Once, a wrestler jumping from one promotion to another was rather commonplace in the business. In the ‘80s, guys would bounce around a lot from WWE to NWA/Jim Crockett/WCW and even some of the smaller territories. The ‘90s had the Monday Night War increasing such jumps with ECW getting involved. You don’t see it as much today although there are still cases of guys jumping from WWE to TNA and back and it boosts their attention up more. AJ Styles is a notable case of a TNA guy who became an even bigger star in WWE. It can be a risk to jump as you can get the shots you need to take off as a champion. But there’s a downside as too many guys have suffered jumping ship badly.
Sometimes, they’re lost in the environment of their new home. Other times, they get bad character makeovers while some audiences just won’t accept them as they did in their old companies. It’s happened numerous times as so many guys have regressed badly jumping from one promotion to another. However, true stardom can never be truly denied and thus some guys end up becoming much bigger stars in their new homes. It can be a game in ways to see how it works but when it does, the benefits for the wrestler and the fan are major.
Here are 10 major cases of a guy who became a bigger star moving between WWE and WCW and 10 who got buried to remind you of the time when jumping between promotions was a major deal.
20 Bigger Star: Edge
Adam Copeland grew up a WWE fan in Canada. He and best friend William Reso were even in the crowd for WrestleMania VI. However, Copeland’s entry into wrestling came via WCW. He’d been doing work in Canada before hired for the company in 1995. As Damon Striker and then Sexton Hardcastle, he was pretty much just a jobber for various heels. In 1998, Copeland was hired to WWE and given the character of Edge.
It took a while but once he and Reso (as Christian) got together, the two were soon multiple tag team champions. It paved the way for Edge’s fantastic singles career as one of the biggest stars in WWE. Thus, if you go over some old WCW shows from ’95, you’ll see a major case of “before they were famous” in wrestling.
19 Got Buried: Bret Hart
There’s no denying that joining WCW was a bad move for Bret Hart. He really didn’t have a choice as, despite all his great work as a star and champion in WWE, Vince wanted out of his huge contact. Bret accepted a WCW deal despite how he loved WWE. That set up the entire mess of Montreal.
Sadly, Bret was heading into a company where the backstage environment was the wild west. His big debut was….being the special referee for a match between Eric Bischoff and Larry Zbyszko. Bret was never used nearly to his potential in WCW as even his time as a World Champion was a mess. That’s not to mention numerous injuries and other personal tragedies. Bret has few fond memories of his WCW tenure to show how much of a mess leaving WWE was.
18 Bigger Star: Triple H
It’s downright hysterical to look back at Hunter in WCW. He first started out as Terra Ryzing. He moved on to be Jean-Paul Levesque, a supposed aristocrat. While some in WCW (like Ric Flair) saw potential in Levesque, he was just used as a jobber type in TV shows. He lucked out joining WWE as Vince wanted someone to be a character meant to mock his Greenwich neighbors. Levesque was thus Hunter Hearst Helmsley, a blue blood snob and managed to make it work.
It took a while with the addition of Chyna and joining DX, but Triple H was on the rise to become a multiple champion as well as major power figure (on screen and behind the scenes) for WWE. From such humble WCW beginnings rose a WWE mainstay.
17 Got Buried: Vader
From the start, Vader was simply an awesome figure in the ring. A big guy, Vader was lithe, able to take flight off the ropes and a legitimately stiff worker. He held the WCW World title for nearly a year and dominated even when Hulk Hogan tried to cut him down. After a backstage altercation with Paul Orndorff, Vader moved to WWE, expecting them to push him more as the monster. However, he was marred from the start needing to have some surgery and time off.
His feud with Shawn Michaels was shortened by egos backstage that vetoed his title win and a bad face turn in 1997 didn’t help either. For all his amazing stardom, Vader never took over in WWE as he did in WCW and flopped after this jump.
16 Bigger Star: Chris Jericho
It’s pretty hard to find a better case of a guy who instantly benefited from jumping ship. Chris Jericho had started out a babyface in WWE but was soon getting over as an arrogant heel. His promos were golden and his great ring work made him an impressive Cruiserweight champion. Jericho thought he had the goods as he began a feud with Goldberg that was meant to end in an epic clash. When he was told it would be a squash, Jericho realized WCW just wasn’t going to let him rise.
He leapt to WWE, getting a fantastic debut and soon taking off majorly. Since then, Jericho has held just about every title in the company several times, and is one of the most well rounded performers ever.
15 Got Buried: Madusa
She’s said it was the biggest mistake of her life. Medusa had done some work in WCW in 1991 as the special agent for the Dangerous Alliance. In WWE, she was Alundra Blayze and winning the newly reactivated Women’s title. She did well facing a variety of challenges but in 1995, bad business led to WWE deactivating the division. Madusa wasn’t happy about that as she was swayed to join WCW. In an infamous moment, she showed up on “Nitro” to dump the Women’s title belt in the trash.
That was a bad move as WCW never really did anything with a women’s division. Madusa was barely used except for a forgettable turn as Cruiserweight champion. She has regretted the move as she burned bridges with the jump to WCW.
14 Bigger Stars: The Radicalz
So much is made of the numerous problems of WCW in 1999. They had a great selection of young and promising stars but ignored them to keep to the same old guys all the time. Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko and Perry Saturn were four guys with potential to become real stars but WCW kept pushing them down. In early 2000, the four were part of a group who basically marched to the office and demanded their releases.
All four showed up on RAW as The Radicalz and were instantly over. Benoit and Guerrero would obviously be the biggest stars of the group as major champions but Malenko and Saturn had good success as well. It showcased how WCW’s refusal to use their guys properly led to the loss of four great workers at once.
13 Got Buried: Davey Boy Smith
Smith had broken out in WWE as one half of the British Bulldogs, a fantastic tag team who held the titles for a while. After a few years, Smith went into singles work, winning the IC title off of Bret Hart in a terrific SummerSlam battle. Despite how he wasn’t a mega-star, Smith was popular enough to get signed to WCW. His tenure was marked by the infamous Beach Blast tag match and a poor feud with Vader. Smith was back in WWE in less than a year for a successful time as tag team champion with Owen Hart.
After Survivor Series '97, Smith followed Bret to WCW but was booked badly. That included Fall Brawl ’98 where Smith took a backdrop onto a trap door (which he didn’t know was there) that messed up his back. Thus, heading to WCW was all around a bad move.
12 Bigger Star: Scott Hall
Scott Hall had been trying for years to break out as a babyface but just couldn’t do it. In 1991, he got a much needed makeover in WCW as the Diamond Studd. He had slicked hair, chewed on a toothpick and a killer instinct he’d long lacked. His Diamond Drop move was impressive but he just wasn’t getting the push WCW had promised. Heading to WWE, Hall reworked the act into Razor Ramon, a knockoff of Tony Montana from Scarface. It got him over as a heel who would challenge for the WWE title and win over fans.
Indeed, the act was so good that Ramon became a face and a multiple IC champion. One of the biggest stars of the era, Hall used his clout to get over to WCW and with the Outsiders, remake the company. There’s no denying that WCW failed to use Hall properly while WWE did much better.
11 Got Buried: Ricky Steamboat
Ricky Steamboat joined WWE in 1985 and rose up well. It was his epic feud with Randy Savage that made him famous and led to their classic IC title match at WrestleMania III. Steamboat faltered a bit wanting time off for his family and left the company in 1988. He returned in the NWA in 1989 to win the World title and was a dependable worker. In 1991, Steamboat returned to WWE as “The Dragon” in a goofy costume.
However, he never got the promised pushes, used just for tag bouts and some forgettable TV matches. Just months after joining, Steamboat left to return to WCW and instantly won the tag titles. He’d hold the TV and US belts a few times before his retirement in 1994 to show his ’91 run with the company wasn’t something he was happy about.
10 Bigger Star: Kevin Nash
With his huge size and charisma, Kevin Nash had the goods to be something in wrestling. WCW, however, kept saddling him with one bad gimmick after another. Nash headed to WWE where he was made into Diesel, Shawn Michaels’ bodyguard. His performance eliminating seven guys at the 1994 Royal Rumble made him popular and in months, he’d won the IC, tag team and WWE titles. His run as champion in 1995 was bad but he was still a huge star.
Nash used that newfound stardom to head to WCW and get the nWo started, but it was WWE that gave him the star power he’d use in his later career.
9 Got Buried: Marc Mero
A very good worker in his prime, Marc Mero was pushed in WCW as Johnny B. Badd. Mero did well in the role with his good in-ring work. He held the TV title a few times and was a popular guy. He managed to trick WWE in giving him a very large contract in 1996 and was soon pushed as “Wildman” Marc Mero. He even won the IC title in a tournament. But WWE soon realized that without the Badd act, Mero lacked the charisma to win fans over and just wasn’t connecting. He lost the title to Triple H and soon lowered down the card. An attempt to remake him as a boxer type didn’t take either. Ironically, his wife, Rena, went on to become a much bigger star as Sable.
8 Bigger Star: The Big Show
Some can argue this as Show was already a big deal in WCW. As The Giant, he made his debut targeting Hulk Hogan,and winning the World title. But as 1998 went on, he was basically lost in the mix of the New World Order mess, becoming a glorified jobber. Paul Wight recognized how bad things were getting and decided to get out while he was marketable. In WWE, he was the Big Show and his size made him a major figure. By the end of 1999, he’d won his first WWE title.
Since then, Show has been a dependable figure in the company, whether a monstrous heel or a goofy face. He’s held the WWE and World titles a few times along with runs as tag team, Hardcore, ECW and US champion. While he's probably stuck around longer than most would like, there's no doubt making the jump was the smartest move he ever made.
7 Got Buried: William Regal
A terrific worker, Regal got over in WCW as “Lord” Steven Regal. He was a very good upper mid-card guy, holding the TV title and able to get good matches out of most anyone. In 1998, a combination of a bad match with Goldberg and personal issues led to Regal leaving WCW. He headed to WWE who gave him the gimmick of “A Man’s Man”, which completely unsuited him. Regal clearly hated it as he was only put on the B-shows and no real push of his own. He returned to WCW and did a bit better. He then returned to WWE where he was smartly pushed as the aristocrat type for runs as European champion and WWE commissioner.
6 Bigger Star: Mick Foley
He never had the look. However, Mick Foley’s drive and inhuman ability to absorb punishment did win him favor for WCW. As Cactus Jack, he did well with a run as tag team champion and an epic feud with Vader. But Foley couldn't stand the backstage nature of WCW. When he took a Vader power bomb on concrete and the announcers completely no-sold it, Foley knew it was time to leave. He went to ECW first to beef up his hardcore credit.
His debut as Mankind was notable was instantly getting the better of The Undertaker. This fired up a career with the HIAC match and an unlikely star. That was proven when WCW foolishly gave away that he would win the WWE title, causing thousands of Nitro viewers to switch to RAW to watch it. Foley showcased a true star WCW lost out on.
5 Got Buried: Fred Ottoman
You have to feel for this guy. He broke out as the Big Steel Man in Florida when Dusty was doing booking there (and, of course, always the champion of the promotion) and then Dusty got him hired for WWE. His act as the goofy Tugboat wasn’t that notable but he did get better when he turned heel to become Typhoon.
In 1993, Dusty got Ottoman a job at WCW with a character meant to be the big challenger for world champion Vader. He was to have a huge debut and get over with his look as The Shockmaster. Instead, as everyone knows, he had the laughable debut of falling through a wall and losing his helmet, squandering any potential in the gimmick in seconds.
4 Bigger Star: The Undertaker
It’s still amazing to see how WCW once had one of the biggest stars in all of wrestling under contract. In 1989, Mark Callous was doing well as a giant. As “Mean Mark,” he had a good look with a biker motif and his huge height making him impressive. He worked as part of The Skyscrapers but that didn’t go anywhere. In mid-1990, he left the company and journeyed to WWE. His new gimmick of a superficial figure in funeral clothes sounded idiotic. Instead, thanks to his in-ring talents and amazing charisma, Calaway make The Undertaker one of the most iconic figures in all of wrestling history. It’s astounding that WCW had no idea of the star they’d give away.
3 Got Buried: Ray Traylor
Ray Traylor had gotten over in JCP as Big Bubba Rogers, a tough enforcer for Jim Cornette. It was joining WWE that made him more famous as The Big Bossman, a former corrections guard who was pretty impressive in the ring for his size. Originally a heel, Bossman was soon a face and one of the more popular guys of his time. In 1993, he returned to WCW, first as the Boss. When WWE’s legal team stepped in, Traylor transformed himself into the Guardian Angel. That didn’t take either so he went back to Big Bubba.
He just was lost in the chaos of WCW of the time and nowhere near as effective. He returned to WWE as the Bossman for a run as tag team and Hardcore Champion to show he was better off as this character.
2 Bigger Star: Steve Austin
Steve Austin was also a guy ready for major stardom. Sadly, WCW didn’t seem to recognize that. Austin had good stuff there as TV, US and tag team champion and reports were Ric Flair wanted him for a main event run in 1994. However, the coming of Hulk Hogan changed all of that. Austin was shoved down the card majorly to the point he had to drop the U.S. title to Jim Duggan in about 10 seconds. He was rehabbing a torn tricep when he was fired by FedEx messenger.
Upset as ever, Austin used that fire to get himself over in ECW. His early stuff in WWE wasn’t notable as “The Ringmaster.” It was cutting loose with Austin 3:16 and being himself that made Stone Cold the biggest star in the business and WWE never ceases to mock WCW on just giving him away.
1 Got Buried: Ron Simmons
A former star at Florida State, Ron Simmons came into WCW as a beefy muscle man. He and Butch Reed found success as Doom, holding the tag titles and a dominant team. Simmons broke out nicely as a singles star and in 1992 won the WCW world title. He still had some good potential despite a few injuries and it was hoped his arrival in WWE in 1996 could boost him up more.
Sadly, he was saddled with a laughable costume as Faarooq that hampered any potential to be taken seriously. He transformed himself into the leader of The Nation of Domination but that was scrapped when The Rock became a bigger star. Simmons was basically used as a jobber for some time until he and Bradshaw found success in the APA. However, given how huge he was in WCW, fans can’t deny Simmons regressed badly in WWE.