With the NBA and NHL free agent period starting last week, we realized that the same thing goes on in professional wrestling. Although there is no real “off-season,” wrestlers are still free to come and go to different promotions when their contract is up. These promotions will enter into talks with wrestlers and the superstar usually has to make a choice about where to sign a new deal. Often, they choose the organization that will either give them the most money or put them at the top of the card.
In the case of the wrestlers on this list, they all chose to go to WWE. Whether it was while WCW was still in business, or after it was bought, these superstars all came to the biggest wrestling promotion in the world. For some of them, their time in WWE was wasted. Failed pushes, terrible gimmicks, and an inability to grasp their WCW popularity was a big problem. Conversely, many of the wrestlers on this list rose above and became household names.
Obviously, there are more than 15 superstars who made the jump to WWE and we could make several more of these lists if we chose, but here’s our Top 10 WCW Alumni Who Found Success In WWE… And 5 Who Didn’t.
15. Success: Ron Simmons
The first African American WCW World Heavyweight Champion may not have ever won the big gold belt in the WWE, but he still had a great career. Simmons began his WWE tenure as Faarooq Asad, before shortening his name and forming The Nation of Domination with D’Lo Brown, Crush, and Savio Vega. The Nation lasted for two years before disbanding. Afterwards, Farooq became part of The Acolytes with Bradshaw, which later morphed into the beer-drinking, card-playing APA that we all remember him for. The APA won the WWE Tag Team Championship three times and endeared themselves to fans with their stiff in-ring style. On top of that, Simmons will forever be remembered thanks to his simple and hilarious catchphrase: “Damn!” We don’t think seeing Simmons appear out of nowhere backstage and utter that phrase will ever get old. Inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2012, Simmons deserved every achievement that he worked for and will always be remembered fondly.
14. Success: Billy Kidman
The master of the shooting star press became a must-watch competitor when he made his WWE debut in July 2001, winning the Cruiserweight Championship from Gregory Helms. For a modern reference, Kidman’s shooting star press is equivalent to Adrian Neville’s Red Arrow. At the time, the only person doing the move was Billy Kidman. As far as we know, Neville is the only superstar performing the Red Arrow. The mystique of the move helps with the popularity of the performer. Kidman won the Cruiserweight title four times and feuded with the likes of Tajiri, Jamie Noble, Matt Hardy, Chavo Guerrero and Paul London. Kidman also won the Tag Team Championship with London before turning on him. Although he may be best known for his shooting star press, Kidman was an all-around excellent wrestler and inspired many others to adopt the move.
13. Success: Booker T
The master of the Spin-a-roonie did a little bit of everything in his WWE career. After becoming the five-time Heavyweight Champion in WCW, Booker made a huge impact by immediately feuding with the WWE’s top stars during the Invasion angle. This put him at a high level from the start and that’s where he stayed for his whole run. Booker worked with a who’s who of talent including Triple H, Kane, Chris Jericho, Steve Austin, Batista, and more. He was involved in some criminally underrated angles including winning the Tag Team Championship with Goldust in 2002. Booker won the Heavyweight Championship once, the Intercontinental Championship one, the U.S. Championship three times, the Tag Team Championship four times, and the Hardcore Championship twice during his time in the WWE. This was more than enough for Booker to become a member of the WWE Hall of Fame in 2013. He still works as an announcer and is a member of the Raw pre-show team, along with making sporadic appearances on pay-per-view pre-show teams.
12. Success: Rey Mysterio
Perhaps the greatest high-flyer in wrestling history, Mysterio luckily avoided the Invasion angle of 2001, instead making his WWE debut in July 2002, where he began a feud with Kurt Angle. If you haven’t seen their SummerSlam 2002 match, it’s incredibly under-appreciated. From there, Mysterio exploded in popularity. He formed a tag-team with Edge and was responsible for many of the great matches on SmackDown from 2002-2005. He made the ascension to superstardom in 2006, winning the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 22 against Randy Orton and Kurt Angle. He engaged in an excellent feud with Chris Jericho in 2009, culminating with a Intercontinental Title vs. Mask match that Mysterio won. He always brought his “A” game at pay-per-views, but never slacked on the weekly shows. Mysterio has inspired countless wrestlers and has amazed fans across the world. Though he’s latest WWE run ended on a sour note, we’re sure that the WWE Universe would gladly welcome Mysterio back for one more run.
11. Success: Chris Benoit
Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero, along with Perry Saturn and Dean Malenko, left WCW in 2000 and made their debut in the WWE as The Radicalz. They were a group of no-nonsense ring technicians who didn’t take trash from anybody, which is indicative of Benoit’s career as a whole. He kept the same rough gimmick for his whole WWE career. His fans flocked to it. There were no mind games or tricks. Benoit just brought 110% in the ring every time he entered it. He was involved with memorable feuds with Chris Jericho, Kurt Angle, Triple H, Shawn Michaels, JBL, and more. He won the Tag Team Championship, the Intercontinental Championship, the U.S. Championship, and was a part of more four-star matches than anyone on this list. His World Heavyweight Championship win at WrestleMania XX was a classic WrestleMania moment, which was unfortunately tarnished by his later actions.
10. Success: Eddie Guerrero
It’s impossible to find any wrestling fan who has a bad word to say about Eddie Guerrero. He had it all. His charisma was through the roof. His in-ring skill was second to none. Quite simply, Guerrero was one of the best professional wrestlers in history. Entering the WWE as part of The Radicalz in 2000, Guerrero started a program with Chyna in which he pursued her, calling her his “Mamacita.” It seemed as though no matter what role Guerrero was in, he made the most of it. He was rewarded by defeating Brock Lesnar at No Way Out 2004 for the WWE Championship and defending the title at WrestleMania XX against Kurt Angle. Throughout his career, Guerrero often teamed with his nephew, Chavo, and entered the arena in a low-rider while proclaiming his affinity for lying, cheating, and stealing. He was one of the rare babyfaces who could get away with such activities and it endeared him to everybody. Eddie was inducted to the WWE Hall of Fame posthumously in 2006.
9. Success: Chris Jericho
In his first WWE appearance, Chris Jericho confronted The Rock and immediately was looked at as a bigger star than he was at any time in WCW. Within three years, he was the first Undisputed Champion and feuding with The Rock, Steve Austin, Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, and more. In the mid-2000s. Jericho moved on to feuding with Edge, Christian, John Cena, and a fantastic feud with Shawn Michaels. There’s a theme to all of this. Jericho has almost always been at the top, or the near-top, of the card for over a decade. Whenever he comes back, he’s welcomed back with open arms whether he’s a heel or a face. He continues to wrestle at a top level and still manages to make us laugh when he calls others “stupid idiots!” Nobody on this list has had the longevity that Jericho possesses. If he comes back in five years, we bet that people will still be chanting his name.
8. Success: Mick Foley
When putting this list together, we nearly forgot that Mick Foley wrestled as Cactus Jack in WCW. Luckily, Mick made his way to WWE and his career took off. He had great matches as Mankind with Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker, great matches with Triple H as Cactus Jack, and some totally average matches as Dude Love. But that’s alright. Foley always jokes about purposely making Dude Love have awful offense. But no matter which character he portrayed, Foley always gave everything in his matches. He is part of perhaps the most terrifying moment in wrestling, when he was thrown off the Hell in a Cell by The Undertaker. He also has one of the most spine-tingling moments when he won his first WWE Championship. In addition to his multiple characters, Foley could also work multiple match types. He could brawl, he could work a psychological style, and he could use weapons. It didn’t matter. Foley is one of the most versatile superstars is WWE history.
7. Success: Triple H
The man who ended Mick Foley’s first run in WWE is the also an entrant on this list. Triple H has enjoyed a run on top that can only be challenged by a few. No matter how old he gets, “The Game” always seems to be sniffing around the title picture or a big-name feud. He spent a year in WCW and left after they denied his request to become a singles competitor. What a mistake that was. Triple H came to WWE as the snobby Connecticut blueblood and a career was made. His career is a list of moments that will be on all sorts of wrestling lists. His work with DX was hilarious and helped WWE overtake WCW in the ratings. He’s a 14-time Heavyweight Champion, and has won every other major title. He’s also been an excellent booker and has a great eye for finding talent. Just look at NXT. No matter what Triple H is a part of, he manages to bring out the best out of it.
6. Success: Stone Cold Steve Austin
We’ll always laugh at the fact that WCW fired Steve Austin. Austin has said that he was fired over the phone rather than in person. Perhaps that fuelled his fire when he got to WWE. It’s no coincidence that Austin was the main reason that WWE overtook WCW in the ratings helped put them out of business. Without a doubt, Stone Cold Steve Austin is the biggest star in wrestling history. It’s easy to get goosebumps each time you watch an Austin match and hear the incredible pop from the crowd. He has the largest highlight reel of moments in wrestling history. From the beer truck to the gun, to every middle finger, Austin transcends almost every wrestling fan. From twenty-one year olds to fifty year olds, everybody would like to beat up their boss. Austin did it on a weekly basis. He was great in the ring, phenomenal on the microphone and owned his character like nobody else. Whenever you want to try and get a friend into wrestling, show them a Steve Austin segment.
5. Fail: Scott Hall
Discounting his awesome role as Razor Ramon in the early 1990s, Scott’s Hall WWE career was a disaster. He didn’t play a part in the 2001 Invasion, but was part of a re-formed nWo in early 2002. Why? Why was the nWo even re-created? By then end of it in WCW, everybody was happy that is was finally over. Re-creating it less than four years later brought back a bunch of bad memories. People knew that it wasn’t going to be the cultural phenomenon it was. Hall faced Steve Austin at WrestleMania X8 in a forgettable match. Afterwards, he feuded with Bradshaw in an even more forgettable program. As predicted, the nWo fizzled out quickly and Hall was shown the door. It’s very sad that such an excellent wrestler was stuck with such a pedestrian couple of programs. Fortunately, Hall has made some appearances on WWE television recently and has been able to leave a better end to his legacy.
4. Fail: Goldberg
This may be a fairly controversial opinion, but we certainly believe that Goldberg’s tenure in the WWE was ultimately disappointing. In WCW, his popularity was akin to that of Hulk Hogan, The Rock, and Stone Cold Steve Austin. He was the man. His charisma was incredible and his offensive arsenal was brutal. Sadly, his WCW success never turned into WWE success. After debuting against The Rock and winning at Backlash 2003, Goldberg moved into a feud with Chris Jericho and defeated him. Then, he entered a program with Triple H and ended up winning the World Heavyweight Championship. However, all of these programs seemed to fall flat. Goldberg never seemed quite like the unstoppable monster that he was in WCW. It doesn’t help that in his WrestleMania XX match against Brock Lesnar, both men phoned in their performances since neither were re-signing with the WWE. Overall, Goldberg’s WWE tenure was forgettable and the sad antithesis to his WCW run.
3. Fail: Sean O’Haire
Sean O’Haire really had some great potential. His work during the WCW invasion in 2001 was fairly pedestrian, but once that trainwreck finished up, O’Haire was brought back with a devil’s advocate gimmick that could have gone places. He had an interesting look, a realistic offensive arsenal, and the devil’s advocate twist could have made him a real threat to the top babyfaces. Think about O’Haire going up against Kurt Angle or Chris Benoit and trying to convince them to snap. It could’ve been similar to Bray Wyatt’s program with John Cena in 2014. It could have worked and been long-lasting. The WWE even paired him with Roddy Piper who certainly could have helped O’Haire expand the character and flesh it out. Sadly, Piper was released from his contract in June 2003 and O’Haire suffered a motorcycle accident in November 2003. When he recovered, he was sent to OVW and was released from his contract in April 2004.
2. Fail: Diamond Dallas Page
This one sadly sort of makes some sense. When Page entered WWE in 2001, he was 44 years old and was already starting to slow down at the end of WCW. Even though it’s impossible to be happy with the gimmicks he was given, we can’t expect Vince McMahon to make room in the main event for a guy in his mid-40s. But Page still deserved better than what he was given. During the wonderful invasion angle in 2001 (sarcasm), Page was entered into a feud with The Undertaker. Normally, that would be an excellent start. Not in this case, as Page’s gimmick was that he was a stalker of The Undertaker’s wife, Sara. We don’t think there’s any wrestler that can make that a long-term gimmick. Page did his duty and was smashed by The Undertaker, but returned with a motivational speaker gimmick in early 2002 that at least had some potential. Unfortunately, Page was nursing a neck injury and the WWE let his contract expire.
1. Fail: Scott Steiner
Ugh. Personally, I’ve never enjoyed Scott Steiner. It seems that when he returned to the WWE in late 2002, most of the fans didn’t enjoy him either. He returned with a big impact at Survivor Series and beat up Matt Hardy and Christopher Nowinski. Soon, he entered into a title feud with Triple H and was part of two of the worst matches we’ve ever seen. At the Royal Rumble and No Way Out 2003, the fans were treated to a couple of no-psychology, over-suplexed, trash heap matches that belong in a hole where nobody can ever reach them. At this point, nobody cared about his character and thankfully this program was over. Afterward, Steiner became tag team partners with Test, using Stacy Keibler as their manager. This train-wreck resulted in Test turning heel and Steiner fighting him to retain Keibler’s services as a manager. When Keibler made a mistake, Steiner suplexed her, because that’s appropriate. His last match was at the Royal Rumble 2004 and he was thrown out and didn’t make an impact, which was reminiscent of this second WWE run.
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