We all know the story. WCW was the second most popular wrestling promotion and the only one to challenge WWE for the top spot in the industry. After the Monday Night Wars started with WCW putting its new television show Nitro head to head against WWE Raw in the most boldest of moves, the company would eventually become #1 for a few years thanks to the formation of the nWo and a stacked roster of talent. Of course, the rise was short lived and things would fall apart in rather fast and in staggering fashion.
Just two years after they passed WWE, WCW would falter and slip to second place again. One year after that, they were no longer a threat and by 2001, they were out of business. Bad decisions, an abundance of egos in the locker room and comedic failures playing out would cost WCW its existence as Vince McMahon would buy the company and make it a part of his library. Between the content on the WWE Network and many DVDs produced over the years about WCW’s story, it’s easy to see the company’s historical significance still lives.
Many like to poke fun at WCW’s sillier moments like The Shockmaster’s grand debut or David Arquette’s title win but there’s a reason or two, or twenty in this case, why WCW was the only wrestling promotion to get the better of Vince McMahon’s WWE empire for a couple of years. Between the supreme talent, progressive ideas, interesting concepts, risk taking and basically creating an all-star show of pro wrestling, WCW was a special place. Whether it’s early days of shining a light on good wrestling, the glory days of the Monday Night Wars or the dying days as the end was near, these were the 20 things WCW found a way to be better than WWE.
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One thing WCW excelled in compared to WWE was treating the product like a sport. There was more of a realistic feel of the show with competition between athletes rather than blatant choreographed actions and wacky characters. For example, Booker T vs. Chris Benoit competed in a Best of 7 Series for the WCW World Television Championship. The matches would go back and forth with both men trading wins, similar to a playoff series in the NBA or MLB, and it ended up helping both performers become further credible in the eyes of fans.
19 Stage Design
As the years would go on, WWE would improve their stage designs but during the 90s, WCW had the more impressive look. The main reason for this was during its flagship television show Nitro, the set would feature a giant metallic logo of the WCW letters. As simple as it was, the look stood out every time a wrestler walked to the ring and just made for a better visual environment. Otherwise, the set was fairly subtle but created a unique look that made you know you were watching WCW.
18 Belt Designs
Whoever WCW hired to design or create their belts was great at their job. With more titles than WWE, just about all of WCW’s belts had prestigious and distinct looks that separated them. Obviously, the WCW World Heavyweight Championship aka “the big gold belt” was at the top of the list and is the greatest belt design in wrestling as WWE had brought it back to their television until as recent as a year ago. Belts like the TV title, United States title, Cruiserweight title, Tag Team titles and others all were great designs that made them seem like legitimate prizes the wrestlers needed to fight to earn.
Pyro became a big part of show openings in WWE and WCW during the Monday Night Wars. WWE’s pyro was more of a big showing but WCW’s was typically more aesthetically pleasing. The pyro looked smoother and neat providing a cleaner look than just pyro flying all over like WWE did and still does. Even more noteworthy was WCW’s use of pyro for entrances. Goldberg walking through a sprinkler of pyro on his way to the ring added a lot to his character. Lex Luger, Diamond Dallas Page, Hulk Hogan and many others would have a great use of pyro in their entrances as well and it was a great help.
Towards the end of WCW, the use of celebrities became atrocious with David Arquette winning the WCW Champion under the Vince Russo era but the company would utilize famous names very well before then. When the NBA was at its hottest in the late 90s, WCW somehow convinced Dennis Rodman and Karl Malone to wrestle on opposing teams live on PPV. The two would actually get into mini-scuffles on the court in the NBA Finals one month prior. Imagine two top tier athletes selling a wrestling PPV appearance during the NBA Finals. WCW also convinced Jay Leno to a wrestle a match on the following PPV, a rare time when the famous names actually put themselves in the ring.
15 Match Concepts
You can never accuse WCW for refusing to think outside of the box when it came to original match concepts or bringing new ideas to life. Not all were hits but most were highly entertaining. Definitely most celebrated today, War Games would feature two teams of four fighting in two rings under a cage full of weapons. A match gimmick that would have been fascinating today is BattleBowl featuring “random” drawings of tag team partners being drawn to face each other with all the winners of the night meeting in a battle royal. World War 3 was like the Royal Rumble but with 60 men in three rings. All were odd ideas but very fun to watch.
14 International Talent
When WCW started to become a really hot product, the opening matches on every PPV and Nitro were led by new and credible talent. Part of the reason for this was due to WCW hitting the international market and bringing new wrestling styles to their program. WCW pulled great talent from Mexico (Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio, Psicosis), Japan (Ultimo Dragon, The Great Muta, Masahiro Chono), Canada (Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho) and from other places. Aside from improving the show and adding a new dynamic, this would also bring in viewers from other countries looking to see stars they’re familiar with make it in the big time.
13 Big Fight Feel
As discussed earlier, WCW did their best to present the product like a realistic athletic competition. One big asset to doing so was hiring ring announcer Michael Buffer to introduce the main event matches. Buffer was renowned as a big time boxing announcer when the sport was still hot and relevant. Every time he was out to announce the introductions in WCW, the match felt like a must see battle. As he uttered his popular “Let’s get ready to rumble!” catch phrase, the atmosphere would go to another level.
12 Authority Figures
Over the last decade, one of the biggest gripes fans have had with WWE and TNA programming is the overusing of authority figures. Today’s formula usually sees a heel authority figure that dominates television time with promos and monopolizes too much of the storylines. Vince McMahon was very good in the 90s but it started the trend and was overbearing at times as the formula started to take place. WCW always did a better job, especially with J.J. Dillion making the decisions in the name of fairness as an honorable decision maker. Even when Eric Bischoff did the heel authority figure act with the nWo, he was always secondary to the act and Hulk Hogan.
Until the end of the Monday Night Wars when they started to pull away, WWE’s midcard was extremely weak. Guys like Val Venis and The Godfather were holding the Intercontinental Championship. With three titles (Cruiserweight, TV, United States), WCW always strived to put out stories showcasing the guys you wouldn’t see in the main event. With a varying mix of talent, you saw stars like Rey Mysterio, Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, Chris Benoit, Raven, Curt Hennig, Booker T and many others mix it up. There were even times when main eventers like Bret Hart, Diamond Dallas Page and Ric Flair were in the mix for the midcard titles.
10 Must See TV
A big criticism for WCW during the Monday Night Wars was that they would do too much on free television instead of saving it for PPV but for fans, that was a plus. Nitro became the most must see wrestling television show because big moments happened frequently on it. The two most memorable Nitro moments saw Hollywood Hulk Hogan lose the WCW World Championship on separate occasions to Lex Luger and Goldberg. Because it was free TV, the title changes were viewed as more of a surprise and added to it. Even before the Nitro days, WCW would produce great TV events on Clash of the Champions.
9 Introducing Wrestlers
The WWE formula for introducing a new wrestler to the audience has been the same for years. Vignettes air for weeks, the talent debuts with a few wins and then we see where they go from there. Sometimes it turns into a home run but most of the time it ends in a strikeout. WCW’s method to introducing new wrestlers was much more unique and interesting. Goldberg would debut with no build and just win his first match with ease. Raven would sit in the front row of shows and provide cryptic promos. The WCW debuts were never too similar as you never want an audience getting used to the same routine.
Some of the greatest in ring performers in the history of pro wrestling were made in WCW. During the early 90s, stars like Ric Flair, Ricky Steamboat and Rick Rude would showcase excellent workrate. As things progressed, the new generation of stars like Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, all of the luchadores, William Regal and others would introduce a new way of wrestling on television shows. Every week on Nitro, you were guaranteed to get a great match or more. WWE always had a select few elite workers such as Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels and Owen Hart but it wasn’t until they signed the WCW stars did they have consistently great workrate.
Jim Ross is understandably considered the greatest wrestling announcer of all time but you can argue his better work was in WCW rather than WWE. Despite his emotion being showcased in WWE during the Attitude Era, his commentary in WCW was more sports based without having to engage in too many shenanigans. With JR gone, the WCW announce booth would be mediocre for a few years before forming their best three man booth – Tony Schiavone, Bobby Heenan and Mike Tenay. Schiavone was the perfect straight man doing play by play, Heenan was the hilarious heel supporter and Tenay was a brilliant mind sharing wrestling anecdotes. Unlike WWE, they never took away from the wrestlers but were always entertaining.
6 Dream Matches
Once Ted Turner opened the checkbooks to spend on big money names, WCW had the ability to produce dream matches fans could have never expected to become reality. With Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage and Roddy Piper coming over, they were intertwining with WCW made stars like Ric Flair, Sting and Lex Luger. Even in the undercard, diehard fans that followed all promotions around the world got to see Jushin Liger face Rey Mysterio or Ultimo Dragon face William Regal. Before the ship started to sink, WCW was the only place you would get a taste of national and international dream matches.
5 Tag Teams
The mid 90s WCW tag team division was arguably the best a national mainstream wrestling promotion has ever produced. With the top of the division seeing mainstays such as the Steiners and Harlem Heat, there were always a great standard. Factor in teams like Public Enemy, Faces of Fear, American Males and Nasty Boys and you’ll find the variety. Perhaps most impressive was seeing the star power that would enter the division such as The Outsiders (Kevin Nash and Scott Hall) or Lex Luger and Sting. Even towards the end, you would still get great quality with teams like Chris Benoit and Dean Malenko or Rey Mysterio and Billy Kidman.
4 Star Power
When Hulk Hogan left WWE and eventually joined WCW, it created a huge change in the wrestling landscape. Between the time Hogan left and the time Steve Austin ascended into superstardom, the WWE star power was nearly non-existent. Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels and Diesel were not viewed as mega-stars like WWE had become used to. Meanwhile, WCW was starting to take off and continued to by adding big names. Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Ric Flair, Sting, Lex Luger, Roddy Piper and then an established Bret Hart were all on the same roster. Blossoming stars like DDP and Goldberg would join the fold and give WCW a bigger star power until Steve Austin and The Rock took over for WWE.
With today’s wrestling world full of talent like Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins, Finn Balor and many more, you can tell the WCW Cruiserweight style influenced a generation of the future. In the 90s, smaller wrestlers who relied on high flying moves were seen as weaker and less of a priority so when WCW launched a Cruiserweight division and truly invested into it, it was groundbreaking. Arguably the greatest match in WCW history, Eddie Guerrero vs. Rey Mysterio at Halloween Havoc 1997 showed size wasn’t an issue if the quality was there. WWE tried their own light heavyweight division at the time and it completely flopped because there was no belief and lesser talent than WCW’s cruiserweights.
2 Main Event Storylines
The two greatest storylines during the Monday Night Wars were clearly from the WCW side. Scott Hall, Kevin Nash and eventually Hulk Hogan forming the New World Order was the first that obviously took WCW to the next level. More impressive was the following storyline pitting Sting against the nWo being given about a year and a half to play out and perfectly unfold. None of WWE’s storylines could compare even in their better days. WWE’s best assets were stars being made like Steve Austin, The Rock and Mick Foley rather than the actual stories that pushed them to the top.
Of all their positives, the best thing WCW better than WWE and any other wrestling promotion for that matter was provide variety. Old school fans were given Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Randy Savage and Roddy Piper. The diehard fans were granted technical wrestling masters like Chris Benoit and Dean Malenko. International fans were given Chris Jericho, Rey Mysterio and Eddie Guerrero. Fans that liked brawling were gifted memorable Raven vs. DDP bouts. Sting’s crow character was made for that generation of fans to invest into something cool and out of the ordinary. Basically, WCW had something for every kind of wrestling fan and no matter what their flaws were during the better days, you were always watching because there was something for you.
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