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 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.
Growing up, I was obsessed with Kane, and was shocked when he finally unmasked in June 2003. Yet, a wrestler’s unmasking is an exciting event, even if it’s just backstage. And even if we all know exactly what Kanyon looked like.
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.
Booker T ran into Pro-Bowl defensive tackle Warren Sapp at a WCW Thunder event in 1998. It’s hardly surprising that a hard-hitting, trash-talking football star like Sapp attended the event, and even less so that he sought out Booker, one of the biggest stars in the industry at the time. If Booker asks, just stick with his gimmick and say “Yes, we can dig that, sucka.”
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.
However, by that point, the WCW’s stars were aging and the brand had long been losing money - and this introduction didn't help the company's cause. The “KISS” episode was the lowest-rated in WCW history, and Bischoff was fired shortly thereafter.
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.
Hogan had Rodman, DDP had Malone, and it seems Flair had Barkley.
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.
Stacy Keibler made her WCW debut at a young age, and was still in school while working weekly television shows. Around 2000, she began dating David Flair, both in storyline and in real life. Given that both were very young and experiencing common pressure in WCW, it's not hard to see why they formed a bond. Either way, it's a cool little nugget from the later days of WCW.
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?
Mysterio went on to win the WCW World Tag Team Championship three times before the promotion’s sale in 2001.
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.
Jericho, otherwise known as “The Ayatollah of Rock n’ Rolla’“ left the WCW for the WWE, where he developed a rivalry with The Rock and Triple H, among others. He has since become one of the industry’s most well-known names, winning 31 total championships between the WCW, ECW, and WWE. Even though he's currently in a comedy role, Jericho is still one of the best in the business, making him one of the longest-tenured wrestlers in modern history.
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.
After being a lone wolf for a majority of his "crow" character, Sting finally found some fellow wrestlers to call friends. With Kevin Nash forming his own nWo with new colors (red and black) and a new name (The Wolfpac), Sting decided it was time to join the squad. Along with Sting and Nash came Lex Luger and Konnan, a foursome that was one of the most popular acts in WCW during the late 1990s. The group were friends both on and off the television screen, as you can tell in this backstage flick.
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.
That’s what makes this picture so great. The look of bewilderment on his face, along with the plain black vest and plain black trunks, shows that he had a long way to go before he perfected his signature scowl. Plus, it's so odd to see a WWE flag bearer actually being a member of the WCW roster.
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 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.
Sadly, Hulette died of a drug overdose in 2003, and Savage passed away eight years later of a cardiac arrhythmia.
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.
Hogan had a special guest in his entourage that day: The towering 7-foot-1 basketball star Shaquille O’Neal. This picture captures the two titans in all their mid-90s glory. Shaq was the first to raise Hogan’s arm in victory after the bell rang. Hogan went on to lose the title to The Giant (Big Show) at 1995’s Halloween Havoc, but captured the title four more times before he left the promotion upon its demise in 2001. Shaq, of course, went on to have a Hall of Fame NBA career.
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!”
Well, this picture is a visual representation of that quote. It epitomizes the hard-partying, larger-than-life persona that “The Nature Boy” exhibited. Despite a stint with the WWE in the early 90s, he largely stayed with the WCW through 2001, when he lost the final match of Monday Nitro to longtime rival, Sting. Flair was everything to NWA and WCW that Hogan was to WWE in its heyday.
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.
This picture depicts Sting without his gimmick. It is a revealing, out-of-character look at the six-time WCW World Heavyweight Champion.
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.