On March 26, 2001, World Championship Wrestling went out of business.
The Atlanta-based promotion, acquired in 1988 by media mogul Ted Turner of the Crockett family, sparked mainstream American interest in professional wrestling in the 1990s. WCW gained its popularity by signing former high profile WWE talent like Hulk Hogan and macho man Randy Savage. It became the leader in professional wrestling with the development of the WWE alternative WCW Monday Nitro on Monday night, which aired at the same time as WWE’s Monday Night Raw.
For 84 consecutive weeks, WCW’s weekly TVW ratings exceeded those of WWE. They introduced a more edgy sports entertainment brand, while Vince McMahon and his company relied on fancy gadgets aimed more at children than adults. Stars like Ric Flair, Sting, Goldberg and the NWO drove World Championship Wrestling and professional wrestling as a whole to unimaginable heights.
Eventually, WCW became its worst enemy. Their success resulted in creative and financial mismanagement. The power struggles between executives and talent in connection with the introduction of the Attitude Era by WWE resulted in the death of WCW. Vince McMahon bought WCW after the collapse, making it the undisputed winner of The Monday Night Wars.
Had World Championship Wrestling not become complacent and handled properly, it could have been in direct competition with the WWE to this day. On the 20th anniversary of his grand graduation, let’s examine why WCW worked.
Lack of leadership
Unlike Vince McMahon, Ted Turner didn’t micromanage his wrestling company. For McMahon, WWE was a family business. Turner’s purchase of WCW, however, was merely an acquisition of a company with enormous earnings potential. Instead, the former announcer who became executive producer Eric Bischoff ran WCW and made it more successful than ever.
His focus on the company began to wane when he joined the NWO as one of its leaders. Many of the wrestlers felt that Bischoff’s membership of the on-screen collective led by Hulk Hogan affected his ability to run the company.
His preference for certain wrestlers and his fixation on destroying the WWE resulted in bad decisions that might not have been made if Bischoff had been more of a pragmatic boss than a selfish showman.
A crowded roster
The cool factor of the NWO put them at the forefront of WCW programming. The idea of a radical entity besieging Ted Turner’s company attracted wrestling fans looking for a more realistic and mature product, and the crowd watched as Hogan, Hall, Nash and their comrades battled the good guys from WCW, the sought to thwart their attempt at a hostile takeover.
But because it dominated the main event scene, the NWO seized the opportunity for more television time and a higher ranking on the map of hungry young talent and veterans who still had a lot to offer. WCW’s failure to use its talent created a toxic work environment, forcing wrestlers to practice their profession elsewhere, mostly in the WWE.
WCW’s reliance on stars from other entertainment media helped attract viewers from casual fans and people unfamiliar with pro wrestling at all. Stars like Dennis Rodman and Karl Malone have given promotion legitimacy by stepping between the ropes and teaching the world to see wrestlers as athletes and entertainers at their level.
Unfortunately, WCW’s other celebrity cameos have usually been moments that highlighted the company’s lack of sound judgment, especially as it headed into the past few days. They ran the rap group Insane Clown Posse as in-ring competitors, made David Arquette their world champion, and for some reason gave hip-hop mogul Master P his own faction. WCW’s unpredictable stunt casting saw it desperately cling to any celebrity who might get them attention, notoriety, and ratings.
Error creating new stars
The WCW signing of Hogan, Hall, Nash and other WWE stars meant they were now number one in wrestling promotions. When people saw Vince McMahon turning into megastars, they switched to WCW, creating the impression that they were offering something that WWE couldn’t offer its audience or its wrestlers. While WCW tirelessly emptied WWE’s talent pool, it failed to develop and nurture its own.
Talents like Ric Flair and Sting had made a name for themselves in pro-wrestling before Ted Turner bought WCW, and their NWO’s popularity depended on being WWE guys Vince had sent to tear down the company. WCW’s only organic superstar was Goldberg, but poor booking decisions and an injury shattered his and the company’s momentum.
Many of the stars who left WWE for WCW did so not because WCW was the new frontier in pro-wrestling, but because of the large sums of money they were guaranteed whether they wrestled or not. At the time, WWE wasn’t the billion dollar company it is today. Eric Bischoff took advantage of McMahon’s inability to provide guaranteed contracts by promising fortunes to WWE cast members who were looking for more money and less work.
Unfortunately, that failed at WCW when stars like Kevin Nash took advantage of Ted Turner’s checkbook. Nash, Hogan, and Macho Man had creative control clauses in their contracts that enabled them to refuse to follow a suggested action and allowed them to show up to work and get paid anyway. The NWO’s popularity paid off during the WWE showdown for WCW, but their ridiculous contracts turned out to be harder than they were worth.
Obsession with reviews
WCW’s weekly WWE thrashing in the ratings suggested Vince McMahon was about to wave the white flag. It couldn’t keep up with Turner’s bank account or WCW’s innovative presentation. However, Eric Bischoff’s hubris and obsession with putting WWE out of business eventually became a commitment.
Bischoff’s rating fetish led to the end of decisions that would have resulted in high pay-per-view paydays for WCW. His desire to outperform WWE made him gift a highly anticipated WCW championship title match between Hulk Hogan and the glowing Goldberg on an episode of Monday Nitro for free.
Bischoff also shot himself in the foot by advising announcer Tony Shiovanne to reveal the results of the pre-recorded WWE title match between The Rock and Mankind that drove millions of fans to switch to WWE programming.
The creation of the New World Order has been a gift and a curse to WCW. It was the catalyst for their nearly two-year dominance on the top of pro-wrestling mountain. but in many ways it was WCW’s poison pill. The NWO’s controversial antics, both on and off-screen, created tension between them and the rest of the WCW list as the company obscenely promoted the group.
Aside from WCW’s overexposure to the group in all segments, the recruiting process was not exclusive. It seems that anyone who wants to join the NWO could join. The various iterations and spin-offs, including Kevin Nash-led villain NWO Wolfpac and a group of frustrated Latin wrestlers LWO, Latino World Order, watered down WCW’s most profitable act and eventually reduced it to a shell of its former self.
Vince Russo is arguably the most hated man in professional wrestling. He is the main culprit among wrestling fans and enthusiasts who are to blame for mentioning the final days of World Championship wrestling. The former WWE writer’s one-year tenure with the company was the lowest creative point and bottomed out when he took over the Match Booker.
Russo’s nonsensical storylines and wacky surfaces felt like they were taken from a National Lampoon movie (for example, the ghastly Viagra On a Pole match). When he wasn’t writing terrible angles for incredible performers, he was creating chaotic scenes behind the scenes through manipulation and antagonization. Vince Russo’s time at WCW was so tumultuous that many believed Vince McMahon sent him to bring WCW down from within.
Vince McMahon was fighting for his life against WCW. With fan interest waning and his roster drained by Turner and Bischoff, it looked like McMahon was down for the count. But the WWE Chairman couldn’t watch and let WCW take away everything his father had built.
McMahon took a page from his competitor’s book. He relaxed the restrictions on his superstars and allowed them and his programming to align more with the shock culture of the 90s. But unlike WCW, McMahon’s willingness to invest in new talent rather than nostalgic well-known acts spawned the most iconic stars in the industry like Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, and WWE’s rebellious D-Generation-X faction.
Can you think of any other reasons why WCW isn’t here today?
Turn off the sound on Twitter @Popdust with the hashtag #ListedByDeascent and let us know!