There is perhaps no topic more fascinating than how to re-book WCW in their final years. The Monday Night War put millions of eyes on the epic battle between two titans of the sport. The WWE looked down and out, losing the ratings battle for 84 consecutive weeks. The WCW was poised for victory but pulled a Lex Luger, and choked when it mattered. The WWE clawed their way back to ultimately win through a combination of their own talent and WCW’s ineptitude.
Turner’s wrestling company seemed to have it all. An endless stream of money to buy the top talent and produce the best show. But money isn’t everything, and it can’t buy wisdom. They could pay Bret Hart $3 million a year but like Vince McMahon once said, “WCW wouldn’t know what to do with a Bret Hart’ and he was absolutely right. They didn’t know what to do with Mark Calaway, Steve Austin, Mick Foley, Chris Jericho, Paul Wight, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, and Rey Mysterio Jr either, who ALL became WWE World Champions.
WCW had three good ideas. The Outsiders, Crow-Sting, and Goldberg. But like a dog with a driver's license, they didn’t quite know what to do with it. The Outsiders became a bloated nWo, Sting bloated after not wrestling for 18 months, and they bloated Goldberg’s winning record with 20 fictional wins that killed fan interest. They also bloated their roster and payroll with huge guranteed contracts to any WWE castoff that came calling.
Who’s to blame? Bischoff, Hogan, Russo, Time-Warner and more could all take some of the responsibility and that was the problem. If the WWE failed, it would all be on Vince McMahon. He had the final say on everything and total control. The lack of true leadership would be the biggest culprit for WCW’s demise.
For WCW to fail is bad for all wrestling fans. The competition of the Monday Night War forced both companies to push forward and provide the best possible product. The amount of innovation shown from 1996-2000 was astounding compared to the last 15 years. Competition creates jobs for wrestlers and grows the industry, so get out there and support ROH or Lucha Underground!
But in the meantime let's take a look back to the most exciting time in wrestling history and see what could have been. To clarify, this list will be dedicated to fixing WCW problems from Starrcade 1997, onto their demise in 2001, as Starrcade '97 was the night many feel WCW's downfall started.
15 New Four Horsemen
With nWo playing the role of the big bad evil Empire, the New Four Horsemen should have been formed with the best wrestlers around. Bret Hart, Chris Benoit, and Eddie Guerrero are obvious choices that would guarantee great matches with whomever they faced and fit the ‘tweener attitude of the original Horsemen. Depending on when this was booked you could fill the fourth role with Chris Jericho, Curt Hennig, The Giant, DDP, Dean Malenko, or another similar wrestler.
Have Ric Flair as the mouthpiece manager and part-time wrestler and keep the group looking strong. They could have epic battles with the nWo and one other group…
14 Book the WCW Loyalists Stronger
The WCW was terrorized during the nWo’s first year which made for great drama, but they needed to look strong to keep it competitive. Instead they made their own company look so weak that everyone wanted to be on the other team. A feud doesn’t last if one side dominates as it’s devoid of tension. The WCW roster was flush with talent and a few pivotal wins would have given them the credibility they needed compete.
Goldberg was so popular because he seemed like the only WCW guy who actually won matches! Give Flair, Luger, Savage, Sting, and the rest of the talented mid-card some legitimacy and they would have helped the entire promotion.
13 Stop All the Run-ins
Run-ins and interference are a great tool but only if used sparingly. WCW booking abused this so badly that you were surprised if any match had a legitimate finish. This frustrated fans and ruined climaxes. The run-ins were there because of ego and none of the big boys wanting to lose cleanly. It was lazy, indulgent booking and needed to stop.
Imagine if every time you were intimate with someone, Buff Bagwell stormed in to interfere.
12 Use Bret Hart
After the Montreal Screwjob Bret Hart was arguably the hottest thing in wrestling. During a heated Monday Night War the WWE had just lost their (recent) champion to the competition and Vince’s dirty tactics made mainstream news.
The only other angle this big was Sting facing Hogan at Starrcade, and they were happening at nearly the same time! WCW had this in the bag right?
Wrong. Hart was wasted immediately as a guest referee and then a whiner who called a normal three-count ‘slow’. Hart has claimed that Hogan and the rest wanted to bury him and by the way he was booked, it’s easy to make that case.
Hart also claims that WCW would fly him first class to events only to not have him on the show. One of the top guys in the industry was lost in the shuffle.
Hart could have stormed in and battled the nWo on his own or recruited like-minded wrestlers (Benoit, Jericho, Hennig, Sting) to his cause and waged war. Heck forget any fancy booking, just put him in great matches every card with simple storylines that made sense.
Another problem solved by having Hogan booking and not wrestling.
11 Put Big Moments on PPV, not Free TV
WCW was so obsessed with beating Raw in the ratings that they squandered huge moments on free TV instead of building to their PPVs. Having Goldberg beat Hogan in Atlanta was a huge moment, but it was wasted on Nitro.
They could have used the four Nitros before the PPV to build towards this epic clash and make some real money. Then after the big moment, everyone would have tuned in to Nitro to see the fallout. The WWE understood this and their post-PPV Raws have always been special because of it.
Speaking of not promoting their PPVs properly how about the James Brown gaffe? They paid Brown an exorbitant amount of money to dance with Ernest Miller on PPV and neglected to promote it! What was the point then?
The WWE began to turn the tide in their favor when they included Mike Tyson in the angle. They had him appear on Raw and promoted the heck out of it, even putting him on the promo poster!
Simple concepts that could have made a huge difference.
10 Go With the Younger Talent Earlier
The New Blood Rising was half of a great idea, but it came far too late. By the time they were pushing the youth their roster was sadly depleted. If Billy Kidman is leading the charge you’re in trouble.
How about a few years earlier when they still had future WWE World Champions like Jericho, Benoit, Guerrerro, and Rey Mysterio? They were obviously talented enough to carry the show and could have made for a great feud with Hogan, Nash, and Hall. Using honesty in a wrestling storyline usually works and the talented mid-carders fighting back would have hit close to home and provided fantastic drama.
WCW got lucky with their Austin-clone Goldberg, but he was alone in the battle. Give him some powerful allies that can work great matches and the show could write itself.
9 Keep Sting Solo
Obviously it was great booking to have him play the lone vigilante and rip-off the Crow and Batman. The fans loved it not just because of the mystery, but because someone was finally sticking up for WCW and beating up the bullies. That's why it was ridiculous to see him with hideous red face paint and hanging out with Kevin Nash. There were far too many baseball bat beatings between them to bury the hatchet.
Sting on his own is a versatile weapon that can be deployed anywhere and makes sense in any feud.
8 Keep Lex Luger out of the Wolfpac
Luger in the Wolfpac was lame. He's a huge part of WCW's earlier history and was the initial line of defense during the The Outsiders' initial run. For him to join a hated enemy made him look like a weak-minded follower.
Luger is tough to book as he's always been a very limited talent with a great body and not much else. He always found himself in the main-event picture for some reason, but there was a way they could have used him more effectively.
He didn't have the personality to be a great heel and wasn't a good enough worker to do justice to the Horsemen (neither was Mongo). But he would have been perfect as the silent muscle for WCW. Have him run down and protect WCW cruiserweights from nWo beatings and fight on the same side as Goldberg and DDP. His blandness is easier to hide as a strong face.
To further hide his weaknesses you can have him be the personal bodyguard for......
7 Let Macho Madness Run Wild
Throw some Terminator-style sunglasses and a tough outfit on Luger and have him be the protector for Savage. Book Savage as a wild maniac who takes on all-comers but has little disregard for his own safety. Luger could be there as a silent 'Schwarzenegger' to back him up on Macho's suicide runs.
Savage didn't need a stable. He was equal to Hogan in terms of world-wide recognition yet could actually provide high-quality matches. A group would just water him down. Let the Madness reign and give Luger something useful to do.
6 Value Ric Flair
Flair was treated like garbage as soon as Hogan arrived, even though he still had far more great matches left in him than the Real American. It was a slap in the face to the loyal NWA/WCW fans who grew up with Southern rasslin and worshipped the Nature Boy. Fans had been waiting sine the 80s to see these two clash and Hogan’s ego ruined it. They could have battled for 10 years as opposing leaders, eventually moving out of the ring to work as mouthpieces for their respective factions. Flair should have led a revamped and dangerous Four Horsemen or simply been a respected and powerful statesmen of WCW. Either way he still had the talent to compete in the WWE several years later so he obviously could have contributed back then.
Ric Flair is the kind of performer that barely needs to be booked. You give him some time and a mic, and he goes out there and makes magic. Flair was WCW, but they just didn’t get it.
5 Go Back to Basics
WCW/NWA had a huge following in the South and offered an alternative to those Yanks up in New York City. They offered a hard-hitting, realistic style that emphasized wrestling and treated it like a sport.
Years of mismanagement got them away from their classic formula. They needed to stop copying and instead provide something unique. The Attitude Era was going to burn itself out and many hardcore fans were beginning to tire of the short matches and endless talking. If WCW rebooted earlier and put a focus on their best workers they could have created a niche for themselves. Benoit and Guerrero might even have stayed if they were highlighted in this new format, creating a much more even playing field post-2000.
4 Give Sting/Hogan a Clean Finish
The best booked angle and most anticipated match of the year was squandered in a mess of politics.
The entire nWo angle had built to this moment. Their reign of terror over the hapless WCW had been thwarted by one man and a baseball bat. The culmination of wrestling’s biggest story needed to blow off in a big way. Starrcade needed a happy ending with Sting finally striking a blow for the good guys in this epic war. But that’s not what happened.
There should never have been a slow-count (meant to be a fast count) or any other stupid gimmick finish. Just one epic match like Hogan and Warrior had at WrestleMania VI. Hogan lost clean there (he still kicked out at 3.1) and he should have done it again.
Sure after over a year of inactivity Sting was reported to be out of shape, but he only needed to keep up with Hogan. A simple, classic formula making Sting look strong is all that was needed. And if you just HAD to use Bret Hart, then have him knock out any nWo members trying to interfere.
After the clean loss, the nWo gathers in the ring and pulls off a huge shocker.
3 Kick Hogan out of the nWo
Hogan was always awkward with Nash and Hall. When he first joined it was an undeniable landmark moment, but he always came off as their dorky dad picking them up from a party and trying to stay for a drink.
After his loss to Sting, have Nash and Hall beat the crap out of Hogan and the other nWo jobbers. They announce that they're better off as the Outsiders/Wolfpac.
Hogan would take a few elite heels and dump the rest, setting up a massive feud between the two smaller groups.
This would all build towards the biggest match in WCW history: Hogan versus Nash in a retirement match! Put that as your main event for Starrcade 1998 and let the money roll in.
Nash wins and Hogan is retired from in-ring action.
But what about his gigantic contract? Don't worry, they'll still be paying him, we just have a different plan for the Hulkster that will become clear very soon.
2 Establish True Leadership
Wrestling promotions need true leadership. The WWE always had this, and WCW suffered without it.
Vince McMahon is a wrestling genius, but perhaps his best attribute is the control he had over his company and roster. All decisions went through him and everyone knew who the boss was. This is what WCW desperately needed.
Most wrestlers who speak candidly about their time in WCW speak about the disorganization and chaos. They lacked a leader that had true power over the talent. It doesn’t matter how good of a booker you bring in, if the talent doesn’t have to respect their decisions. Russo told a story of Goldberg threatening legal action if he was booked to lose to Scott Steiner. The reason? Goldberg thought that ‘if it was real’, it wouldn’t go down like that. I don’t know about you, but I’m putting my money on Steiner, the NCAA Div 1 All-American WRESTLER.
Who could have booked it? This may sound crazy but.
1 Put Hogan in Charge
He already had creative control, was paid like the owner, and was useless in the ring. He definitely knew how to book himself strong, so why not task him with making the entire promotion look strong?
Imagine a Hogan that didn't need to be selfish. Remove the responsibility of keeping his wrestling character strong and his wrestling mind could have been used for good. Not to mention that with him out of the way, it would greatly improve the main event picture.
He would be WCW’s Vince McMahon, doing promos and appearances for fan service yet pulling the strings backstage (like he already was). As long as he never wrestled, he wouldn’t have to book himself to win and could help the entire roster instead.
Hogan has always been a survivor. His act grew stale by the 90s and he STILL stayed near the top for another 10-plus years. I would have loved to see what he could have done to save WCW.
Watching Vince and Hogan go at it in a Monday Night War would be a million times better than watching them in the ring.