crowned undeserving champions before, but the difference was that the wrestlers involved always at least pretended to care a bit about the outcome. In this particular match, Nash was blatantly calling the top prize in WCW meaningless to him, and Hogan likewise was telling fans just how little effort he was willing to put in to win it. With two of the biggest names in WCW caring this little about the Big Gold Belt, fans gradually lost all interest, as well.
14 COULD HAVE SUNK WWE: Flair Actually Gets The Respect He Deserves
Regardless of all the extremely stupid things WCW had Ric Flair do, even as the company was hitting rock bottom, the man was still Ric Flair. Executives may have gradually lost track of what this meant, but the faithful WCW audience never forgot, always respecting Flair as an icon deserving of World Championships whenever he came close to the Big Gold Belt. In the year 2000, Flair was just about the only person in the whole company who could consistently make audiences cheer, and it’s not like this was a new skill of his.
However, rather than accept Flair’s legendary status and the fact crowds still loved him, WCW regularly treated the Nature Boy like a mentally unstable joke.
Sure, he still won World titles now and again, but then the next month on Nitro, he’d strip down to his underwear and get shipped off to a mental institution. Or kidnapped and buried alive. Of course, that was at least better than Eric Bischoff keeping Flair off TV almost a whole year out of spite alone. Instead, he easily could’ve been wrestling new stars in original feuds that helped everyone look better, not intentionally worse. Once Flair’s reputation was so damaged that audiences didn’t care about the company he worked for anymore, the only joke left was on WCW.
13 SANK WCW: Millennium Man Sid Vicious
Before we start outlining the downsides of Sid Vicious, let’s acknowledge that yeah, the guy could be extremely popular at certain points in his career. Unfortunately for WCW, those points all came in the early ‘90s, and not the year 2000, when they made him the World Champion. By this point, Sid’s appeal had long since faded, as he was exposed for the very tall yet uncoordinated weirdo fans know today. And that was before he proudly boasted he had “half the brains” Kevin Nash does.
That faux pas didn’t happen until he reappeared in WCW as an instant main eventer, a role fans decidedly didn’t want to seem him perform anymore.
Eventually, Sid would indeed win the WCW Championship twice and dominantly reign over the company for several months. Quite frankly, though, the way he got there was even worse, as he attempted to “beat” Goldberg’s 173-0 undefeated streak by running into random matches and causing them to end in double DQ by power bombing all participants. Then Sid would claim they were part of his “streak” as the true Millennium Man. Unsurprisingly, fans didn’t exactly catch on with the idea, simply getting mad at Sid and WCW for blatantly lying to them. In typical WCW fashion, rather than ditch the idea, they promoted the wrestler behind it all the way to the top.
12 COULD HAVE SUNK WWE: Vince McMahon Keeps WCW Going As A Separate Brand
Such was the power of the World Championship Wrestling brand that some rumors suggest the company nearly lived and died at the exact time. Before Vince McMahon decided to completely absorb the WCW roster into his own, there were actually rumblings he had been pitching a new version of Nitro or a similarly named show to TNN. Obviously, he wasn’t trying to keep the war going and put his own WWE Universe out of business, but rather just continue the spirit of competition that had been so good to his ratings for the past several years.
It made sense Vince would consider this plan, and he didn’t even abandon it entirely, continuing the competition another way through the Invasion storyline. The original idea wasn’t going to work, though, because the WCW brand had been damaged so badly over the past few years that no major TV network was willing to take a risk on a product known to lose millions of dollars. It’s hard to blame them, and it’s also a valid question how exactly McMahon would have kept this separate entity going. Maybe this one wouldn’t have kept WCW alive, but it also could have got Vince so overwhelmed that it may have brought WWE down along with it.
11 SANK WCW: Hulk Hogan Walks Out and Vince Russo Says Good Riddance
Of all the bizarre things WCW broadcast on Pay-Per-View during the year 2000, the most controversial was certainly the advertised World Championship match planned for Bash at the Beach 2000. Jeff Jarrett was set to defend the Big Gold Belt against Hulk Hogan, but when the match almost started to happen, Jarrett quickly put the idea to an end by laying down and telling the Hulkster to pin him and get it over with.
From there, Hogan gave a few quick words about the state of WCW, took his belt, and went home.
Sources disagree on whether or not Hogan ever planned to come back, with writer Vince Russo suggesting the ultimate plan was a title versus title match between Hulk and whoever the other WCW Champion was when he returned. This immediately fell apart when Russo walked down to the ring a few minutes after Hogan gave his send off and went on an angry rant about the iconic wrestler constantly refusing to go along with his ideas, alienating Hogan from the company for good. Fans weren’t pleased with Russo airing WCW’s dirty laundry on Pay-Per-View, not to mention the fact they were wasting valuable air time to do it. Clearly, WCW was just Russo’s personal sounding board at that point, and few people cared to listen.
10 COULD HAVE SUNK WWE: Steve Corino Starts An Old School Hardcore Invasion
Right before WCW went out of business, the number three North American wrestling promotion also bit the dust when Extreme Championship Wrestling closed its doors. As the hardcore Philadelphia promotion that almost made it started to go under, the top name around was “The King of Old School” Steve Corino. Excellent in the ring and on the microphone, Corino was one of the last true stars the company had, and it almost looked like WCW was going to continue their trend of stealing away Paul Heyman’s top talents by offering Corino a contract in March of 2001. Of course, the company went out of business mere weeks later, instantly putting that idea to an end.
Truth be told, it’s probably be overestimating Corino’s talents a bit to suggest he alone could have CHALLENGED WWE, especially since he would have been coming into the scene way too late to do anything. However, with a bit more time, other ECW stars may have started showing up shortly after Corino’s debut, including names like Rhyno and Rob Van Dam. Eventually, this could have lead to an entirely different type of invasion, with hardcore superstars recognizing WCW was falling apart, making it theirs for the taking. Maybe they wouldn’t take down WWE, but it would at least be something new that got fans talking.
9 SANK WCW: The Radicalz Arrive In WWE
By the year 2000, the problems with WCW were getting so widespread that angles taking place in WWE were deadlier to the promotion than anything they could do themselves. Of course, this was only possible because WCW constantly and repeatedly ignored four of their greatest talents, despite how loudly fans were begging to see more of them.
In one fell swoop, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Perry Saturn, and Dean Malenko all jumped ship by appearing on an episode of Raw just one night after a WCW Pay-Per-View where all four played major roles, now calling themselves The Radicalz.
The full story of what went down is a little complicated, and involves a great deal of bitterness between Benoit and recently promoted WCW writer Kevin Sullivan. However, the important part is that this was the final sign that Vince McMahon and his staff would finally promote wrestlers that WCW had overlooked as stars. In a single night, the Radicalz went from three midcarders and an uneasy main eventer to four men who could all easily stand toe-to-toe with D-Generation X and Mick Foley. They wouldn’t all stay there, as Saturn and Malenko were pretty quick to sink down the card, but the message had already been sent that WWE acknowledged the future in ways WCW never would.
8 COULD HAVE SUNK WWE: Eric Bischoff Saves The Day
Any fan of WCW left who was actually sad to see it go probably remembers all too well what the alternate plan for the future of the company was before Vince McMahon swooped in and purchased the company. For several weeks, WCW had been hyping the fact that Eric Bischoff and a handful of other investors collectively known as Fusient Media Ventures were planning to buy it instead, and keep it going in one form or another.
How much of this would have turned into an onscreen angle is unclear, but Bischoff definitely intended to keep Nitro, Thunder, and the consistent WCW Pay-Per-View schedule going for a long time to come.
There was just one huge problem in the fact Turner Broadcasting no longer had any interest in airing WCW, regardless of who owned the company or what they were doing. The production costs had simply gotten too high, and ratings in the 2s and 3s simply weren’t cutting it. One Turner executive in particular named Jamie Kellner simply wasn’t a fan of pro wrestling on their television networks, and thus the decision was made to cancel Nitro and Thunder without any second thought. Without a TV show, Bischoff and the rest of Fusient immediately gave up on the idea and abandoned ship.
7 SANK WCW: Sting Becomes A Bad Guy… And The Crowd Goes Wild
For all the negatives, WCW will forever be remembered for a few key iconic moments that genuinely changed wrestling forever. High atop the list is Hulk Hogan turning his back on the fans to form the New World Order, turning wrestling’s most popular superstar for decades into it’s most hated man overnight. It makes sense then that WCW would attempt recreating this formula once or twice as time went on, taking their biggest faces and having them unexpectedly turn heel right as they achieved their greatest spotlight. Unfortunately, they never captured lightning in a bottle twice, and instead, most attempts at recreating the magic achieved the opposite of what was intended.
Case in point, Sting’s final WCW World Championship reign, which was supposed to begin with the Icon becoming a bad guy for the first time on the major stage. To achieve this, Sting reunited with on-again, off-again buddy Lex Luger at Fall Brawl 1999 and whacked the once again red and yellow clad Hulk Hogan in the head with a baseball bat. Instead of booing this dastardly move, the crowd erupted with cheers, confirming they were still on Sting’s side. Ultimately, it didn’t matter beyond a few days, but it was a yet another sign the writers were completely out of touch with their audience.
6 COULD HAVE SUNK WWE: Raven Pays The Piper
Of all the talent WCW misused over the years, few were as horribly miscast as Raven when they turned him into a rich, spoiled, smiling goofball. On the plus side, the usually macabre wrestler seemed to have a bit of fun with the role, and by hook or by crook, it was actually a pretty big hit with WCW fans. By the summer of 1999, Raven’s revived Flock was one of the company’s most popular acts, earning huge reactions for their tag team wars against Billy Kidman, Rey Mysterio, Chris Benoit, and Dean Malenko.
At one point, it even looked like this may be the launching pad for Raven shooting to the top, when he and Kanyon shot a vignette in what was supposed to be his house, finding an old portrait of “Rowdy” Roddy Piper amongst Raven’s childhood things. In one way or another, this was supposed to gradually transition to Raven having a high profile feud with Piper, but in classic WCW fashion, it fell apart before anything else actually happened. This is a real shame, as a program with an icon like the Hot Rod would have definitely made Raven into a genuine main event name, and his dark brilliance would have added freshness to the outdated scene that already existed.
5 SANK WCW: The Magnificent Mess
Always seeming to believe that bigger is better, it was only a matter of time before WCW messed up the classic Four Horsemen formula by adding way, way too many names to their ranks. It all began when Ric Flair became the onscreen CEO of WCW, putting him in charge of the company for the second time. In order to ensure he would have some back up, he hired Jeff Jarrett, Lex Luger, Buff Bagwell, and Road Warrior Animal for some reason to all help him keep their chosen star Scott Steiner on top as the WCW Champion. Naturally, Scotty’s brother Rick rounded out the group as member number seven. Along the way, Rick also won the United States Championship, giving both Steiners gold and almost making the group look respectable on paper.
If this is beginning to sound more like the nWo than the Four Horsemen, that shouldn’t be all that surprising. Instantly bloated and primarily directionless, the Magnificent Seven may have gotten many of WCW’s top names into the ring all at once, but none of them did anything of note with the attention. All Flair’s group accomplished was forcing the rest of WCW to band together and fight them, thus ruining virtually every match in which any of them were involved.
4 COULD HAVE SUNK WWE: The Rise of the Apocalypse
There were times when the mismanagement of WCW got so out of control the rumor mill didn’t know how to contain itself, and the heavily rumored “Apocalypse” angle was definitely one of these cases. The world may never know exactly what was planned, who would have been involved, or how it would have paid off, but back in the Attitude Era, many fans online were convinced this was going to be the idea that turned the company around. Basically, after growing annoyed with the Four Horsemen, Brian Pillman was going to revolt and form his own Apocalypse to challenge Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, and any other old guard allies they may find.
According to Chris Jericho, Pillman’s allies were to include himself, Chris Benoit, and Eddie Guerrero. Other sources have also thrown Steven Regal and Dean Malenko into the mix as potential members. Enticing as the idea does sound, there’s one huge problem in the fact this only would have been possible right as the nWo was hitting it’s stride. For as much as some audiences may enjoy the idea of the Apocalypse, they may have been entirely overshadowed by Hollywood Hogan’s more dastardly antics. On the other hand, the Apocalypse could have in turn overpowered Hogan, thus negating the company’s most destructive internal influence.
3 SANK WCW: The nWo Just…Won’t… Go... Away
Truth be told, there’s a chance no one would be talking about WCW anymore had it not been for the New World Order. The company certainly never would have actually come near taking WWE to the cleaners, but on the other hand, it’s also possible that no one event was more integral to how things all fell apart not that much later. For whatever reason, WCW just had no idea whatsoever when to give up on an idea that had run it’s course. The six months to a year of the nWo were truly iconic, and the initial splintering definitely got fans talking. Then the group got back together again, and then again, and eventually, the nWo was the last thing any wrestling fan ever wanted to hear about.
The straw that broke the camel’s back and destroyed the nWo brand for good came in December of 1999, when the group’s “black and silver” variety debuted. In addition to mainstays the Outsiders, “nWo 2000” included Jeff Jarrett, Scott Steiner, the Harris Brothers, and new leader Bret Hart. Until Hart got injured mere weeks into the idea, at which point Nash took back over. Well, kind of, because Scott Hall was gone not long after that, too. Before long, the whole group disappeared, because what was the point anymore?
2 COULD HAVE SUNK WWE: Someone Conquers The nWo
Okay, so the nWo definitely went on way too long, and WCW had no idea how to end the darn idea. That said, the potential was always there for someone to come along and destroy the group in definitive fashion, and whoever that wrestler was would have instantly become the biggest star in the sports entertainment world. It’s not like there weren’t a plethora of options in front of WCW for who could do this—“Diamond” Dallas Page, Roddy Piper, Bret Hart, Sting, Goldberg, or maybe Randy Savage, Scott Hall, or Kevin Nash after leaving the group—any of these names would have done. Or, better yet, they could pick a total wild card from lower on the card, who slowly breaks down the group in ways they would never expect.
No matter how WCW went about doing it, destroying the nWo was perhaps the most obvious solution to almost all of their problems. Not even WCW could ignore this fact, which is why each of the above names did experience a promo, match, or angle where they took the group on. Unfortunately, their efforts always fell short, and the nWo came back bigger and better than ever almost immediately afterwards, making it all for naught.
1 SANK WCW: Starrcade 1997 Started The Downfall
Taking place a solid three years and three months before WCW actually went under, there was obviously a great deal of time for the company to right the wrongs of Starrcade 1997. Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is that they didn’t make any effort at doing this, thus turning the company’s highest rated Pay-Per-View into the one that ultimately caused it’s downfall. The most important mistakes took place during the main event, which pitted WCW’s most popular superstar, Sting, against their most hated villain, Hollywood Hogan.
The build to the match was extremely simple—Hogan was a jerk to everybody, so Sting wanted vengeance.
Despite being the WCW Champion, Hogan was also too afraid to face Sting in the ring, leading to months of surprises, chasing, and legal wrangling to make the match actually happen. Then, when the clock struck on show time, Sting…leisurely strolled down the aisle and wrestled a very pedestrian match. As if the pacing weren’t bad enough, it looked like Hogan cleanly won when referee Nick Patrick messed up what should have been a blatant fast count. The match was nonetheless restarted and Sting got the gold, but fans were so disenfranchised by the failure of what should have been WCW’s finest hour that the brand was just never able to recover.