WCW’s long history is truly remarkable to look back on. Few companies can boast of such great heights followed by such massive lows as they went from ruling wrestling to totally out of business in just three years. Sure, you can talk of how WWE was able to turn the tide with their great roster and presentation but the fact is that so much of WCW’s fall is their own damn fault. The company seemed to go out of their way to make various mistakes and bad moves that would shoot themselves in the foot time and again. Sure, every wrestling promotion makes mistakes but WCW seemed to turn it into an art form.
It’s remarkable to look at all the money they wasted over the years on signing talent and crazy ideas for matches and PPVs that went nowhere. The company endured some true highs but also remarkable lows and people still marvel at how much they blew on stuff they thought would work but didn’t. Trying to list the worst of WCW is a challenge (thanks to how entire books have been written about the mistakes) but here are 20 of the biggest busts in their history, cases of talent, gimmicks or shows meant to be big deals but blew up in their faces and helped contribute to the company’s ultimate collapse.
20 The Renegade
It was a bad idea then and even worse to look back on now. Leading up to Uncensored ’95, WCW made a big deal of Hogan and Savage unleashing “the Ultimate Surprise” with a guy in shadows with tassels and wild hair. Fans naturally made the logical guess…then out ran a guy in a tasseled costume and wild hair with makeup but quite clearly not The Ultimate Warrior.
The Renegade never had a chance. WCW would push him hard, including winning the TV title over Arn Anderson but fans just weren’t buying it as he was even worse in the ring than Warrior was and lacked the star power to cover it. He would soon fall hard with Rick Wilson eventually committing suicide, a sad capper to an already terrible bust for the company.
For Starrcade ’91, WCW decided to build the entire show around an idea that would leave Vince Russo scratching his head. Try to follow this: 20 tag teams would battle it out, the partners chosen “at random.” They really weren’t but when you see some of the pairings (Larry Zybsko/El Gigante, Sting/Abdullah the Butcher, Scott Steiner/Firebreaker Chip), you’d be forgiven in thinking they were. The 10 winning teams would then be placed in a two-ring battle royale with the idea to toss a guy from one ring to the other and then from that ring to the outside. The final two guys would then wrestle a regular match.
Not surprisingly, fans did not get into such a ridiculously complex program. It finally ended as planned, with Sting pinning Lex Luger to set up a future title match but it was a bizarre way to make it work. Incredibly, they tried it again the next year to similar results.
Even the most cartoonish WWE bit of the 1980s can’t measure up to how stupid this was. For God knows what reason, WCW (still under the NWA banner then) decided in 1990 that it would be terrific to have RoboCop show up. It wasn’t really Peter Weller, just a guy in the massive armored suit that was so heavy he could only walk at a turtle’s pace. They built up to his appearance at “Capitol Combat,” with Sting (still injured) attacking the Four Horsemen who tossed him into a tiny cage that was sitting at ringside for no reason.
Out came Robocop, slowly marching to the ring, the Horsemen running off and then tearing off the cage door. It was even dumber than it sounds and the fan reaction was so bad that future appearances were dropped so it was a huge amount of money spent for nothing.
17 Davey Boy Smith
WCW’s signing of the British Bulldog in 1993 was a bit surprising. Despite his fame in his home nation, Smith was known to be a guy who would blow up easily and his major matches (like Bret at SummerSlam ’92) were because he was carried. But WCW decided he was just the guy needed to liven up the scene and signed him to a huge deal. It didn’t work as his matches were rough and soon included the infamous “Beach Blast” mini-movie and a feud with Vader that went nowhere.
Injuries would also hurt and after just a year, Smith was back in WWE. He returned in 1998 with heat after a great run but WCW just let him drift, nothing to do with Bret and when he was badly injured falling through a trapdoor, WCW fired him while he was recovering.
16 Tank Abbott
Despite a rough record in the UFC, Abbott had a good look, an impressive build and could have been booked right as a Brock Lesnar-like monster. However, this was WCW under Vince Russo. It took only a few appearances for it to become clear Abbott had no grasp for how to be a good wrestling worker.
Russo still liked him and even wanted to crown him World Champion despite the fact everyone knew that would be a disaster and led to Russo being dismissed from the company. He was eventually made bodyguard to 3 Count, showing yet another case of WCW judging off a look and not the skill, a common mistake for them.
15 Road Wild
A key slam of Eric Bischoff in WCW was his attempt to show himself as being a tough guy with the workers. A motorcycle buff, Bischoff came up with the idea of doing a PPV to tie in to the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, a big show to put on before the bikers. There were two main problems with this.
First of all, the majority of motorcycle riders were not huge wrestling fans and thus you had situations like a Benoit/Malenko classic booed hard. Second, it was for free, meaning WCW was not only not making a dime off this show but losing money with the costs of ring, cameras, etc...
They kept it up, however, including making it home to Jay Leno’s wrestling debut and each time, it turned into a total mess. You can thank Bischoff’s ego for a show always guaranteed to lose WCW money.
14 Public Enemy
Paul Heyman is up front on how WCW poached so much ECW talent like Guerrero, Malenko, Benoit and Mysterio. In the case of Public Enemy, Heyman wasn’t that upset about their going. Some might think he would have been as Rocco Rock and Johnny Grunge had been ECW tag champions and highly popular with crowds. However, Heyman knew what WCW didn’t: Without his booking, the Philly crowds and their table smashing, the guys really weren’t that great a team.
Indeed, WCW would soon expose their limitations as they would hold the tag titles for only eight days and would find themselves returning to ECW a bit more humble. A clear case of WCW falling for hype and an act that flopped quickly.
13 Mike Awesome
Paul Heyman must have laughed his ass off at this. In early 2000, WCW managed to sway Awesome, the ECW champion, to show up and beat down Kevin Nash. The heat on Awesome in his last ECW shows was huge, the fans hating him for the defection and cheering when Tazz came from WWE to win the belt off him.
Awesome entered and WCW basically did nothing to keep to his reputation as a monster. Instead, he was given the incredibly stupid act of a 1970s lounge lizard and then chasing fat women around. A major star who could have given the company a rise and they helped turn him into a joke, hardly an awesome turn.
12 Disney Tapings
From a business standpoint, it made sense. To cut costs in 1993, WCW decided to do a long weekend of tapings at the Disney-MGM studios that would fill three months’ worth of syndicated programming. However, it was a huge mess as fans were told specifically who to cheer and boo, a major shattering of kayfabe. It also set storylines and title changes in stone, which left little reason for guys to try and do better in the ring.
Fans who attended shared spoilers on the Internet with revelations on what to expect. This messed up the title run of the Hollywood Blondes who had to lose the belts without an injured Brian Pillman to keep to the taping schedule. And let’s not even get into the mess of the NWA/”Big Gold Belt” title situation. It may have saved WCW a few bucks but it also left the company majorly shaken and ruining more of the fan appeal in an already rough year.
11 KISS Demon
In 1999, in one of his many desperate attempts to make WCW look relevant, Eric Bischoff struck a deal to have rock band KISS perform and also created a wrestler based on Gene Simmons. Dale Torborg was the worker chosen to fill the role, promised a main event match but Bischoff was removed from power so it never came through.
Soon, we had the Demon attacking in graveyards, dropping blood on Sting and other idiotic matches and feuds, all of which looked utterly ridiculous. Fans never got into it as Bischoff underestimated the appeal wrestling had for KISS followers and the Demon became yet another misfire in a period where WCW was full of them.
For months on end, the promos were shown, some guy in a nifty suit of blue armor with martial arts moves, obviously based on Sub-Zero from the “Mortal Kombat” games. He was boosted more, given a cool entrance with laser lights and snow falling before getting to the ring…at which point, fans got to see just how truly bad he was as a worker. All that build and push and the guy never delivered in the ring, lost amid nothing feuds and runs and that build paying off to nothing in the overall run of WCW.
9 The Black Scorpion
When Sting won the NWA World title from Ric Flair in 1990, it was to be the start of a new era as (laughable to think now), folks assumed Flair was done as a major star. However, the booking was being handled by Ole Anderson, not exactly the best guy to handle a hot young star. His solution to a lack of real challengers was to create a mysterious figure called the Black Scorpion who would talk with a voicebox and hint at a mystery connection to Sting.
WCW really wanted fans to think it was the Ultimate Warrior and it dragged on with the Scorpion pulling off magic tricks to try and intimidate Sting. Yes, WCW truly believed seeing the Scorpion turn someone into a tiger or appear in a UFO would make him a threat for fans. Finally, with Starrcade, they realized they needed someone to be the Scorpion and thus turned to Flair, capping off an idiotic storyline that ruined Sting’s first title run and one of the worst storylines in wrestling history.
8 The Ding Dongs
When Ole Anderson thinks an idea is too stupid, you know it’s bad. It was then WCW head Jim Herd who came up with this gem, which actually was based off his idea of wrestling hunchbacks who would be unbeatable as they could never be pinned. When that didn’t work, he came up with the Ding Dongs, two guys in masked costumes with bells on them who carried a large bell with them to the ring that they would sound off throughout the match.
Their first appearance at Clash of the Champions was notorious as the entire crowd turned on them in a flash, booing every move they made and the bell annoying as hell. They were dropped in no time and yet another reason Herd is dismissed as such a joke by fans.
7 The Ultimate Warrior
It’s notable how Hulk Hogan has actually taken some blame for how badly the big encounter with The Ultimate Warrior in 1998 went down. From the start, the arrival of the Warrior was rough as he went off in a promo far longer than expected and making it sound like a rematch with Hogan really wasn’t that big a deal. We then had him interfering in matches by vanishing in smoke, kidnapping Ed Leslie and a trapdoor he was to use causing Davey Boy Smith to have a massive back injury.
This all led to the utterly horrific Halloween Havoc match which both he and Hogan have openly said was a complete disaster on every level. The Warrior soon left, meaning WCW shelled out a couple million dollars for one of the worst matches of all time, an amazing bust even for them.
Trying to capture the flavor of ECW, the first Uncensored soon established itself as one of the worst PPVs of all time. A battle on a truck, boxer vs. wrestler, Ric Flair dressed as a woman, the debut of the Renegade and Hulk Hogan winning a strap match against Vader by dragging Flair around the ring (I know, makes no sense).
The next year’s version was “highlighted” by the atrocious Doomsday Cage Match and the next year had a confusing multi-team main event salvaged only by Sting attacking the New World Order. It was right back to garbage the next year with Hogan and Savage doing a cage match main event that showed how over the hill both were and the last two versions where highlighted by Hogan vs. Flair, one in a First Blood barbed wire cage, the second a “Yappi Strap” match. The only thing fans could count on was how Uncensored was one of the lowest points of any WCW year and a mess of a PPV.
5 The Shockmaster
Seriously, you cannot do a list of major WCW busts and NOT include this guy. In the midst of a rough 1993, WCW needed a fresh challenger for world champion Vader and thus hired Fred Ottoman, Dusty Rhodes’ brother-in-law best known as Tugboat/Typhoon, and made him “The Shockmaster.” He was announced as the mystery partner for Sting and Davey Boy Smith for WarGames on a “Flair For the Gold” segment and what happened next has become wrestling legend: A loud explosion, a burst of flame and Ottoman smashed through a wall…and tripped over a beam to fall down, his helmet falling off to show his face.
You can hear Flair groaning “Oh, God,” in the background and how the guys are fighting not to crack up. In just three seconds, any chance Shockmaster had was ruined which, even by WCW’s lofty standards, is remarkable for blowing a guy’s potential.
4 Bill Watts
It’s often asked why Turner didn’t let someone who really understood wrestling run WCW. The answer is because the one time they tried, it was a mess. Bill Watts was one of the best bookers in his time, a great old-school guy, so taking over WCW in 1992 seemed promising. Sadly, what worked for a territory in the 1970s didn’t on a national level in the ‘90s as Watts was too old-school. Banning moves off the top rope killed the company’s cruiserweight division, the various rules to keep kayfabe angered guys and slashing contracts left and right didn’t leave much incentive to do their best.
That’s not to mention pushing his vastly unready son Erik as a star and Watts’ borderline racist attitude clashing with Turner management. Not only was his tenure a failure but it convinced Turner higher-ups to not let another wrestling guy handle the company so the long-term damage was even worse to the company’s fortunes.
3 Bret Hart
Even Vince McMahon has a hard time believing WCW could drop the ball so badly with Bret as they did. This was a fantastic worker, an icon in Canada, coming off the most infamous double-cross in wrestling history and signed to a huge contract. And WCW proceeded to do just about nothing with him, pushing him as a pawn in the never-ending NWO battle, dropping a great program between him and Flair, rushing the dream encounters with Hogan and Sting on free TV and pushed between heel and face too often for fans to care.
It was amazing to see how it all fell apart with Bret suffering his career-ending concussion and further problems, making this a stunning loss of a major star for WCW and how badly they blew the signing.
2 David Arquette World Champion
There’s little more you can add that hasn’t already been written and ranted about by so many over the last decade and a half. In a blatant attempt to get mainstream attention, Russo decided to let Arquette, a third-rate actor married to Courtney Cox and starring in the terrible “Ready to Rumble” movie win the World title in a tag team match. It got attention but the bad kind as fans went insane over the issue and how it made WCW and its title look like a complete joke and thus unable to bounce back. In one move, Russo pushed WCW past the point of no return and did the company no favors whatsoever.
1 Vince Russo
No, Vince Russo didn’t truly kill WCW but he sure helped put them in the coffin. WCW truly believed that Russo was the key reason WWE had taken the lead in the Monday Night War and signing him on would be the best way to turn things around. Russo conned them into thinking he, not McMahon, was the big voice of WWE and WCW bought it.
The results speak for themselves: Ratings and attendance plummeted as Russo’s obsession with gimmick matches, dumb skits, terrible promos and “breaking the fourth wall” took over and drove fans away. From putting the title on David Arquette and even himself to assuming every fan was as obsessed with the Internet as he was, Russo’s presentation killed so much of WCW’s drive and sent them into the tailspin they’d never recover from.
Yes, the company was already down but by the time Russo was finished, they’d reached a low unlike anything ever seen and that Russo still defends so much of his moves speaks volumes of how bad things were.