While WCW’s history can be traced back to the old NWA, the company itself emerged in November 1998 when Ted Turner bought Jim Crockett Promotions. It’s good to recall this long history of smart (and stupid) WCW concepts belongs not just to the Monday Nitro era. Dusty Rhodes, Ole Anderson, and other 1990’s WCW bookers proved capable of great ideas as the Nitro nimrods did to terrible ones with most of those Nitro bad ideas often involving something on a pole (Viagra, piñata, etc.) If WWE talent in the early 1990’s came under scrutiny for steroid use, then WCW booked concepts and gimmicks on the gas with the idea that bigger was better. Three cages on top of each other instead of one cage; three ring battle royals instead of one, and so on. But there were also some WCW concepts that worked such as two out of three fall matches or “gauntlet” matches earning a reward. More than match or character gimmicks, some of the best concepts to emerge in WCW on building heat to put a butt every eighteen inches.
It is doubtful any WCW these concepts will return to WWE. Who knows how the Great American Bash PPB moniker made it back to WWE for five years (2004-2008, by 2009, it was just The Bash)? Word seems to be that Vince McMahon only likes ideas emerging from his favorite thinker: himself. One can picture Vince strutting like Buddy Rogers saying, “There’s only one genius in the wrest – I mean sports entrainment business – and you’re looking at him.” Also as many great WCW concepts involve blood, Vince would need to love the gimmick over his ban on gigging. By not taking on old WCW ideas, Vince also avoids the hundred fifty plus concepts would leave the viewing audience gagging.
But if Vince got over himself and realized that other people not named McMahon (or McMahon Levesque) had ideas, here are the top 15 WCW gimmicks that might get over today.
15. Slamboree / Legends Reunion
A few times in the early 90’s, WCW hosted this pay per view. While it had the normal cluster of matches, there was also a Hall of Fame induction and a “legends reunion” match with old school spots. With them WWE H of F hard-wired to WrestleMania weekend, the legends reunion concept has merit. It promotes the network archives by pushing old stars, while also lessening the overexposure of new talent filling the endless hours of WWE programming. The WrestleMania XVII Gimmick Battle Royal demonstrated this could be fun, while the Jericho vs Legends storyline at WMXXV showed older talent (i.e. Steamboat in this one) can still get over.
14. Changing announcers during 3 hour show
Like much of the talent, WWE lead announcer Michael Cole is over exposed. While at least he’s off Smackdown, he’s still on three hours weekly of Raw, and three (sometimes four) hours on the PPV. While it’s great WWE mixes up the color men on PPV, a great WCW concept was the staggering (like Scott Hall to the ring) of announcers during Nitro. This not only reduced the drone factor, but gave the company the chance to discover who had charisma / chemistry and who lacked it. This lead to Mike Tenay getting his opportunity, so this idea can work, but on the other hand, it lead to an open live microphone for Mark Madden, so proceed with caution.
13. Two out of Three Fall Championship Matches
There are lots of reasons that championship matches lack heat (despite a “this is awesome” chant) is they’ve become a staggering (like Scott Hall to the ring) set-piece of finishers that don’t finish. One way to get holds and moves over is making them work on top stars. They can lose a fall, if not the match. The 1989 Flair vs Steamboat two out three WCW masterpiece built heat in a way that the WWE Iron Man Matches rarely do. A series of two out of three matches in 1992 WCW provided plenty of drama, clean rather cheap finishes, and got wrestlers and finishers over strong. Two out of three matches, especially on Raw, which would eliminate Cole’s persistent commercial break patter: “Find out if Rusev makes it back in the ring as Raw rolls on!”
12. Halloween Havoc
Let’s be clear: this does not mean any such concept / Sunday show including the WTF 1989 “Thunder Dome” match, the infamous Abby done medium-rare electrocution at the 1991 Chamber of Horrors match, or the 1992 “Spin the Wheel, Make the Deal” fiasco. It would mean replacing the WWE’s October Hell in a Cell which wouldn’t be a bad thing. Hell in a Cell was a great gimmick match as the court of last resort, but because of the new WWE PPV theme first, booking logic second, a feud blow-off match becomes the first meeting, not the last. Havoc would allow WWE to get away from Hell in the Cell and use the month / concept to incubate new scary matches, provided they don’t have electric chairs, thunder domes, or roulette wheels.
11. Short lived “Running the Gauntlet” series
What? But wait, doesn’t WWE already to a gauntlet match as the Authority puts some baby face (most recently Roman Reigns) through the ringer, wrestling multiple matches in one night? Yes. But for a too short time, WCW did not burn through the gimmick in three hours / one show, but instead the “running” took place over three different shows. Would it work to have the first match on Raw, second on Main Event and third on Smackdown? Or Raw, Smackdown, Raw, and then the three match wining wrestler gains something on the forthcoming Sunday PPV? Running the Gauntlet could slingshot to a new wrestler into a title match that seemed earned, not rigged.
10. Spring break specials
It’s not as bad as it sounds. Yes, they were outdoor shows so the crowd wasn’t loud. Yes, it meant someone always got thrown in the ocean / pool. And yes, such a show was the site of Eric Bischoff’s “man caught in a windstorm” pantomime. But the spring break shows demonstrated to viewers (and advertisers?) that WCW was hot with college students. This meant that teens (the great missing WWE audience) who are aspirational might think the product hot as well. Not a PPV giveaway, but a free show in front of a hot (oh, and most of the female fans were in bikinis, added bonus) crowd rather than another arena with front row fans on their phone during matches.
9. Heels ere heels were heels
Years ago, Ray Stevens was the most popular and most hated wrestler in the old Roy Shire Territory, but that was rare. Heels were heels were heels for a long time so turns meant something, unlike the ever spinning Big Show. Now, it seems everybody’s a Tweener in the WWE main event picture: baby faces like Cena and Reigns the hardcore adult crowd hates, while heels like Rollins and Owens are cheered like heroes. Look back at old WCW pre- Nitro shows: nobody cheered for Vader, Rude, or 1989 Terry Funk. Yes, the Horsemen and LOD blurred the lines earlier, but back in the day, heels were heels because they acted like heels. It wasn’t just the announcers telling the crowd, it was the wrestlers showing the crowd. They cheated, used international objects, attacked before the bell: you know, heel moves that drew heat / money.
8. Factions (and not just the 4 Horsemen)
Yes, the Horsemen were heels that fans cheered, but there just as many factions (Dungeon of Doom, Varsity Club, or The Dangerous Alliance for example) that fans hated. There were also ones they loved, like Dudes with Attitudes (okay, a bad example) or Sting’s Squadron (ok, another bad example). Yes, post NWO it went too far and it certainly wasn’t original to WCW, it is also true that most of the great factions that hardcore fans recall stem from WCW. Factions lead to so many possibilities, including a match starting with a coin toss that takes place in two cages (wait for it). Old WCW seemed to stay together for longer than two weeks and also lead to spinning off mid carder into main events. Note: this does not apply when involving Paul Roma.
7. The Black Scorpion
Seriously? Hear me out: this was a great, great concept with a terrible finish, but that’s doesn’t diminish the original idea which drew fan interest (at first). It was stuff right out of a strong novel: a mysterious angry man from the protagonist’s past reappears to avenge some wrong. The heel seems real, the grudge realer, and the payoff confrontation worth waiting for week after week. Even some of the turns in the original Ole WCW angle (such as multiple Scorpions) added texture and tension as you find a great novel. Except a great novel has a MIDDLE and an END that make sense and are thought out ahead of time rather than thrown together like Flair’s jobber worthy Black Scorpion outfit.
6. Partnership with New Japan
How awesome was it to see Jushin Liger in a WWE / NXT ring? While like so many WCW concepts which started strong but ended botched, the working relationship with New Japan could have been a saving point for WCW. With not only an amazing flux of talent, the big joint Super Shows in Japan furthered the image of WCW as a worldwide venture, not a southern rasslin’ company. With many Japanese promotions using more Americanized concepts like ref bumps, a marriage of WWE with another Japanese group might bring global success (such as partnership to get into the Chinese market) that the WCW / New Japan partnership never achieved.
5. Unscripted promos with passion
Arn Anderson once cut a promo talking about how he’d already reserved his hospital bed for after the match. He said it with so much conviction and heart, the things most lacking from the spoon fed or scripted WWE, that even smarks believed that match would be something to see. So many WWE promos are about jokes and jests, not just drawing heat. Cena and Heyman are about the only two on the stick who make the audience believe every word they say is true, that the issue at stake is beyond “wrestling” and that the payoff will be worth paying $9.99 to see. If it easy to find great matches on the WWE network, then most of the best promos live on YouTube. Search Arn Anderson and promo, prepare to shudder, shiver, and hate the modern WWE scripts.
4. Holding out Sting from the ring
Back in the day, it was easy to build heat. Heel injures baby face who disappears from sight (to work Japan or another territory) but then comes back after a good amount of time to get revenge. So when Eric Bischoff took Sting out of the ring for over a year to build heat for one match, it seemed crazy, but in retrospect it made perfect dollars and sense. The NWO was so hot it drew money, but the Big Money was in the NWO comeuppance by String. It worked with Starrcade 1997 drawing the largest WCW buy rate to that point. And if they finish would’ve not been one of the 500 Montreal screw job mix tapes, it might have been the start of the rise rather than the high PV peak before the long fall of WCW. The Sting in ring hold out demonstrates another sound WCW idea with faulty execution (like Abby in the Chamber of Horrors electric chair).
3. Cruiserweight Division
For many professional wrestling fans, the best parts of Monday Nitro were the cruiser weight matches, in particular after the reintroduction of a title in fall 1996. While way back in the day WWE had such a division, it was WCW who revived it with a Lightweight title in 1991 and solidified it with a series of matches between Brian Pillman and Jushin Liger. After going dark from 1992 to 1996 the gold title was revived as part of the New Japan / WCW partnership. This led to a staggering (like Scott Hall) number of great matches with flawless execution (unlike Abby) to make up for main events that delivered nothing but disappointment. Cruiserweight matches meant five stars, but soon after the 2001 Invasion, the title was downgraded. By the time Hornswaggle climbed the brass ring to win it in 2007, it was put to merciful sleep like Old Yeller.
2. TI War Games
One might think bringing back War Games to the WWE, rather than a tag team tourney (when there are already champs) to NXT would be a better way to honor the Dream. While the War Games has flaws: the first part of the match contains nothing but spots that mean nothing since the match can’t end, a gimmick match that decides a feud overcomes that. For live fans, it is hard to see between the cage bars and for the WWE, it means less ringside seats as two cages are required, but the heat for the “Match Beyond” is off the charts, especially if there will be blood.
1. TI Blood / non PG-13 matches
With the WWE network set-up for parental control, why not do a War “there will be blood” Games PPV to lure back all those lost WCW (and ECW) fans who want to see the bloody payoff of the heel finally defeated. That’s human condition; that’s the wrestling business then and now and forever. Yes, blading is barbaric and it’s not PG-13; maybe red doesn’t mean green anymore, but blood adds to the drama, the heat, and all the things the old WCW product in it’s best years almost always had over the tamer WWE product. It can be overdone, just check out 1983 Starrcade with blood in almost every match. But the “It’s still real to me” cry could only be spoken by a fan of old school WCW not new school no-gig WWE. If WWE wants War Games, it needs blood. They go together live hand and the glove the WWE ref puts on when somebody bleeds a drop.
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