From 1988-2001, World Championship Wrestling (WCW) served as the top promotional competition to Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation (WWF, later WWE). The Atlanta-based promotion captured the sport in all its glory. Icons like Sting, Diamond Dallas Page, Goldberg, and Chris Jericho have all wrestled under the WCW brand.
WCW and WWE competed well into the late 90s, with Monday Nitro going head-to-head with Monday Night Raw in what was billed as “Monday Night War.”
Wrestling itself is quintessential sports entertainment. The characters are over-the-top, the storylines are scripted, and the matches are always intense. Although as a young wrestling fan, I believed my favorite wrestlers really were their alter egos, I realized that it’s just a persona. These guys can’t be dialed in 24/7; they need time to wind down. These 15 photos show a more candid, easy-going side to these entertainers.
WCW has been defunct for 15 years, but these classic pictures give a fresh look on an exciting era of wrestling and its star performers.
15 15. Mortis Unmasked With Fan Backstage
Chris Kanyon made his WCW debut in 1995, but was rebranded as “Mortis” in 1997. Mortis translates to “death” in Latin, and Kanyon donned a chilling skull mask to fit his new identity, as he wanted to go along the lines of an Undertaker/Sting type of character.
Kanyon never won a World Heavyweight Championship but still had a dedicated following of fans. He snapped this unmasked picture with one such fan backstage. Kanyon’s face is still somewhat obscured by his long hair, but it was rare to see him without his ominous mask in those days.
14 14. Booker T and Warren Sapp Backstage at 1998 WCW Thunder
Booker T is arguably the greatest wrestler in the history of WCW. His five World Heavyweight Championships certainly back up that claim. The Houston, TX native stayed in the WCW from 1993 until its demise in 2001, winning 21 total titles under the banner, including 10 WCW Tag Team Championships as a member of Harlem Heat. He was one WCW star who worked his way up the ladder and got to where he did by working hard.
13 13. KISS with “The KISS Demon”
KISS is just as much a brand as it is a band. It’s a marketing machine, putting its name on everything from pinball machines, to action figures, to comic books, and even toilet paper.
So it’s not much of a surprise that the group decided to have a wrestler represent them. WCW President Eric Bischoff presented the band on a 1999 episode of Monday Nitro, where he debuted “The KISS Demon.” The character was based on Gene Simmons’ “Demon” persona, complete with the signature makeup and hair style.
12 12. The Nature Boy And Sir Charles
Celebrity involvement was a big part of the Monday Night War, as wrestling was at its peak and its popularity often crossed over with mainstream culture. Celebrities and professional athletes would often make their way to wrestling events and on this occasion, none other than Charles Barkley paid a visit to a WCW event. This time, Barkley decided to pose with one of his all time favorites in the Nature Boy Ric Flair. This was likely a little past Barkley's prime as he seems fairly bigger than he was during his days with the Philadelphia 76ers and the Phoenix Suns. Either way, if Barkley spent any amount of time with Flair this particular day, you have to think he had a good time.
11 11. David Flair And Stacy Keibler - Happy Couple
This photo isn't backstage at a WCW event, but it is a behind the scenes photo so to speak. It also provides a glimpse of what was a real life relationship at the time. David Flair first came to WCW in 1999 and while his run there was horrendous, he probably wasn't all that upset about it, because he met his eventual girlfriend in the company.
10 10. Young Rey Mysterio with Lex Luger and The Giant
When I first got into wrestling, I was immediately drawn to the masked characters. One such character was Oscar Gutierrez, better known as Rey Mysterio. Little did I know, he started his career in the WCW in 1996 as “Rey Mysterio Jr.”
The 22-year-old thrilled fans with his high-flying, acrobatic moves, colorful masks, and vibrant attitude. Mysterio was a Cruiserweight champion, but also went up against larger foes like Kevin Nash. Speaking of larger foes, this classic pic shows an unmasked Mysterio looking especially dwarfed by the towering Lex Luger and The Giant. The Giant became known as some guy named “Big Show,” perhaps you’ve heard of him?
9 9. Chris Jericho Holding Mysterio’s Mask
One of Mysterio’s biggest rivals was fellow cruiserweight Chris Jericho. The two fought for the Cruiserweight Championship at the “Souled Out” Event in January 1998, with Jericho coming out victorious for his third title. He even attacked Mysterio after the match with a toolbox, sidelining his rival for six months. He is pictured he joyfully holding the mask of his defeated foe.
8 8. The Wolfpac Backstage
There is little doubt that Sting (aka Steve Borden) is one of the most accomplished, beloved wrestlers of all time. He stayed in the WCW for the entirety of its existence, and won 15 total championships during that tenure, including six World Heavyweight Championships.
7 7. Young Undertaker - A Paul Heyman Guy?
Mark Calaway became an icon in the WWE as “The Undertaker.” He has worked under the WWE banner since 1990, and is the promotion’s longest tenured performer. However, before signing on to WWE, Calaway got his start as “Mean” Mark Callous in a one-year stint with WCW.
The above picture, taken with Paul Heyman, captures Calaway still honing that menacing look that would become his trademark. It’s clear that so much of his persona, at least from a visual standpoint, had yet to be established.
6 6. Stable In The Making?
The Ultimate Warrior's stint in WCW was brief and very disappointing, as his feud with Hollywood Hogan proved to be a major flop. Given that Warrior was only with WCW for a brief period in the fall of 1998, that's when a picture like this would have been taken. You wouldn't expect to come across a picture of DDP and Goldberg, two WCW icons, along with Warrior and Roddy Piper, WWE icons. Here, you had two of wrestling's former superstars along with two guys who were some of the hottest stars in the business at the time.
Looking at these four in this picture makes you think that they actually could have formed a stable had Warrior stuck around longer. In a time where stables were commonplace, what would you call a faction consisting of DDP, Goldberg, Warrior and Piper?
5 5. Randy Savage and “Miss” Elizabeth Hulette
The late Randy Savage was a four-time Heavyweight Champion in the WCW, and stayed with the brand through the latter stages of his career. “Macho Man” was known for his ferociousness in and out of the ring, unique attire, and signature raspy voice, which gave his trash talk an extra bite. He won his first WCW Championship at 1995’s World War 3, and joined the New World Order in 1997 after initially opposing them.
Elizabeth Hulette, Savage’s wife, also served as his manager. The two divorced in 1992, but Hulette stayed on to manage Savage’s WCW career. The two are pictured here in a heartwarming moment, showing a softer side to Savage, devoid of the intensity of his in-ring “character.
4 4. Shaq with Hulk Hogan
Hulk Hogan joined the WCW in 1994, and added the moniker “Hollywood” to his name just two years later. Hogan defeated Ric Flair to win the WCW World Heavyweight Title in his debut match at Bash at the Beach in 1994.
3 3. Ric Flair Backstage
Ric Flair is arguably the most famous wrestler in industry history. He embodied showmanship and won over 16 championship titles throughout his illustrious 40-year career. He was WCW’s first-ever World Heavyweight Champion, a title he held on six occasions under the brand.
Always good for a quote, Flair famously declared, “I’m Ric Flair! The stylin’, profilin,’ limousine riding, jet flying, kiss stealing, wheelin’ n’ dealing son of a gun!”
2 2. Sting With No Paint
As we’ve discussed earlier in this list, Sting is the most recognizable face in WCW history, having stayed with the brand for the entirety of its existence. However, he didn’t don his all-black wardrobe until 1996. He had already been wrestling under the promotion for seven years, sporting colorful “surfer-themed” face paint, and a blond flattop haircut. However, in 1996, he grew his hair darker and longer, and re-tooled his makeup into the signature black-on-white look we know today.
Although fans had seen Sting unmasked before, any opportunity to catch a glimpse of the wrestler sans-makeup was one of great intrigue. The drastic character change added a renewed mystique around Sting.
1 1. Goldberg and Diamond Dallas Page
These two WCW legends were notorious foes during the late 90s, as they were the company's top two draws during its dying days. Page unsuccessfully challenged Goldberg for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship at Halloween Havoc in October 1998. Luckily for Page, he went on to win the title in April 1999 at Spring Stampede.
That’s what makes this picture so interesting. It was taken on the set of Ready to Rumble, the aforementioned wrestling flick in which both men starred in. It captures the rivals in a friendly moment, suggesting that the scripted nature of wrestling is just that: A show.
Outside of the ring, wrestlers can often form friendships. In an industry where everything seems rehearsed, this picture shows two icons in a playful moment of spontaneity.
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