World Championship Wrestling did the unthinkable in 1996 when it usurped WWE as sports entertainment’s number one brand. Plundering billionaire Ted’s Scrooge McDuck-like vault, WCW big wig Eric Bischoff signed Hulk Hogan and "Macho Man" Randy Savage, among others, before debuting Monday Nitro to battle Monday Night Raw head-to-head. With the arrival of The Outsiders and birth of the nWo soon after, WCW became not only where the big boys played but where wrestling fans tuned their dials during the Monday Night War. Nitro slammed Raw in the ratings for nearly two years. The sky seemed the limit, and rightly should have been, until it all came crashing down in 2001.
There are countless things WCW did wrong that led to its demise. Many stretched over long periods of time like backstage politics, corporate interference, egotistical bookings and the departure of stars who WCW wouldn’t let shine. Its ultimate downfall was of course Time Warner’s merger with AOL and subsequent sale to WWE, but despite this final blow, the transaction never would’ve needed to happen if not for the glaring deterioration of WCW’s on-air product that had gone on for far too long.
This list depicts key events, PPVs and television episodes where WCW’s horrid decisions tipped the scales. Together they not only reveal the long term negligence which pushed fans away, but each represents a hand on the shovel that would dig WCW its grave.
15 The New Adventures of Robin Hood
Monday Nitro - January 13, 1997
When you’re the highest rated network show, you gotta give shout outs to other programs. WCW did this for countless post-Nitro series on TNT and weren’t alone as WWE did the same, but this particular week they took it too far.
The New Adventures of Robin Hood was set to debut on TNT after Nitro’s main event non-title bout between World Champion Hollywood Hogan and The Giant. They deliberately overbooked Nitro and stalled the match until two minutes of air time was left. When it finally began, they announced they’d cut to Robin Hood and show the rest of the match during commercials. Not every commercial break, but throughout the hour so fans would have to suffer through a majority of this Xena ripoff to get their results.
The match finished in an interference DQ, causing fans to question why it was non-title in the first place, and fans were duped into giving Robin Hood stellar first episode ratings.
14 KISS (Your Ratings Goodbye)
Monday Nitro - August 23, 1999
WCW, set to release their Mayhem album, opted to mix it up with the music industry. They brought in Master P and introduced his No Limit Soldiers stable, then had Megadeath perform on Nitro. It wasn’t enough though. They needed something big. Hey, I know! Let’s bring in KISS, the 1970s glam rock band! They’re a really big hit with the 1999 kids!
KISS was paid a fortune to perform as the main event on Nitro, causing nearly every wrestling fan to change the channel to Raw and give WCW its lowest ratings in almost a year. The concert introduced Bryan Adams as The Demon, a Gene Simmons look-a-like, but Adams didn’t want the gimmick and passed it off to Dale Torborg before his in-ring debut. It was a failure that cost WCW, but hey, it could’ve been worse. At least they didn’t hold a Brian Adams concert where Bryan Adams was revealed as a gimmicked Brian Adams wrestler!
13 Rodman, Malone and Leno… Oh My!
TIE: Bash at the Beach - July 12, 1998/Road Wild - August 8, 1998
Nothing irks me more as a wrestling fan than celebrity matches. I get why they do it, but I still hate it. Dennis Rodman was around WCW sporadically for a year and teamed with Hollywood Hogan in another Bash at the Beach main event, this time against DDP and rival Karl Malone. On paper, it makes sense, especially when you consider the Bulls beat the Jazz in the NBA Finals that year. Plus, let’s face it, Malone was at least as technically sound in the ring as Hogan ever was!
But a month later at Road Wild, Hogan teamed with Eric Bischoff against DDP and Jay Leno. Yes… that Jay Leno! The guy with the big chin from The Tonight Show back when your grandparents watched it. WCW may have gotten their buy rates and ratings, and Nitro did take the lead back from Raw, but having non-wrestlers appear in the main event for back-to-back PPVs after finally putting the World Title on Goldberg was insulting to the business and the fans.
Monday Nitro - April 10, 2000
When all else fails, hit the reboot button. This is commonplace in television, film and comic books, but not often seen in wrestling. When you get stuck at rock bottom, you put the past behind you and take a new, exciting, fresh foot forward. That’s at least what should be done, but it’s not what WCW did.
Eric Bischoff was removed backstage in 1999 and Vince Russo as "The Powers That Be" had come and gone. WCW, struggling under Kevin Sullivan’s regime, desperately decided to bring in Bischoff and Russo as a package deal to run the show. All titleholders were stripped of their belts as Russoff appeared together on-screen to take the company into a vibrant, more youthful direction.
They introduced The New Blood to battle the old timers who were holding the company back, dubbed The Millionaires Club, but for some reason New Blood was heel while the legends were portrayed as babyfaces. WCW’s reboot did nothing but continue its stale product with lame shock value antics of which fans were already tired.
11 PPV, Interrupted
Halloween Havoc - October 25, 1998
After months of unwanted celebrity main events, WCW finally got it right. No WCW originals were hotter than DDP and Goldberg when they were set to clash at Halloween Havoc. The fight began, but static and color bars soon filled the screens in homes around the world.
Havoc was scheduled for three hours. They may have been able to go over time on Nitro, but not PPV. The plug was pulled minutes into the match in a display of WCW’s arrogance and negligence. Time Warner reimbursed everyone who ordered the show and while WCW did replay the match on Nitro, a bad taste was left in the mouths of fans.
The card itself was fairly stellar with bouts like Chris Jericho vs. Raven, Steiner vs. Steiner and Bret Hart against Sting, but holds the dubious distinction of being the site of Hogan vs. Warrior II, an example of WCW trying to cash in on old WWE rivalries with a match many regard still as the worst of all time.
10 A Heel Turn Nobody Wanted
The Great American Bash - June 11, 2000
The worst PPV of all time? Quite possibly. This one was riddled with issues like Hogan not putting Kidman over and a Sting stunt man falling through the stage while on fire. Half the matches were horribly executed gimmick bouts, but in all of its nonsense, the worst thing was the event's unwanted finish.
When today’s fans complain about John Cena not turning heel, I point out this little WCW brainstorm. If a guy is over, what’s the point in turning him? Goldberg’s being over was never a question, not even during WCW’s darkest days in 2000. He speared Kevin Nash in the World Title match against Jeff Jarrett, aligning himself with The New Blood.
It made zero sense turning one of the only money-making guys left in the company heel, especially since Goldberg turned face again months later. Goldberg has even said himself he hated it. He was a huge contributor to the Make-A-Wish foundation and it broke his heart to become the bad guy.
9 A Heel Turn Nobody Cared About
Fall Brawl - September 12, 1999
Fall Brawl was a mediocre card and the first without War Games. It also marked Sting’s first heel turn. Unlike Goldberg, I didn’t have a problem with Sting turning, but to pull it off, he needed to turn on a true-and-true face, something that was in limited quantity at the WCW. To get Sting over as a heel, Goldberg was their only real choice.
WCW chose Hulk Hogan. Not Hollywood Hogan, but the American-made Hulkster who was back in the red and yellow. The problem was Hogan was bad for so long, nobody really cared about saying their prayers and taking their vitamins anymore. He was over, despite claiming to look out on a sea of red and yellow. It didn’t exist!
When Sting did the turn, WCW expected fans would despise him. Didn’t happen! They wavered between either being cool with Sting attacking Hogan with a bat or not caring at all. Luckily, bad Sting didn’t last long. He found himself back on the side of the angels when Vince Russo arrived to the company shortly after.
8 Death of the Cruiserweight Division
Souled Out - January 16, 2000
While the arrival of Hall and Nash and birth of the nWo are given most of the credit for WCW becoming a ratings juggernaut, the truth is the inclusion of the luchadores and fast-paced action of the Cruiserweight division had just as much to do with WCW’s success. Guys like Dean Malenko, Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio Jr. and Chris Jericho tore it up in the squared circle, causing fans to change the channel to WCW.
The division went from red hot to dead upon the arrival of Vince Russo, who made a mockery of the luchadores and a joke of its championship. Madusa, one of the few women in wrestling I actually don’t mind holding a men’s title, lost the belt at Souled Out to Ed Ferrara’s despicable Jim Ross parody "Oklahoma." While the strap still existed afterwards, it was held by the likes of Lieutenant Loco, Crowbar and Daffney in a tragic end to a once phenomenal division.
7 For Free on TNT
Monday Nitro - July 6, 1998
Goldberg was the hottest thing in the company. A World Title run was all but inevitable and should’ve built towards an iconic match between The Man and World Champion Hollywood Hogan at a blockbuster PPV. The fans wanted it. Time Warner’s pocketbooks demanded it. But alas, when you’re Eric Bischoff and all you care about is beating Vince in the ratings, you say fans-schmans! Pocketbooks-schmoketbooks!
It was a rush job booking -- so fast Goldberg found out while watching Thunder that he would face Hogan for the title on the following Nitro at the Georgia Dome. He won too. He defeated Hogan for the championship, all for free on TV, while WCW missed out on huge PPV buys. Bischoff succeeded in his ratings quest as Nitro beat Raw for the first time in a while, but they would lose the next week and not get the edge again for a month. It was a decision so silly it makes you wonder why it took a year for WCW to fire Bischoff.
6 The Streak Comes to an End
Starrcade - December 27, 1998
Over the course of Goldberg’s explosive WCW career, he amassed a winning streak nearly as iconic as that of The Undertaker's WrestleMania streak and became WCW’s top guy. While all good things must come to an end, it wasn’t a question of whether Goldberg’s streak would have to end, but how WCW would execute it. I’ll give you a hint… they screwed it up!
While Eric Bischoff was still the man in charge, Kevin Nash had pulled political strings backstage to become a booker. With Oz-like power, he put himself against Goldberg for the World Title at Starrcade as the man who would end the streak. It was backstage political grandstanding at its finest!
Goldberg got shocked by a taser from Scott Hall and fell into Big Sexy’s Jackknife for the three count. The streak was over. Instead of using the loss to humanize Goldberg and have him come back in a quest to regain his gold, he would never again hold the World Championship.
5 The Vince Russo Show with Vince Russo Starring Vince Russo as Vince Russo
Monday Nitro - September 25, 2000
Vince Russo was hired to turn WCW around in 1999, was replaced in 2000, brought back to co-run WCW with Eric Bischoff months later, and then went solo again after Bischoff quit. You can see why the product was so terrible with this circus happening behind the curtain.
Russo had the audacity to book himself in a cage match against Booker T for the World Title. It saw outside interference from nearly the entire roster and ended with Goldberg seeking revenge on Russo as Scott Steiner stopped Booker from exiting the door. Goldberg speared Russo through the cage just before Booker stepped out, making Russo the new World Champion.
It’s no wonder Arn Anderson has said to this day he still thinks Russo was brought in by Vince McMahon to destroy WCW. Russo vacated the title a week later, citing he wasn’t a wrestler, but the damage was done to a championship legacy that he had already tarnished with antics such as…
4 Ready to Rumble
Thunder - April 25, 2000
Ready to Rumble was a 2000 flop at the box office that saw David Arquette play a wrestling fan who achieves his dream of becoming a pro-wrestler. It was a movie. A really bad movie. One that WCW thought should become a reality.
David Arquette arrived in WCW to promote the film and was put into a tag match with DDP against Eric Bischoff and Jeff Jarrett. DDP’s World Title was on the line, and whichever man got the pin would win the gold. As Jarrett pinned DDP, Arquette speared and pinned Bischoff, and the ref counted three for only one of them. David Arquette, an actor (not even really a good actor), was crowned the World Champion.
Flair… Sting… Hogan… Savage… Hart… Arquette. Doesn’t feel right, does it? In Arquette’s defense, he didn’t want to win the title. He thought he would cheapen its lineage and be a joke to the business. He was right! Unfortunately, WCW didn’t agree with him.
3 Match of the Century
Starrcade - December 28, 1997
Starrcade was billed as the match of the century, and rightfully so. Sting returning after over a year of buildup to face Hulk Hogan for the World Title would be the one time Tony Schiavone actually got it right in saying it was the most important night in the history of our sport. Sadly, it could have been, but was not.
The match was painful, boring and uneventful. Despite Sting not looking great on his own, Hogan made him look worse by either selling too much or not at all. Hogan hit the legdrop and ref Nick Patrick counted. That was it, Hogan won! Until Bret Hart arrived claiming a fast count. But, it wasn’t a fast count. Not at all!
Hart restarted the match and Sting hit a couple Stinger Splashes before locking in the Scorpion Deathlock for the win. WCW ruined their chance. It should’ve been the easiest match in the world to book, nothing fancy, just Sting winning clean in a basic bout. How unfortunate it became the botched snoozefest it was.
2 Jarrett Lays Down for Hogan
Bash at the Beach - July 9, 2000
The story goes that Vince Russo wanted Jeff Jarrett to successfully defend the World Title against Hulk Hogan at the Bash but Hogan refused to do the job. The bell rang and Jarrett laid down. Hogan was dumbfounded as Russo yelled for him to pin him. Hogan put a boot on Jarrett, but not before going on the mic to say, “That’s why this company is in the damn shape it’s in because of bulls*** like this!” Hogan would never again step foot in a WCW ring.
Russo then publicly referred to Hogan multiple times as a "piece of s***" and booked a new main event where Booker T won the title. While Russo has since admitted Hulk didn’t know what they were doing, he claims it was meant to be a gimmick and was floored when Hogan later sued him. Hogan’s backstage politics and refusal to job has been well documented, but screwing him over and outing the company so blatantly on PPV was dumb with a capital RUSSO!
1 Finger Poke of Doom (or: That’s Gonna Put Some Butts in the Seats!)
Monday Nitro - January 4, 1999
Kevin Nash broke Goldberg’s streak and won the World Title at Starrcade, prompting a kayfabe retired Hulk Hogan to challenge his old pal on Nitro. The bell rang, they circled and Hogan poked Nash in the chest with his finger. Nash toppled and Hogan pinned him. A joke, you see, a hysterical swerve to mark the nWo being back together. Unfortunately, fans didn’t see it that way.
This week marked an official turning of the tide in ratings during the Monday Night War, but Nash and Hogan’s antics weren’t the only cause. This particular Nitro saw Tony Schiavone put his dumb foot in his mouth big time! As usual, he was revealing the results of the taped Raw and said that Mick Foley was set to win the WWE Championship. Shiavone scoffed, saying the infamous line, “That’ll put butts in the seats.” What happened? Over 600,000 fans changed the channel to see Mrs. Foley’s baby boy win gold and the ratings war was never the same again!