The Monday Night Wars created the most interesting time in wrestling history with WWE and WCW going head to head. Monday Night Raw and Monday Nitro delivered record ratings every week and wrestling was as hot as any other form of entertainment on television at the time. Considering how cold the product is today in the mainstream, it’s crazy to think that two wrestling shows were holding their own against Monday Night Football but that actually happened. WCW dominated the wrestling world for almost two years until the ship started to sink in quick and embarrassing fashion.
The main criticism of WCW was the inability to create new stars. They had one of the most stacked rosters in the history of the business. Eric Bischoff had Ted Turner’s unparalleled checkbook and it led to a fantasy roster with a combination of established legends and rising young stars. The problem was the young stars were rarely given opportunities to move up the card and become main eventers for the future of the company. Older names were trying to hold the top spots and control all of the power within the company. This wasn’t just an issue during the Monday Night Wars as it occurred through the entire existence.
WCW left so much money on the table with various stars not being put in a position to succeed. The main job of a promotion is to find a way to put their talent in a spot where they can become successes and make money for everyone. WCW failed to understand that and used a large percentage of their talent poorly. The names would either have their talent wasted or they would move onto WWE and become big stars. This was ultimately the biggest downfall of the company. It not only hurt WCW but it helped the WWE. We’ll look at all of these stories and break down the top twenty most criminally underused WCW wrestlers of all time.
20 Scott Hall
The argument for Scott Hall being underused is a bit bold due to his importance in the New World Order and the large paychecks he received, but he was never put into a main event spot. Hall was arguably the most talented member of the nWo and had the highest upside but he was relegated to the tag division and midcard matches. Hulk Hogan obviously was the main singles star from the faction but Kevin Nash eventually became a main event act. Hall dealt with personal demons that harmed his career but there was a small window before that period where he could have been a far bigger star for the company.
19 Molly Holly
WCW was never known for female wrestling but they did employ a couple of very talented women’s wrestling stars. Molly Holly made her television wrestling debut as a part of “Macho Man” Randy Savage’s stable of lady friends along with Madusa and Gorgeous George. There were a few times when Holly got involved in Savage’s matches by executing moves against his opponents but she was never allowed to compete in actual matches. WWE would sign her and utilize her skills to help push forward the women’s division. WCW let another talent go to waste because they didn’t want to showcase female performers in athletic competition.
18 The British Bulldog
During his two stints in WCW, “The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith was never used to his full potential in the company. Bulldog is most known for success in WWE with tremendous singles matches against Bret Hart and tag team work with Owen Hart or Dynamite Kid. WCW tried to capitalize on his work by signing him at the perfect time but they just didn’t use him well enough. The fascinating thing is WWE rarely treated Bulldog like a main event act but they still accentuated his strengths to make him an important performer. In WCW, Bulldog looked like a sidekick to Sting in the early 90s and a tag along to Bret Hart in the late 90s.
Chris Kanyon was a consistent midcarder for WCW in various roles. Kanyon played a Mortal Kombat rip-off character named Mortis with a mask but later converted to his normal self. Most would look towards Kanyon’s work in The Triad with Diamond Dallas Page and Bam Bam Bigelow as his highest level of success but that was never even a top act. Kanyon was used in smaller roles but always worked hard and made his opponents look good. The company never elevated him or gave a sustainable push despite always putting out good work. Kanyon was underused, especially in the last year or two of WCW’s existence.
The cruiserweight division was one of the most exciting things in WCW and it was due to the variety of wrestling talent from all over the world. Many luchador stars from Mexico’s AAA were brought over to help make the division a success. Psychosis was one of the more underrated cruiserweight stars with an outstanding body of work. Rey Mysterio, Eddie Guerrero and Dean Malenko are rightfully treated as the guys who made the cruiserweight division special but Psychosis should have been thrown in as an honorable mention. His matches with Mysterio were some of the best in company history but he could never get the machine behind him.
Sabu's career in WCW is extremely forgettable despite his best efforts. Following success in ECW, WCW tried to capture the magic but didn’t spotlight the Sabu character as strongly. Sabu still delivered memorable moments and the extreme star had a couple of great matches against Mr. JL (Jerry Lynn), meaning he could have been a great talent for the future of the company. Sabu made ECW a lot of money and ECW was what a large percentage of fans wanted out of wrestling. WCW failed to use Sabu well enough to get success out of the short investment.
One of the most controversial and memorable moments in WCW history was Madusa jumping ship from WWE despite holding the WWE Women’s Championship. Eric Bischoff offered her a big contract and convinced her to drop the title in a trash can. The bold move was hoped to be followed with a huge push of a female division in WCW, which happened for a little while. Madusa’s signing led to WCW bringing in Japanese female wrestling talents and developing a Women’s Championship for the company. Sadly, that didn't last very long and the title was abandoned in less than a year. Madusa was off television for quite some time and the company wasted away her prime years after ruining her chances of going back to WWE.
The Raven character was stellar in ECW but failed to carry over to WCW and WWE. Paul Heyman is often viewed as a genius, so it only makes sense that he was able to tap into Raven and deliver one of the best characters of the era. WCW used Raven well enough to be a successful midcarder, but he should have been so much more. Raven was one of many talents that deserved a shot in the main event. The company would keep guys in Raven’s tier separated from the legends at the top of the card. That was a mistake and Raven was not used to the best of his potential.
12 Chris Candido and Tammy Sytch
The real life couple of Chris Candido and Tammy Sytch signed with WCW under the Vince Russo regime. Sytch was one of the biggest female wrestling stars in the industry with a tremendous run in WWE. Candido rebuilt his name in ECW as a top tier worker in the business. The duo started working together in ECW as Sytch left WWE and Russo hoped to bring the magic over to WCW. Both were not in positions to succeed and were placed into poor comedy cruiserweight matches. Russo didn’t value the cruiserweights, so the matches were typically full of embarrassing segments. Sytch still rants about how poorly she was used and Candido’s talent was obviously underused.
11 Jerry Lynn
Many wrestling fans don’t know Jerry Lynn had a short run in WCW as the masked cruiserweight Mr. JL. Lynn is one of the most underrated wrestling talents of the last twenty-five years due to not being able to showcase his skills in WWE or WCW. Both promotions failed to realize what he offered but it was worse in WCW because of the cruiserweight division. Lynn was perfect to become a cornerstone of the division and had the ability to give the company great matches with other top talents, but they didn’t care to put any belief in him. WCW and Lynn both missed out by not having a better relationship together.
10 Mike Awesome
Another ECW star that WCW did not know how to use properly was Mike Awesome. The talented big man was tall in frame, but delivered incredible aerial moves with ease. Awesome lived up to his moniker by becoming ECW Champion and one of the top stars in the promotion until he signed with WCW. Controversy arose because Awesome made the change while still holding ECW Champion but he surely didn’t deserve the bad booking that would follow him. Awesome could have been a top act with the company in desperate need of new stars but he was given horrible career-ending gimmicks like “That 70s Guy” and “The Fat Chick Thrilla.” The misuse of Awesome will always be one of WCW’s most depressing mistakes.
9 Dean Malenko
There have been very few wrestlers as technically sound as Dean Malenko. The technician was one of the backbones of the company with various stellar matches, mostly in the cruiserweight division. Malenko was one of the shorter members of the roster and he lacked any charisma or personality that would translate on television. The ultimate job of wrestling creative is to put the talent in a position to succeed by hiding their flaws and showing off the strengths. Malenko should have been at least been given an opportunity for more. Wrestlers like Daniel Bryan and Cesaro have referenced Malenko’s work playing a role in their desire to enter the business. If a wrestler inspired such greatness, he had more potential than being just a good hand.
8 Bam Bam Bigelow
Bam Bam Bigelow is one of the best big men in pro wrestling history. While he could play a dominant monster heel, Bigelow also could move around the ring to keep up with his opponent and show off an aerial side. WCW signed Bam Bam in the late-90s to feud with Goldberg but after he took the loss, the company didn’t know what to do with him. Bigelow worked in the hardcore division and did some tag team work with Diamond Dallas Page and Chris Kanyon in The Triad. Bigelow should have been used in a role that made him more relevant after the Goldberg feud. A talent like his was special, but WCW wasted it.
7 Curt Hennig
Some fans would make the argument Curt Hennig was the greatest wrestling talent of all time. In a time when WWE and WCW didn’t value work rate as anything more than important for a midcarder, Hennig failed to ever capture a world championship and rarely made the main event picture. WCW placed Hennig in a few high profile feuds with Ric Flair and Bret Hart but it was always positioned in a secondary role. The company dropped the ball big time by not putting the title on Hennig or trying to build him as the absolute top heel in WCW. Wrestlers and fans respected Hennig and it would have sent the message that hard work was still pivotal for success.
6 Mick Foley
The main story of the Monday Night Wars being won by WWE was the failure of WCW using promising stars well and the talents jumping ship. One of the first of those stars that WCW didn’t believe in having a high upside was Mick Foley. As Cactus Jack, he was used as a hardcore wrestler that would have the occasional big match against Sting or Vader. Foley was never looked at with the potential of ever being a future world champion due to his larger size and rugged look. When WWE put the world title on him, it was met with literal laughter on television by WCW via Tony Schiavone. Foley ended up becoming one of the most successful wrestlers in the business, but WCW never allowed that to shine.
5 Rey Mysterio
WCW’s most popular cruiserweight act was Rey Mysterio due to his incredible in-ring skills. The star was small in size but made up for it with talent and heart. Mysterio was beloved by the fan base but the company refused to book him as a top level performer because of his size. They also forced him to lose his mask and it nearly ruined his career. The mask helped give Mysterio a unique presentation and became part of his identity. WCW was stuck in their ways to never push forward and try new things, so Mysterio was held down for years until he became a huge star for WWE after WCW went out of business.
4 Brian Pillman
Many of the names on this list went on to become huge stars for WWE with the world title or a main event position. One star that never was able to achieve the success his talent deserved was Brian Pillman. The former NFL player showed a natural aptitude in the ring and had a tremendous personality. Pillman knew how to tap into the minds of wrestling fans and made you believe you were watching something real despite knowing it was scripted. Considering how things worked out for other misused talents makes those stories less depressing, but Pillman was unable to fulfill his potential due to injuries and his unfortunate passing while in WWE. WCW missed out on a should-be huge star in his prime by letting his promise waste away.
3 Chris Jericho
Chris Jericho’s misuse in WCW is extra heartbreaking because you could clearly see how good the guy was. In limited opportunities, Jericho found a way to impress fans with both his stellar wrestling skills and promos. The comedic character that saw him challenge Goldberg was Jericho’s best chance at becoming a bigger star in WCW. He was eventually squashed and moved back down the card before until he left for WWE. Vince McMahon spotlighted Jericho as one of the cornerstones of the company for years and it showed why WCW went out of business. They needed young stars, but didn’t want to use Jericho as anything more than a good midcard worker.
2 Eddie Guerrero
Chris Jericho's story is very similar to Eddie Guerrero’s time in WCW. Guerrero delivered success in any role he was placed in. The variety of work by Eddie came in the form of face and heel, comedic or serious, tag or singles and just about anything else you can think of. Guerrero improved on a consistent basis and demonstrated that he was a wrestler that was on the precipice of becoming a top-tier talent in the industry. WCW never respected him or his upside so Guerrero bolted to the WWE the first chance he could with Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko and Perry Saturn. Guerrero turned into one of the best signings in WWE history with a world title reign and years of legendary work.
1 Steve Austin
It almost takes talent to have the biggest star in wrestling history in his prime but not value him as a special talent. Steve Austin was not the foul-mouthed badass with a level of intensity unmatched in the business during his time in WCW, but he sure did show potential. While working in the tag division with Brian Pillman or in singles as a heel, Austin was one of the top workers in the company and delivered great matches on a weekly basis. WCW didn’t see Austin being anything more than what he already was and actually fired him when injured. This turned out to be one of the worst decisions in company history but the poor use of him set the table for Austin to change the landscape of pro wrestling.