Eric Bischoff has discussed at length on both the 83 Weeks podcast and his book, Controversy Creates Cash, that when he took over WCW, there was some interesting research done as it related to wrestling fans and surprises. While it may seem intuitive, it was nonetheless noteworthy the degree to which the research found fans enjoyed being surprised. This finding would in many ways set the stage for how WCW booked from the mid-1990s until WWE bought out the company. There were a lot of swerves.
Swerves can be difficult to define exactly, but to put it in its most straightforward terms, they were occasions when things looked to be going one way and went another. This article takes a look at five times when that dynamic served well, and largely defined WCW, and five times it hurt them.
10 Defined WCW: Hulk Hogan Is The Third Man
There may have been no mystery story more potent in wrestling history than that of The Outsiders and the third man. Scott Hall and Kevin Nash built unparalleled intrigue upon their WCW debut, promising that they’d have a teammate to battle any three WCW stars at Bash at the Beach 1996.
When Hulk Hogan came to the ring at the climax of the match—after Hall and Nash had no third man with them, and after Lex Luger from the WCW team had been incapacitated—it looked as though he had arrived to help Sting and Randy Savage. That he would, instead, drop a leg on Savage and go on to verbally dismantle his old friends and fans was precisely the shocking heel turn to capitalize on Hall and Nash’s momentum and set the wrestling world on fire.
9 Hurt WCW: Curt Hennig Turns His Back On The Horsemen
After the New World Order had run rampant for sometime, the Four Horsemen succeeded in recruiting Curt Hennig to their ranks, taking Arn Anderson’s spot in the legendary faction. It was a touching moment and seemed to signal that the nWo’s dominance had come to an end, in favor of at least a more competitive war with a rival group.
The Horsemen battled the nWo in a War Games match, only for Hennig to turn on them, ultimately costing them the match.
This turn lived up to the nWo and Horsemen heelish ethos. Nonetheless, it felt like a letdown if only because WCW had pulled so many swerves of this ilk, and fans genuinely wanted to see Ric Flair and company get one up on the bad guys.
8 Defined WCW: Eric Bischoff Is Part Of The New World Order
In the heat of Roddy Piper’s late 1996 feud with Hulk Hogan, he revealed an unexpected truth. While Eric Bischoff had been a play by play announcer, and the increasingly well-educated fan base knew him to be a WCW executive, it turned out that, for storyline purposes, he was a double agent, using his influence to support the New World Order behind the scenes.
This swerve worked on a number of levels. Yes, it was a genuine surprise, but also a logical one for explaining how the New World Order got so much talent through the door to compete in WCW. On top of that, it was a swerve that served a higher purpose in elevating Bischoff to the top heel character he would thrive as.
7 Hurt WCW: Bret Hart’s Faux Face Turn
A September 1998 episode of Monday Nitro saw Bret Hart deliver an emotional promo that included apologizing to fans and seemingly turning face in the process. It seemed like a positive step for an organically popular star, and one who had been lost in the shuffle when relegated to a role player spot in the New World Order.
The end of that Nitro, however, would see Hart’s apology and apparent turn all revealed to be part of a scheme. Hart was, in reality, only setting up Sting whom he turned on and helped Hulk Hogan pummel in a swerve that was surprising but left pretty much every fan with a bad taste in their mouths.
6 Defined WCW: Scott Hall As An Obstacle To Goldberg
WCW famously booked Goldberg to defeat Hulk Hogan in front of a raucous Georgia Dome crowd in the summer of 1998. Earlier in the episode, however, it looked as though the promised big-time world title match wasn’t going to happen. Hogan revealed a returning Scott Hall, whom he announced Goldberg would have to defeat to get his title shot.
The writing was on the wall that Hall would steal the win, thus allowing WCW an out—getting to hold off on this match for a later date, and likely as not a PPV. However, the swerve turned out to be that Goldberg annihilated Hall to still get his match, then went on to beat Hogan cleanly in one of the last truly great Nitro moments.
5 Hurt WCW: Buff Bagwell Blows His Crowd Support
After suffering a legitimate neck injury as a result of a bulldog gone wrong from Rick Steiner, Buff Bagwell was out of action for quite some time. When he came back, he enjoyed a groundswell of support for the legitimate feel-good story of overcoming adversity and coming back to the business he loved.
Bagwell was set up for a big face run, particularly given that his old heel running buddy Scott Steiner had bad mouthed him in the interim. Rather than seeing through this organic face momentum, though, WCW used Bagwell’s return to immediately turn him heel as he betrayed Rick, siding with Scott. The moment did get him a big heel reaction, but felt as though it squandered a lot of good will in the process, and perhaps blew Bagwell’s best shot at graduating to the next level as a WCW star.
4 Defined WCW: Kevin Nash Powerbombs Eric Bischoff
For as difficult as it may be for fans to remember now, in mid-1996, Eric Bischoff’s on-screen character was still that of a run of the mill play by play announcer. He had never gotten physical on WCW television, but that all changed at the Great American Bash.
Kevin Nash and Scott Hall has arrived on the scene and promptly upped the stakes when Big Sexy power bombed Bischoff.
The moment lent The Outsiders an extra air of danger while signaling that no one was off-limits in this new era for WCW programming. It was a genuinely shocking moment that reinforces the idea that less was more—Hall and Nash hadn’t yet wrestled a match, but had solidified their positioning as the top heels in the company.
3 Hurt WCW: Bret Hart Restarts Sting Vs. Hulk Hogan
Starrcade 1997 featured one of the most eagerly anticipated main events in pro wrestling history when a returning Sting made good on nearly a year and a half of build to challenge Hollywood Hogan for the WCW Championship.
The general consensus is that the match should have been short and decisive, with Sting sending the fans home happy when he won. Eric Bischoff has discussed on 83 Weeks that he and others in power at WCW get Sting didn’t show up in appropriate shape to play out that story. So, WCW instead aimed to capitalize on the Montreal Screwjob, still fresh in fans’ minds. Hogan pinned Sting, only for newly arrived Bret Hart to demand the match restart on account of a phantom fast count on the pin. The convoluted finish was confusing and didn’t please much of anyone in what should have been a great night for WCW.
2 Defined WCW: Chris Jericho’s Streak Over Goldberg
Goldberg’s dominant undefeated steak offered one of the most compelling stories of WCW’s later years, and it was particularly special for the launch of a brand new main event level star. Lower on the card, Chris Jericho was gathering steam of his own. A part of that process saw him call out Goldberg.
Over a period of weeks, Jericho repeatedly challenged Goldberg when he wasn’t available, and claimed victory by forfeit every time Goldberg didn’t show. The surprising story garnered Jericho the sort of momentum that would foreshadow his far greater success in WWE over the years to follow.
1 Hurt WCW: The Finger Poke Of Doom
Shortly after Kevin’s Nash ended Goldberg’s undefeated streak and took the WCW Championship off of him at Starrcade 1998, Hulk Hogan returned to WCW to set up a dream match between him and Big Sexy.
That WCW would stage this first-time dream match with no build on Nitro wasn’t totally outside the company’s character in that era. The actual result was far worse than blowing a big match, though, as the infamous Finger Poke of Doom saw Hogan tap Nash’s shoulder, and Nash dramatically collapse to gift Hogan the title. The way the title was treated as a silly plot device undermined its prestige. Hogan and Nash reuniting the tired nWo faction underwhelmed everyone watching.