When one looks at the long history of WCW, the question is not how this company went out of business, it’s how they lasted as long as they did. They did a good job as a regional company under Jim Crockett but as they expanded, things got worse as they made a lot of mistakes. A big one was when Crockett bought out Bill Watts' UWF but except for Sting, basically left its stars hanging without using them right, a massive wasted opportunity. Yes, they had Flair, the Horsemen and so many more but the company still was notable for dropping the ball a lot with talent. Whether it was home-grown in WCW or big stars acquired from other companies, they would end up botching entries and not using them right.
It got worse in many ways after the sale to Turner and the Monday Night War. Yes, they had some great stars and huge pushes and such for Hogan, Hall, Nash and others. But a key thing repeated in books, DVDs and more is that during that massive success where they dominated in the ratings and such, WCW failed to push new guys. Yes, you had the cruiserweights stealing the show but the main event scene was dominated by the nWo and older stars like Piper and Flair and as numerous people in the industry have pointed out, WCW just kept going to these older faces time and again rather than really push any of the younger talent, talent that could have given them long life. Of all the fresh new guys they had, Goldberg was the only one pushed big time and even that was botched at the end.
That decision ended up ruining them in the end, of course. It’s not as if they’re the only promotion in history to fail to use talent properly (you can spend all day talking of WWE’s mistakes there) but WCW seemed to go out of their way to make the worst decisions possible in who to push, how to use them and failing to see future superstars in the making. Here are 15 cases of guys who could have boosted the company far more only to be misused or ignored and how that contributed to WCW’s ultimate fall.
15 Davey Boy Smith
Some may cite Smith’s signing by WCW in 1993 as a foolish move as the man hadn’t done that much in singles stardom. But at the time, Smith was still a good performer, a power man but could handle technical bouts too and if given enough rest time, he could be used quite well. But WCW failed to use him in anything really special aside from teaming with Sting for Beach Blast, the match less famous than the horrific mini-movie WCW made to promote it.
He’d have a feud with Vader but that went nowhere as well. Of course, Smith’s personal problems played a part as he was fired in late 1993 after getting into a fight in a bar with a guy putting the moves on Smith’s wife. Still, this was a guy who had skill, charisma and could have been a great star in the tag ranks but WCW failed to see the potential, a common theme for this list.
14 Jake Roberts
From the start, The Snake's WCW run was in trouble. He had signed a plush deal before leaving WWE in 1992 but the day before his debut, new boss Bill Watts called him into the office, literally ripped that contract up and forced Roberts to sign a much lower deal. He did have a notable debut, attacking Sting with two DDTs on a chair and set up as the big heel. But WCW decided to “spice it up” with such idiocy as the infamous “mini-movie” of him and Sting in a seedy bar. This set up the “Spin the Wheel, Make the Deal” match where the blow-off was a coal miner’s glove match, a ridiculous thing for a major 1992 company. The match ended with Roberts having to bring his own cobra to his face to fake being bitten and “writhing in pain” as fans laughed. Jake would soon be gone thanks to his personal demons but there’s no denying that WCW’s foolish pushing of him was a major waste of a true talent.
13 The Sandman
One of the icons of ECW, Sandman was noted for his drinking, smoking and use of a Singapore cane with a hard attitude. WCW, naturally, decided to ruin that totally. They had vignettes that set him up as the preppy neighbor for former rich kid Raven, a role totally wrong for him. He eventually came in as Hak, a typical brawler but the smoking and drinking toned down for the more “family friendly” WCW. This led to some ugly battles as WCW’s idea of hardcore was just fighting without any real story and nasty stuff that just served as distraction rather than real fighting. He didn’t last long, returning to ECW after less than a year and says much how WCW is seen as a step down for his hardcore star.
12 Brian Pillman
In some ways, Pillman was handled well as he got a big push against Lex Luger for the U.S. title and winning the U.S. tag belts with Tom Zenk. But then he was partnered with El Gigante and forced into the stupid “Yellow Dog” persona among other moves. That’s not to mention how he nearly got his neck broken by Sid in a badly done powerbomb. He and Steve Austin clicked as the Hollywood Blondes, tearing it up as tag team champions but WCW broke them up just as they were reaching their height with Pillman turning face despite being a natural heel. He’d be boosted a bit more with the Four Horsemen but you can see his frustrations about so no wonder he created the Loose Cannon act. This would lead to his shaking things up nicely before his release and while it meant WCW missed having him during his car accident, you can argue his treatment by the company was a contributing factor to the demons that would haunt him for his short life.
11 Eddie Guerrero
To be fair, a lot of the problems regarding Eddie’s WCW run were his own fault with his addictions and his nearly life-ending car crash. But the guy was still an amazing worker, good on the mic and winning over fans as both heel and face. His “Latino World Order” promised a nice boost but it basically went nowhere despite Eddie’s charisma and his battles with Bischoff were soon the stuff of legend.
The man proved himself later on as a massive main event star but like so many others, WCW’s “cruiserweights can’t be main events” attitude would work against him so you can understand why he jumped ship with the rest of the Radicalz. A major star who could have won WCW some big Latino audiences but instead another loss they didn’t even realize until it was too late.
10 Rey Mysterio
There’s no denying how great WCW did with Rey when he began his run in 1996. For the next two years, he’d be a star in their cruiserweight division, winning the belt a few times and true classics with Dean Malenko and Eddie Guerrero among others. The problem was when they came up with the idiotic idea that Rey wasn’t “marketable” as a masked figure and forced him to lose it in a match. Seriously, not marketable as a masked guy? Not to mention without the mask, Rey looked like a teenager and hard for fans to get behind.
WCW could have been smart, built him up as a “little guy with big heart” taking on bigger stars in top matches but kept botching him up. When Rey did make to WWE, they just showed how badly WCW ruined things by making millions off Rey masks and other merchandise and pushing him as a main-eventer, showing WCW how it could be done right.
9 The Ultimate Warrior
Granted, the Warrior wasn’t exactly known for playing with a full deck at the time. But there can be no denying that his 1998 run with WCW is one of the biggest disasters imaginable. His opening promo was long and meandering as he made the mistake of saying beating Hogan before was no big deal so fans wondered why they should care about a rematch. This led to some truly horrible vignettes and idiotic stuff like the infamous “mirror” bit and to his credit, Hogan has taken the blame for coming up with a lot of this stuff.
This all paid off at Halloween Havoc as the rematch became one of the worst bouts in wrestling history. Again, Hogan has talked of how he botched so much and how often do you hear Hogan admitting blame to anything? The Warrior was gone after that, just adding to the bad reputation that would haunt him until his death. Maybe it would have been bad in the end but still astounding how WCW bungled one of the most anticipated rematches of all time.
8 Mark Callous
The name not sound familiar? Just wait. Signed on in 1989, “Mean” Mark was pushed as a guy in black who enjoyed snakes and heavy metal music. He and Dan Spivey joined as The Skyscrapers, battling it out with their strength and size and even beating down the Road Warriors after a match. He even moved onto singles stuff, facing Lex Luger at the Great American Bash for the U.S. title. However, despite his appeal, WCW decided Callous was just not that special and cut him loose.
He was taken by WWE who gave him a new persona and moniker; The Undertaker. That’s right, WCW had the man who would go on to become one of the most loyal and famous figures of WWF and failed to see his potential, which ranks among the many nails in their coffin.
7 Jean-Paul Levesque
Those who say Triple H only became a star by marrying Stephanie should really watch his early career. From the beginning, you could see something special in this guy, something that made him stand out and elevate nicely over others and he was really skilled then before injuries took their toll. His first character was a supposed French aristocrat type and even then, he could show some nice skill and able to hang with guys like Alex Wright. Most importantly was that Flair spoke well of this newcomer, seeing something in the making. Yet rather than listen to Flair on his potential, WCW just let Levesque's deal run out so he soon jumped to WWE and his future stardom. Letting go the guy destined to become in line to run your biggest competition? That one has to sting.
6 Madusa Miceli
One of the most famous shots of the Monday Night War was when Madusa, who had spent the last two years as WWE Women’s Champion Alundra Blayze, showed up on Nitro to dump the title belt in a trash can. It was pretty jarring and wild but it was also a major blow to her own career. Rather than take advantage to build up a women’s division of their own, WCW just left Madusa drift in nothing bouts and when she did get a push in 1999, it was winning the Cruiserweight title and feuding with Ed Ferrara as Oklahoma. WCW never did crack the push to women like WWE did and failing to use a truly gifted female worker nicely proves that.
5 Mike Awesome
Even by WCW’s own standards of blowing sure things, this is epic. In early 2000, they managed to sign on Awesome, then the current ECW champion known for a great skill but also powerbombing guys through tables. It kicked off a legal battle with Paul Heyman and Awesome dropping the ECW title to Taz (who was then in WWE). This led to major attention and huge heat so what did WCW do? Continue to push Awesome as this brutal monster and battle it out with big stars? Of course not. They naturally decided to give him the gimmick of a 1970s lounge lizard named “That ‘70s Mike Awesome,” hang around doing interviews and later the gimmick of the “Fat Chick Thriller". You can imagine Paul Heyman laughing his ass off at how badly WCW blew it here, many an ECW fan claiming it was karma for leaving the company in the lurch and yet another laughable mark on WCW’s long list of mistakes.
4 Mick Foley
We all know the soundbite. Tony Schiavone announcing Mick Foley would be winning the WWE title on a pre-taped RAW and scoffing “that’ll put some butts in the seats.” It’s one of the bigger mistakes WCW made, totally underrating just how popular Foley had become. But then, they had already done a lot to hurt Foley during his run with the company as Cactus Jack. While Bill Watts enjoyed the hard-hitting Foley’s ability to take punishment, he wasn’t as popular with Bischoff who didn’t give him as much time to break out in promos and he’d be stuck in things like “managing” the Barbarian. His feud with Vader was saddled with the horrible “Lost in Cleveland” skits and their sensational final match not quite the winner Foley wanted.
In his first book, Foley said the final straw was when Vader powerbombed him on the concrete for a taping and the announcers totally no-sold it as not a big deal. So Foley left for ECW first to build up his hardcore status then WWE for his biggest success. A success Foley loves to rub in the face of Bischoff every chance he gets as a reminder of what WCW had and gave away.
3 Chris Jericho
Jericho’s autobiographies are fun reads with his WCW tenure and how bad things were. He was taking off with his arrogant heel persona, he and Dean Malenko tearing it up in a major feud and elevating himself more with fantastic promos. He began a big program mocking Goldberg to set up a title match, thinking (correctly) it was just the thing Goldberg would use to be boosted more. All for Bischoff to act like all that didn’t happen and making Jericho lose in a pedestrian squash match.
It was the wake-up call for Jericho to realize he wasn’t going to get any further ahead and he was soon jumping to WWE with a fantastic introduction. His start there was a bit rough but eventually, he established himself as one of the company’s biggest stars and still one of the best talkers out there. A guy WCW certainly could have used but just let slip through their fingers.
2 Steve Austin
Everyone who saw Steve Austin from his debut has said they knew this guy was going to be a superstar no matter what. He had good stuff in WCW as TV and U.S. Champion, a member of the Dangerous Alliance and he and Brian Pillman fantastic as the Hollywood Blondes. He was really looking to rise more with his good promos and heel moves. Reports are Flair was planning a big program with him as 1994 began but then Hogan came around and that was ended. Austin traded the U.S. title with Ricky Steamboat but when Steamboat was forced to retire by injury, Austin was forced to drop the belt in 20 seconds to “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan.
He then got injured himself and fired by Bischoff over the phone and that naturally set him off. It fueled Austin’s later run in WWE, wanting to prove to Bischoff how big a mistake he made and being himself. One can argue about WCW being able to let Austin cut loose as he did in WWE but there’s no denying that letting go of the man who would become the biggest star in the industry ranks among the company’s biggest mistakes.
1 Bret Hart
Nothing speaks more to WCW’s utter ineptitude than this. You had a huge star, a hero in Canada (a fanbase WCW could never quite crack), a brilliant worker and coming off the most controversial match in modern history. The ideas of the dream bouts with Hogan, Sting and others had fans salivating and awaiting a boost that would push WCW to utter dominance. Bret had a huge base behind him, a ton of hype and in his first appearance…he was the special referee for a match between Eric Bischoff and Larry Zybsko for the fate of “Nitro.”
It was just the beginning of a long and hard road for Bret as he was bounced between face and heel, often ignored, put into short programs that led nowhere and only getting the World title nearly two years after his debut, a reign which included a reenactment of the Montreal Screwjob. Not only that, he had to endure the death of Owen as well as his career-ending injury. As much as Vince McMahon can say he worried about WCW misusing Bret, even he never imagined they could drop the ball so badly and it’s sad to see how the Hitman’s legacy had to sink badly under the stupidity of this company.