It’s crazy to think that World Championship Wrestling went from being the hottest company in professional wrestling in 1997, to being so cold that they went out of business just four years later. And when you look at WCW’s talent roster during that time, the fact that they somehow managed to go out of business is even more baffling.
By late 1997, WCW had a talented roster that consisted of Sting, Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Sting, Bret Hart, Chris Jericho, Rey Mysterio, Booker T, and Ric Flair among others, and of all the names mentioned, only two (Jericho and Mysterio) aren’t in the WWE Hall of Fame, but they almost certainly will be someday.
Sting was regarded as the face of the franchise and the poster boy for wrestlers that thrived in WCW. The Superstars in the thrived section took from the Stingers way and built a legacy outside of the WWE and with the WCW.
While WCW managed to pull off some of the biggest free agent signings in the history of professional wrestling, they also let go of guys who would become some of the biggest stars the industry has ever seen, as Steve Austin, Triple H, The Undertaker, and Mick Foley were all part of WCW prior to heading to WWE.
Every single name that has been mentioned – whether they flourished or were wasted – was an integral part of WCW’s rise and fall.
15. Wasted: Rey Mysterio
Rey Mysterio was the face of WCW’s cruiserweight division and he was used properly in the beginning of his WCW run, as he won the Cruiserweight Championship several times. But towards the end of his run in WCW, the company clearly didn’t get how to use him.
Mysterio is probably the most famous masked pro wrestler in the United States, however, WCW didn’t understand the masked gimmick, and they thought that he wasn’t marketable because he was a masked wrestler. So, what did they do? They made him lose the mask, of course!
Following his unmasking, Mysterio’s popularity took a dip, and it was only restored when he made his WWE television debut with the mask in the summer of 2002. Mysterio has never been forced to unmask since WCW closed down and it’s unlikely that we’ll ever see him unmasked ever again.
14. Thrived: Diamond Dallas Page
WCW had a reputation for not being able to build their own stars, with a few exceptions, and Diamond Dallas Page is one of those exceptions. Sure, it took a long time for him to get to the top of the company and, by the time he did, WCW was already on a slight downward spiral, but there’s no question that he had a successful run in WCW.
DDP is one of the few guys that WCW used better than WWE did and it’s actually not even close. Unfortunately, the highlight of his WWE run was his feud with The Undertaker, which didn’t do him any favors in the long run.
You could argue that DDP was always a top three babyface behind Sting and Goldberg during his time in WCW and, in WWE, he probably wasn’t even in the top ten in either the babyface or the heel category. So WCW clearly used him correctly, while WWE completely ruined him.
13. Wasted: Mick Foley
Mick Foley left WCW prior to the company catching fire in mid-1996, but he could have been a valuable asset for the company if they would’ve used him correctly prior to his exit.
Eric Bischoff, who was just taking over as the president of WCW shortly before Foley’s departure, wasn’t a fan of Foley’s dangerous, risk taking style, which is one of the reasons why he ended up leaving the company.
In his first book, Foley describes why he left WCW, saying that the final straw was when he got powerbombed onto the concrete floor and the commentators reacted to it like it was no big deal.
Of course, Foley was quite instrumental in the downfall of WCW, as his very first WWE title win caused one of the biggest rating swings in the history of the Monday Night Wars, and while Foley may have never been a true main-eventer in WCW, he could’ve been a lot bigger than he was had they used him correctly.
12. Thrived: Scott Steiner
If you go back on the WWE Network and watch some of the old WCW shows just before its collapse, you’ll see a lot of bad stuff. However, there was some good stuff and most of that good stuff involved Scott Steiner, who was the company’s top heel during its dying days.
By the time Steiner got to the top of the card in WCW, he was pretty much physically shot. But, he was working at the highest rate of his career and his “Big Poppa Pump” character was really beginning to catch fire with the remaining WCW fans.
By the time WWE brought Steiner in, he was even more physically shot than he was during the end of his WCW run. He had a series of horrible matches with Triple H and he was out of the company shortly thereafter. So much like with DDP, Steiner was used a lot better in WCW than he was in WWE.
11. Wasted: The Ultimate Warrior
There’s certainly no denying that The Ultimate Warrior’s short run in WCW in 1998 was a complete disaster. He was brought in because Hulk Hogan wanted to get his win back from The Warrior, which is exactly what happened. Their match at Halloween Havoc was just as memorable as their first encounter at WrestleMania VI, but for very different reasons.
Even though The Warrior wasn’t the most capable guy in the ring, he was one of the most popular pro wrestlers of all-time and his name still had some value back in 1998. But, WCW clearly didn’t have any plans for him other than the match, and the loss, to Hogan.
The Warrior left WCW shortly after Halloween Havoc and he never appeared on a major pro wrestling show in the United States again until 2014, where he appeared at WrestleMania, the WWE Hall of Fame, and Monday Night Raw, shortly before his passing.
10. Thrived: Lex Luger
Even though Lex Luger may be remembered for being a monumental flop in the WWE, he was actually one of WCW’s biggest stars and, in the summer of 1997, there may not have been a hotter babyface in the entire company than Luger. In fact, Luger was so hot that Hulk Hogan dropped the WCW World Heavyweight Championship to him on an edition of Nitro and Luger’s title win was one of the most memorable moments in the history of World Championship Wrestling.
Luger never got a second shot in WWE after WCW closed down, but it’s almost a guarantee that WWE will put him in the Hall of Fame someday. Fans were a bit surprised when they didn’t induct him prior to WrestleMania XXVII, which was being held in Luger’s hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. But, he’ll probably be inducted at some point in the near-future.
9. Wasted: Chris Benoit
Chris Benoit may have been the most skilled in-ring wrestler in the history of the business and, even though it was clear that he was one of the best in the world during his WCW days, the company clearly didn’t really know what to do with him.
When it was clear that Benoit was disgruntled with his position in the company in early-2000, WCW tried to make him happy by putting the World Heavyweight Championship on him. But, that didn’t change anything, as Benoit left the company for WWE just a few days later and Benoit had actually said in later interviews that winning the WCW Title meant absolutely nothing to him.
If WCW would’ve used Benoit properly, then he probably wouldn’t have left the company, and who knows, maybe they’d still be in business today. But, they could never quite figure out how to take advantage of his skill-set the way WWE did.
8. Thrived: Scott Hall
Outside of Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall may have been WCW’s biggest acquisition. He came to the company in mid-1996 and he was really the first official member of what would be known later as the New World Order.
While Hall was a gigantic star in WCW, he was never the World Champion. In fact, he rarely ever challenged for the World Title and he never actually won a single World Title in his entire pro wrestling career.
Unlike most of the WCW roster, Hall wasn’t afraid to put people over. He’s often told the story about putting Chris Jericho over when he wasn’t even supposed to, so Hall clearly didn’t care about doing the favors during his WCW run.
Unfortunately though, his demons caught up with him during the tail end of his WCW run and he actually got sent home a couple of times. But if he could have kept everything together, he could have ended up doing so much more in WCW and he would have been a lot more valuable when he returned to WWE in early 2002.
7. Wasted: Eddie Guerrero
Eddie Guerrero was an amazing worker throughout his pro wrestling career, especially during his time in WCW. But he was never booked properly during his time there and he was even one of the famous “vanilla midgets,” which is a term that Kevin Nash used to describe some of WCW’s smaller wrestlers.
Guerrero did have some personal issues during his time in WCW, which unquestionably held him back from being in a better spot than he was in. But, even if he didn’t have any personal issues, WCW probably would’ve never taken full advantage of his in-ring skill and charisma.
Luckily, WWE was smart enough to see the value in Eddie Guerrero as a main-event level star. Unfortunately though, we missed out on several dream matches due to his abrupt and shocking passing, most notably a dream match with Shawn Michaels, which WWE reportedly had planned for WrestleMania prior to Guerrero’s death.
6. Thrived: Kevin Nash
Speaking of Kevin Nash, here he is. Sure, you could make the argument that he was just as responsible for WCW’s collapse as he was its rise, but you can’t question the fact that he was one of the company’s biggest stars.
Nash was a significantly bigger star in WCW than he was in WWE and when he returned to WWE in 2002, he never quite reached the level that he had while he was in WCW, but that really wasn’t his fault.
Of course, Nash spent the majority of his WCW run in some incarnation of the New World Order – whether it was being a part of the Hollywood black and white faction, or the black and red Wolfpac.
Nash is certainly best remembered for his time in the nWo, which is why he wanted to go into the WWE Hall of Fame as Kevin Nash instead of Diesel.
5. Wasted: Chris Jericho
Everybody knows Chris Jericho is one of the most decorated professional wrestlers in history – he was the very first Undisputed Champion in WWE history, he’s won the Intercontinental Championship more times than anyone else, and he had the best debut in WWE history back in 1999. He’s done it all.
Jericho clearly had everything it took to be a main-eventer during his time in WCW – he had charisma, he had in-ring skill, and he had the ability to be the most hated or most beloved wrestler on the entire roster, depending on what he was being asked to do. But, WCW never could figure out what to do with him, which caused Jericho to leave the company in 1999 and become one of the biggest stars in WWE history.
Of course, if you’ve read Jericho’s second book, you’ll see that he had to go through some rough times in his early WWE days to get to the spot that he’s in now. But, at the end of the day, WWE was able to recognize Jericho’s talent, whereas WCW treated him like he was just another guy.
4. Thrived: Goldberg
Here’s another exception to the “WCW can’t create any of their own stars” rule. Goldberg was probably the biggest star that WCW ever created, but they also did a heck of a job cooling him off when they decided to end his undefeated streak in late 1998. Of course, they couldn’t have had him be undefeated forever, but they could have ended it in a better way, and done more with it. Instead, they did the famous “fingerpoke of doom” just a short time later, which really made the decision to end the streak look stupid.
People can say what they want about Goldberg being a “flash in the pan,” but he was arguably the biggest star in WCW during his undefeated streak and he’s still talked about to this day. So, it’s clear that he was quite successful, because if he wasn’t, nobody would be wanting to see him have one more match at next year’s WrestleMania 33.
3. Wasted: Steve Austin
To be fair, nobody could have predicted that Steve Austin would go on to be the biggest star in the history of professional wrestling after he was fired from WCW. But, the fact that he did made WCW management look extremely incompetent.
Austin was a heck of a worker during his time in WCW and, for a period of time, it looked like he was going to get a chance to be one of the company’s top stars, but that all changed after Hulk Hogan was brought in.
At the time of his firing, Austin was furious with WCW. But, it clearly turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to him, because just a couple of years later, he was by far the biggest star in the industry and he had become the biggest draw of all-time. Austin’s records are still yet to be surpassed and they probably won’t be for a very long time.
2. Thrived: Hulk Hogan
Hulk Hogan was clearly the biggest acquisition in WCW history. Without him and his shocking heel turn at Bash at the Beach 1996, WCW probably wouldn’t have caught fire the way it did and the Monday Night Wars would have been far less interesting.
Of course, Hogan’s creative control clause in his contract hindered WCW quite a bit, as Hogan rarely wanted to lose, which eventually put WCW in a bad spot. But, that doesn’t mean that he never put anyone over – as previously mentioned, Hogan put Lex Luger over clean and he also was the man that Goldberg defeated to win his first World Heavyweight Championship.
During his time in WCW, Hogan was by far the highest paid professional wrestler in the business. He was also a part-timer, so he probably had the best contract in the history of the business during the 90s.
1.Wasted: Bret Hart
In late 1997, WCW had just acquired Bret Hart, who was WWE’s Champion at the time, coming off of what would later be known as The Montreal Screwjob. Not only did WCW wait several weeks to debut him after they signed him, but they made him a referee in his first major pay-per-view with the company.
The obvious direction for Hart coming into WCW was for him to be in the World Title picture. Of course, they couldn’t put him in the picture right away because of the Hogan vs. Sting feud, and even though he did end up winning the WCW Title, he was never treated as a true top guy during his time there.
Unfortunately, Bret’s career ended in WCW. Sure, he wrestled a few matches in WWE after he returned to the company, but let’s be honest, those weren’t real matches.
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