History of World Championship Wrestling
The history of World Championship Wrestling (WCW) is the history of the American professional wrestling promotion that existed from 1988 to 2001. It began as a promotion affiliated with the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) that appeared on the national scene under the ownership of media mogul Ted Turner and based in Atlanta, Georgia. The name came from a wrestling television program that aired on TBS in the 1980s, which had taken the name from an Australian wrestling promotion of the 1970s.
In the 1990s, World Championship Wrestling, along with the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), were the top two wrestling promotions in the United States. Its flagship show WCW Monday Nitro went head-to-head with WWF Raw is War in a ratings battle known as the Monday Night Wars. However, lackluster storylines, the increasing popularity of the WWF's Attitude Era, interference and restrictions from Time Warner eventually led to its decline and eventual acquisition of key assets by its main competition; Vince McMahon and the WWF (now WWE).
- 1 NWA years
- 2 WCW under Ted Turner
- 3 Eric Bischoff era
- 4 Signs of a decline
- 5 Acquisition by the World Wrestling Federation and aftermath
- 6 Notes
- 7 References
Although World Championship Wrestling was a brand name used by promoter Jim Barnett for his Australian promotion, the first promotion in the United States to use the World Championship Wrestling brand name (though it was never referred to as "WCW") on a wide scale was Georgia Championship Wrestling (GCW). GCW, owned primarily by Jack Brisco and Gerald Brisco and booked by Ole Anderson, was the first NWA territory to gain cable television access.
After founding his own company, Titan Sports Inc. in 1980, in 1982, Vincent K. McMahon purchased his father's Capitol Wrestling Corporation (CWC) and merged it into Titan Sports Inc. Under his leadership, the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) became the top promotion in North America, and GCW devised the name "World Championship Wrestling" in an effort to compete. In 1982, GCW changed the name of its television show (and thus its public face) to World Championship Wrestling since it was already starting to run shows in "neutral" territories such as Ohio and Michigan. These efforts helped to keep GCW competitive against the WWF, as both promotions had secured television deals and were trying to become national, as opposed to regional, entities. The change in name helped make GCW the top promotion once again, until the WWF was able to officially leave the NWA and create the show WWF All American Wrestling. The NWA, led by the President of Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, Jim Crockett, countered by creating Starrcade in the fall of 1983, thus propelling it back to the top, but Vince McMahon again regained the lead with Hulk Hogan's dramatic world title victory at Madison Square Garden in January 1984, as well as the creation of the television show Tuesday Night Titans.
On April 9, 1984, the Brisco brothers sold their shares in GCW, including their prime time slot on the TBS cable television network, to Vince McMahon. However, GCW's core audience was not interested in the WWF's gimmick-based approach, preferring a more athletic style. As a result, when GCW's television viewers tuned into TBS on July 14, 1984 and saw WWF programming instead, they were outraged and sent complaints to the network demanding the return of GCW. This day has since gone down in wrestling lore as Black Saturday. Adding fuel to the fire was the fact that, despite originally promising to produce original programming for the TBS time slot, McMahon chose instead to provide only a clip show for TBS featuring highlights from other WWF programming, a move which angered network head Ted Turner and was a major factor in his decision to discontinue showing the WWF on his network. Luckily for Turner, Ole Anderson had refused to sell his shares in GCW to the WWF, and he teamed with fellow holdout shareholders Fred Ward and Ralph Freed to create Championship Wrestling from Georgia. Turner quickly secured a television deal with the new promotion, as well as with Bill Watts' Mid-South Wrestling.
Jim Crockett Promotions
In March 1985, McMahon sold his TBS time slot and the "World Championship Wrestling" name to Jim Crockett Promotions (JCP), owned by Jim Crockett, Jr., under pressure from Ted Turner. The WWF and its major superstar, Hulk Hogan, however, were now the superior figures of wrestling after the success of the first WrestleMania, so the sale took place to successfully put the company in better shape. The new WCW, which was now a combination of JCP (Mid-Atlantic Wrestling) and Championship Wrestling from Georgia, was now the top show on TBS, and Jim Crockett, Jr. became NWA President for the second time.
By 1986, Jim Crockett Promotions controlled key portions of the NWA, including the traditional NWA territories in North and South Carolina, Georgia, and St. Louis. JCP merged its NWA territories into one group, promoting under the banner "NWA World Championship Wrestling". A feud between Crockett and Vince McMahon's WWF sprang up, and the companies attempted to outmaneuver each other to acquire key television slots. It was the WWF, however, who was able to become a hit in St. Louis (and the rest of Missouri as well), which brought trouble to the NWA Central States. The WWF was able to become a hit across the country as well, as the feud between Hulk Hogan and Paul Orndorff appealed to a large audience. Following this, Bob Geigel became the NWA President once again.
In the same year, JCP also purchased Heart of America Sports Attractions, promoters of the Central States territory, which owned the rights to promote wrestling shows through the states of Kansas, Missouri and Iowa.
In 1987, JCP would enter into an agreement to control Championship Wrestling from Florida (though JCP never bought that company), and Universal Wrestling Federation (which covered Oklahoma, Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana, and which was no longer an NWA member); this helped make Crockett NWA President once again. The Florida and Mid-South territories (along with those companies' rosters of wrestlers) were absorbed into WCW. Jim Crockett Promotions now owned NWA St. Louis, the Universal Wrestling Federation, Mid-Atlantic, Central States Wrestling, Championship Wrestling from Georgia and Championship Wrestling from Florida as well.
JCP had almost accomplished its goal of creating a national promotion. Between the purchasing of several NWA territories, World Class Championship Wrestling in Texas leaving the NWA in 1986 (and later merging with Jerry Jarrett's Championship Wrestling Alliance in Memphis to create the United States Wrestling Association brand), and the once highly viable Pacific Northwest territory, as it had been known, closing in 1992, WCW was the last bastion of the NWA, and the last member with national television exposure. Since it was all they now saw, people began to believe that WCW was the NWA. Although WCW and the NWA were still two separate entities, with Crockett as NWA President, they were very much on the same page. The NWA was effectively an on-paper organization funded by Jim Crockett Promotions, and allowed JCP to use the NWA brand name for promoting.
With the large amount of capital needed to take a wrestling promotion on a national tour, the various territorial acquisitions had seriously drained JCP's coffers. He was in a similar situation to that of the WWF in the early 1980s: a large debt load, and the success or failure of a federation hinging on the success or failure of a series of pay-per-view events. In 1987, JCP marketed Starrcade as the NWA's answer to WrestleMania. However, the WWF promoted Survivor Series on the same day. The WWF informed cable companies that if they chose to carry Starrcade, they would not be allowed to carry future WWF events. The vast majority of companies showed Survivor Series (only five opted to remain loyal to their contract with Crockett, resulting in only an $80,000 profit after expenses).
In January 1988, JCP promoted Bunkhouse Stampede, and McMahon counter-programmed with the first Royal Rumble on USA Network. Both NWA events achieved low buyrates, and the resulting financial blow led to the beginning of the end for JCP. The decision to hold these events in Chicago and New York alienated the Crockett's main fanbase in the Carolinas, hampering their drawing power for arena shows in the Southeast.
In 1985, Crockett had signed Dusty Rhodes and made him booker for what was now WCW. Rhodes had a reputation for creativity and authored many of the memorable feuds and story lines of this period and gimmick matches like WarGames. By 1988, after three years of competition with Vince McMahon, and a long political struggle with champion Ric Flair, Rhodes was burnt out. Fans were sick of the Dusty finish (and other non-endings for shows) that had obliterated the once-profitable house show market. One of the last creative aspects Dusty Rhodes initiated was the first Clash of the Champions, on the night of WrestleMania IV. For a quarter-hour, the Ric Flair vs. Sting match gained more viewers than WrestleMania; the epic match also made Sting a top player for WCW. By the end of 1988, Rhodes was booking cards seemingly at random, and planning at one point to have mid-card wrestler Rick Steiner defeat Ric Flair in a five-minute match at Starrcade for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. After Starrcade '88, Rhodes was fired by the promotion after an angle he booked on November 26, where Road Warrior Animal pulled a spike out of his shoulder pad and jammed it in Rhodes's eye busting it wide open, despite a strict "no-blood" policy laid down by Turner after his recent purchase of the company.
WCW under Ted Turner
To preserve the inexpensive network programming provided by professional wrestling, Jim Crockett Promotions was purchased outright by Turner on October 11, 1988. Originally incorporated by TBS as the Universal Wrestling Corporation, Turner promised fans that WCW would be the athlete-oriented style of the NWA. The sale was completed sometime after November 21, 1988.
1989 proved to be a turnaround year for WCW, with Ric Flair on top for most of the year as both World Champion and head booker. Flair helped bring in Ricky Steamboat and Terry Funk, and his pay-per-view matches with Steamboat were financially and critically successful. Young stars such as Sid Vicious, Sting, Scott Steiner, The Road Warriors, Brian Pillman, The Great Muta and Lex Luger were given major storylines and championship opportunities. 1990, however, would be an entirely different story, as Flair would be fired from being head booker in March 1990 after WCW talent began to argue that Flair was booking things in his favor. One of these examples was Flair's refusal to drop the WCW World title to Lex Luger, as he had already promised to drop it to Sting, who himself had been injured earlier in the year. Flair was eventually replaced by Ole Anderson.
Despite this influx of talent, WCW soon began working to gradually incorporate much of the glamour and showy gimmicks for which the WWF was better known. Virtually none of these stunts—such as the live cross-promotional appearance of RoboCop at a pay-per-view event in 1990, the Chamber of Horrors gimmick, and the notorious Black Scorpion storyline—succeeded. In addition, house shows were also dropping to record lows after Ole continuously pushed older wrestlers who were loyal to him during the shows. Behind the scenes, WCW was becoming more autonomous and slowly started separating itself from the historic NWA name. In January 1991, WCW officially split from the NWA and began to recognize its own WCW World Heavyweight Championship and WCW World Tag Team Championship.
Both WCW and the NWA recognized Ric Flair (who was by now no longer the head booker) as their World Heavyweight Champion throughout most of the first half of 1991, but WCW, particularly recently installed company president Jim Herd, who was once the regional manager of Pizza Hut, turned against Flair for various reasons and fired him before The Great American Bash in July 1991 after failed contract negotiations. In the process, they officially stripped him of the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. According to Flair's autobiography, they refused to return the $25,000 deposit he had put down on the physical belt, so he kept it and brought it with him when he was hired by the WWF at the request of Vince McMahon. Flair then incorporated the belt into his gimmick, dubbing himself "The Real World's Champion". On a sidenote, Flair eventually received his deposit which with interest was over $38,000. WCW later renegotiated the use of the NWA name as a co-promotional gimmick with New Japan Pro Wrestling and sued the WWF to stop showing Flair with the old NWA World Title belt on its programs, claiming a trademark on the physical design of the belt. The belt was returned to WCW by Flair when Jim Herd was let go and he received his deposit back plus interest. It was brought back as the revived NWA World Heavyweight Championship.
Meanwhile, the creative product of the company sank in 1991 and 1992 under the presidency of the inexperienced Herd. Ric Flair, who had conflicts with Herd, once stated that Herd "knew nothing about wrestling, other than the fact that the station he ran had a hot show." According to Flair, Herd also wanted him to drop his entire "Nature Boy" persona, shave his head (even though Flair's bleach blonde hair was one of his most recognizable trademarks) and adopt a Roman gladiator gimmick by the name of Spartacus in order to "change with the times". This didn't sit too well with Flair and the committee (Committee member Kevin Sullivan was quoted as saying, "After we change Flair's gimmick, why don't we go to Yankee Stadium and change Babe Ruth's uniform number?"). This backstage feud hit its breaking point when, during contract renegotiation, Flair refused to take a pay cut and be moved away from the main event position (despite the fact that he was by far the company's biggest draw). He also refused to drop the title to Lex Luger as Herd wanted. Herd accused Flair of holding up the company. Flair tried to compromise to Herd and offered to drop the title to fellow Horseman Barry Windham, saying that Windham deserved the title. Herd was fired in January 1992 and was succeeded by Kip Allen Frey, who would be replaced himself later in the year by "Cowboy" Bill Watts.
1992 would also prove to be another bad year for WCW as well, as Watts would make top rope moves - which were common by Brian Pillman and the Steiner Brothers - illegal during wrestling matches. This was part of Watts' plans to take the WCW product back to 1970s standards, with poorly lit arenas and house shows in remote rural towns. This idea was not overly embraced by the rest of WCW. After clashes with management over a number of issues as well as feeling pressure from Hank Aaron over a racially sensitive piece of correspondence, he resigned. He was subsequently replaced by Eric Bischoff.
Final split with the NWA
During the period that WCW operated with its own World Heavyweight Champion, while also recognizing the NWA's world title, Flair left the WWF on good terms and returned to WCW, regaining the title from Barry Windham in July 1993. Immediately, the other, now smaller, member organizations of the NWA began demanding that Flair defend the title under their rules in their territories, as mandated by old NWA agreements. The title was later scheduled to be dropped by Flair to Rick Rude, a title change which was exposed by the Disney Tapings (discussed in more detail below). The NWA board of directors, working separately from WCW, objected to the title being change without their vote and WCW finally left the NWA for good again in September 1993. WCW still legally owned and used the actual belt which represented the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, however, and Rick Rude even defended it as the "Big Gold Belt", but they could no longer use the NWA name. A fictional subsidiary, dubbed WCW International, was created to inject credibility back into the belt. The title thus became known as the WCW International World Heavyweight Championship (as the World Heavyweight Championship as sanctioned by WCW International). WCW claimed that WCW International still recognized the belt as a legitimate World Championship. For a short while, there were essentially two world titles up for competition in the organization. Sting eventually lost the WCW International Championship to WCW Champion Ric Flair in a unification match on June 23, 1994 when the experiment was jettisoned. The Big Gold Belt was then used to represent the lone World Title in the company. It was used as such until WCW's closure in 2001, and for a time in the WWF. It was subsequently replaced with a similar belt, that is used to this day, modified with a WWE logo engraved on the top.
Eric Bischoff era
There were signs of gradual recovery in early 1993 when former commentator Eric Bischoff was appointed as Executive Vice President of WCW. Bischoff, originally brought in as a secondary commentator behind Jim Ross after the AWA folded, was desperate to give WCW a new direction and impressed Turner's top brass with his non-confrontational tactics and business savvy. Ross, upset that a man who once answered to him was now his supervisor, requested and received a release from TBS executive Bill Shaw (after suggestion from Bischoff) and ended up in the rival World Wrestling Federation (WWF).
Bischoff's first year running the company was considered extremely unsuccessful. Dusty Rhodes and Ole Anderson were still in full creative control at this point, and under their watch WCW presented cartoonish storylines as well as seemingly pointless feuds with little or no build-up (for instance, the "Lost in Cleveland" and "Spin the Wheel, Make the Deal" angles involving Cactus Jack and Sting respectively, as well as the "White Castle of Fear" and Beach Blast mini-movies).
The "Lost in Cleveland" storyline began when Cactus Jack (Mick Foley) first wrestled Vader on April 6, 1993. Foley and Vader wanted an intense match, so they agreed that Vader would hit Cactus with a series of heavy blows to the face. WCW edited the match heavily because it was against their policies to show the heavy bleeding that resulted. Foley suffered a broken nose, a dislocated jaw and needed twenty-seven stitches, but won the match via countout. Because the title did not change hands on a countout, WCW booked a rematch. Foley, however, wanted some time off to be with his newborn daughter and get surgery to repair a knee injury. As a result, in the rematch with Vader on April 23, the two executed a dangerous spot to sell a storyline injury. Vader removed the protective mats at ringside and power-bombed Cactus onto the exposed concrete floor, causing a legitimate concussion and causing Foley to temporarily lose sensation in his left foot and hand. While Foley was away, WCW ran an angle where Cactus Jack's absence was explained with a farcical comedy storyline in which he went crazy, was institutionalized, escaped, and developed amnesia. Foley had wanted the injury storyline to be very serious and generate genuine sympathy for him before his return. The comedy vignettes that WCW produced instead were so bad that Foley jokes in his autobiography that they were the brainchild of WCW executives, who regarded a surefire moneymaking feud as a problem that needed to be solved.
In May 1993, WCW began the aforementioned Disney Tapings, a move which would grow into a major headache for them. In order to save money, the promotion rented out a studio located at the Disney-MGM Studios in Orlando, Florida, and proceeded to tape its syndicated television programming months before it was to air on television. Wrestlers were often forced to appear on-camera with belts they would not actually win for several more months, exposing future WCW storylines to those in attendance (most of whom were tourists who had been coached to cheer and boo on cue). Footage of Rude with the NWA title shot at these tapings had caused the controversy with the NWA discussed above. Moreover, the tapings also caused confusion in the tag team division, as they had revealed that Arn Anderson and Paul Roma were to win the WCW World tag team titles from The Hollywood Blonds (Steve Austin and Brian Pillman). The promotion had decided to swerve the fans at the live Beach Blast pay-per-view event in July and keep the titles on the Blonds, but the live Clash of the Champions XXIV show was to take place in August before the already-shot footage of Anderson and Roma as tag team champions was to begin circulating in September. However, before the Clash event, Pillman was injured and unable to wrestle, forcing Lord Steven Regal to replace him alongside Austin. Of course, Anderson and Roma won the titles, and the Blonds, an immensely popular tag team with fans, were inexplicably broken up permanently.
Clash of the Champions XXIV saw WCW's reputation take another hit. In 1993, Ric Flair returned to WCW from his WWF tenure, but was constrained by a no-compete clause from his WWF contract. In response, WCW gave him a talk show segment on its television shows called "A Flair for the Gold," in the mold of the old "Piper's Pit" segments from 1980s WWF programming starring "Rowdy" Roddy Piper. During a segment of the talk show at the Clash, WCW decided to introduce a "mystery partner" for the babyfaces, a masked man known as The Shockmaster. The Shockmaster (previously known as "Typhoon" in the WWF) was supposed to crash through a fake wall and intimidate the heels. Instead, he tripped through the wall and fell on his face on live television, inadvertently rendering himself a joke character (despite winning some matches). Dusty Rhodes later claimed that a 2x4 was placed on the bottom of the wall, which had not been there on a successful rehearsal, which caused Ottman to trip and stumble.
Late in 1993, WCW decided to once again base the promotion around Ric Flair. This was seen as more or less a necessity after prospective top babyface Sid Vicious was involved in an incident with Arn Anderson (which resulted in hospitalization of both men) while on tour in England four weeks before Starrcade and was fired. Flair then placed his career on the line against Big Van Vader for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. Flair won the title at Starrcade and was once again made booker. That did not stop WCW from suffering massive financial losses in 1993, however; a staggering $23 million.
Competition with the WWF
Beginning in 1994, Bischoff declared open war on McMahon's WWF and aggressively recruited high-profile former WWF superstars such as Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage to work for WCW. Using Turner's monetary resources, Bischoff placed his faith in established stars with proven track records. Due to their high profiles, however, Hogan and Savage were able to demand concessions, such as multi-year, multi-million dollar contracts and creative control over their characters. This would later become a problem during subsequent years of competition with the WWF, as other wrestlers were able to make similar demands, and contract values soared out of control. Hogan in particular was able to gain considerable influence through a friendship with Bischoff. Hogan's considerably hefty fee of $700,000 per pay-per-view appearance plus 25% of the gross revenue from the pay-per-view would cost the company dearly in future years. He was paid this amount whether the pay-per-view was successful or not. Hogan's creative control would later prove to be a large hindrance during WCW's future success (see Starrcade '97). Another thing Bischoff may have failed to consider was the fact that many WCW fans (especially those who had followed the company since its NWA days) watched it as an alternative product to the WWF that focused on in-ring action as opposed to cartoonish characters and storylines. As such, these fans viewed Bischoff's signing of former WWF talent as an attempt to copy its success instead of remaining true to the idea of WCW being an alternative to the WWF.
Nevertheless, WCW's first major pay-per-view event since Hogan's hiring, Bash at the Beach, saw the former WWF mainstay cleanly defeat Ric Flair for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. The two had worked for the WWF at the same time from 1991 to 1992, and a feud was teased between them, but the big-money match originally planned for WrestleMania VIII was changed to Flair/Savage and Hogan/Sid. When WCW delivered the match, the event drew a high buyrate by WCW standards due to mainstream intrigue and hype. Despite being a critical and financial success, the glory would not last, as the Hogan/Flair feud would only result in one more match (at Halloween Havoc) and the hope for long-term effects on pay-per-view buyrates and ratings did not materialize. Turner management came to this realization when they checked up on the state of the company in mid-1995. Hence, Bischoff called Turner and requested a private meeting, which he was granted.
WCW Monday Nitro and "The Monday Night Wars"
Bischoff would be instrumental in launching the weekly show WCW Monday Nitro, which debuted on September 4, 1995 live from the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. At their mid-1995 meeting, Turner asked Bischoff how WCW could conceivably compete with McMahon's WWF. Bischoff, not expecting Turner to comply, said that the only way would be a primetime slot on a weekday night, possibly up against the WWF's flagship show, Monday Night Raw. Turner granted him a live hour on TNT every Monday night, which specifically overlapped with Raw. This format quickly expanded to two live hours in May 1996 and later three. Bischoff himself was initially the host, alongside Bobby Heenan and ex-NFL star Steve "Mongo" McMichael.
The initial broadcast of Nitro, running unopposed because of the pre-emption of Raw for U.S. Open tennis coverage on the USA Network, featured the return of Lex Luger (who had been in the WWF since 1993) to the WCW audience. WCW's coup of obtaining Luger was significant for several reasons. Because Nitro was live at the time, premiering major stars on the show would signal to the fans the amount of excitement the broadcasts would contain. Also, Luger had just come off a moderately successful run in the WWF, and was at one time one of the company's top stars. Finally, because Luger had been employed with the WWF as recently as a week before his Nitro appearance, WCW fans would be intrigued to see others possibly "jump ship". The Monday Night Wars had now officially begun.
Early on, Bischoff vigorously promoted his new show by giving away WWF Raw results on Nitro, as Raw, unlike Nitro, was then mostly taped in advance. At Halloween Havoc 1995, The Giant made his debut in a sumo-like Monster Truck match which his opponent Hulk Hogan won after shoving his truck outside of the circle. The Giant then made his in-ring debut against Hogan and defeated him via disqualification, winning the WCW World Heavyweight Championship thanks to a loophole in the match's contract Jimmy Hart had exploited. Bischoff took another famous jab at the WWF on December 18, 1995, when he brought reigning WWF Women's Champion Debrah Miceli (who had previously competed in WCW as "Madusa") back to the promotion as her WWF character Alundra Blayze and, live on Nitro, had her publicly denounce the Blayze character and throw the WWF Women's title belt in a trash can, reclaiming her "Madusa" moniker in the process. The WWF responded to all this by creating the "Billionaire Ted" skits, which featured parodies of Ted Turner ("Billionaire Ted"), Hulk Hogan ("The Huckster"), Randy Savage ("The Nacho Man"), and WCW interviewer "Mean Gene" Okerlund ("Scheme Gene"), which were said to infuriate Turner, thereby giving him more motivation to compete. They also began picking up a bit after WrestleMania XII, running a hot feud between WWF World champion Shawn Michaels and former World champion Diesel.
The tide began to turn in WCW's favor on Memorial Day 1996 when Scott Hall, who had wrestled in the WWF as Razor Ramon, interrupted a match by walking down through the crowd into the ring. He delivered his "You want a war?" speech: "You people know who I am," he began, "but you don't know why I'm here." Hall said that he and two of his associates were going to "take over." Many thought he meant Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, then still with WWF. Hall challenged the best WCW wrestlers to stand up and defend the company against their onslaught.
The next week, Hall reappeared on Nitro and pestered the WCW announcers. Sting confronted him, and was rewarded with a toothpick in the face for his efforts. Sting retaliated by slapping Hall across the face, and in response Hall promised Sting a "little... no... BIG surprise" the next week in Wheeling, West Virginia. This surprise ended up being Hall's good friend and former WWF Champion Kevin Nash, and in the weeks following Hall and Nash were collectively referred to as "The Outsiders." Both men took to showing up unexpectedly during Nitro broadcasts, usually jumping wrestlers backstage, distracting wrestlers by standing in the entranceways of arenas, or walking around in the audience. Within a couple of weeks, they announced the forthcoming appearance of a mysterious third member.
At Bash at the Beach, Hall and Nash were scheduled to team with their mystery partner against Lex Luger, Randy Savage and Sting. At the onset of the match, Hall and Nash came out without a third man, telling "Mean Gene" Okerlund that he was "in the building," but that they did not need him yet. Shortly into the match, a Stinger Splash resulted in Luger being crushed behind Kevin Nash, and being taken away on a stretcher, reducing the match to The Outsiders vs. Sting and Savage. Hall and Nash took control of the match when Hulk Hogan came to the ring. After standing off with The Outsiders for a moment, he suddenly leg dropped Savage, showing himself to be the Outsiders' mysterious third man. Giving an interview with Okerlund directly after the match, Hogan claimed the reason for the turn was that he was tired of fans that had turned on him. Hogan labeled the new faction "the new world order of wrestling", beginning a feud between wrestlers loyal to WCW and the nWo. The fans in attendance were so outraged at Hogan's betrayal that they pelted the ring with debris, such as paper cups and plastic bottles, for the duration of his interview. One fan even jumped the security railing and tried to attack Hogan in the ring, but was swiftly subdued by Hall, Nash, and arena security.
Shortly after, the WWF filed a lawsuit, alleging that the nWo storyline implied that Hall and Nash were invaders sent by Vince McMahon to destroy WCW, despite the fact that Bischoff asked Nash point blank on camera at The Great American Bash, "Are you employed by the WWF?" to which Nash emphatically replied "No". Another reason for the lawsuit was the WWF claimed Scott Hall acted in a manner too similar to the character Razor Ramon which was owned by the WWF. The lawsuit dragged out for several years before being settled out of court. One of the settlement's terms was the right for the WWF to bid on WCW's properties, should they ever be up for liquidation; an ironic settlement that would prove invaluable in the future.
Though an on-screen threat to the WCW promotion, the nWo would prove helpful in the early stages of the ratings war. On the September 23, 1996, episode of Nitro, with most of the WCW roster over in Japan, the group took over the entire show, including the broadcast booth and the ring announcer's role, and branded the episode as their own. The Giant was the ring announcer and Hulk Hogan, Syxx, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Vincent, Ted DiBiase, and Eric Bischoff (who was not part of the faction at the time) were at the broadcast table.
Largely due to the nWo angle, Nitro defeated Raw for 84 consecutive weeks. During this time, WCW occasionally revealed the endings to pre-taped Raw matches at the beginning of its live broadcast. Bischoff reasoned that fans who were open to switching between the two programs would be less inclined to switch to Raw if fans knew ahead of time how the matches would end.
In 1997, WCW entered its peak. The nWo began feuding with the revived babyface Four Horsemen as well as the returning WCW hero Sting. Sting had changed his gimmick when he returned to WCW television, he became a darker, brooding character, largely based on The Crow. Sting would be in the rafters of WCW arenas watching the WCW/nWo feud, and sometimes rappel down into the ring to help WCW wrestlers fighting the nWo. The latter feud served to build up Starrcade in December. When WCW delivered the Sting vs. Hogan match for the WCW World Championship, the event drew WCW's largest buyrate and Bischoff was largely praised in the months leading up to this event because of his refusal to give away ("hotshot" in wrestling slang) a Sting vs. Hogan title match for free or without proper buildup. Indeed, the Hogan/Sting angle endured for approximately 15 months.
Wrestling fans consider this show to be the beginning of the end for WCW, however, even as they were dominating the WWF in the television ratings. Hogan was heavily criticized for not doing a clean finish to the match, which confused and irritated fans who had waited over a year to see Sting take down the nWo. The finish actually involved a recently introduced Bret Hart, who had refereed the preceding match between Bischoff and Larry Zbyszko for control of Nitro, coming down to the ring after Hogan had supposedly won the match. Hart alleged that referee Nick Patrick had performed a fast count on Sting and wanted to "make things right". By many accounts, however, including Eric Bischoff's in Controversy Creates Cash, the count looked like a normal count, so Hart's protestations did not make sense. Television replays of the three-count on later shows had the video sped up to hide this. Hurting the argument the most was the fact that Sting never tried to kick out while Hogan pinned him, proving even if the count was normal the pin would have happened regardless. Hart insisted that the match continue with himself as referee, in order to prevent Sting from being "screwed" like Hart had legitimately been at the Montreal Screwjob, which had soured his ties with the WWF and hastened his leave to WCW. In essence, whereas fans were promised a classic battle between Hogan and Sting in which the latter would defeat the leader of the nWo, they were presented with a faux reverse-tide potshot at the Montreal Screwjob. The inclusion of Hart himself confused and frustrated fans even more as Hart had no part in the feud between Hogan and Sting. However, the most harming fact of the match to the fans was watching Sting stay down for a full count of three to Hogan when he was built up as the one man to end the nWo, thereby hurting their impression of him. To add insult to injury, it was decided that because of the messy finish to the rematch (on the following Monday's Nitro show which ended with Hogan, and then Sting regaining the title in the same match), Sting had to be stripped of the WCW title that he won from Hogan two weeks later. It was announced when Sting was stripped on television that they would face each other again for the vacant championship at a future pay-per-view.
Starrcade represented in many ways WCW's golden opportunity to pull farther ahead of the WWF and send the federation to its demise. The Montreal Screwjob left fans irate at Vince McMahon over his treatment of one of his biggest stars and many were considering a switch to WCW. With WCW steadily making money and firmly dominating the ratings battle, the PPV could have been a devastating blow to the WWF's comeback. However, WCW proved it was no different in alienating its fan base than the WWF. Even though the buy rate for Starrcade '97 was the largest WCW had ever seen for a PPV, it was the turning point in the Monday Night Wars and the WWF would soon be on the rise.
Signs of a decline
When Hart was planning to leave the WWF in 1997 after signing a contract to WCW prior to the Montreal Screwjob at the Survivor Series, it looked as though WCW was in position to permanently eclipse the WWF, if not put them out of business. WCW appeared to possess the biggest stars in the industry, such as Hogan, Savage, Sting, Flair, Hart, Hall and Nash. In addition, the company had credible midcard stars such as Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit and Raven, as well as an exciting cruiserweight division featuring high-flying international competition. However, things would not unfold as WCW had planned.
Turner sought to capitalize on WCW's momentum by launching a new Thursday night show on TBS, WCW Thunder, in January 1998. Popular opinion was that the Screwjob and WCW's subsequent acquisition of Hart were death blows for the WWF. WCW had a golden opportunity to capture the allegiances of WWF fans who were disenchanted with the company after its poor treatment of a popular star. But according to Hart, the company failed to capitalize on his talent and momentum, and had no idea how to properly utilize him. Vince McMahon had described Hart as the kind of wrestler a promoter builds his whole company around, but WCW generally used him as a midcarder. Their biggest hope was that Hart would help create inroads in foreign markets such as his native Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Bischoff contends that due to the events of Montreal, Hart's passion and desire for the business was not as it was during his WWF heyday. "Montreal...had taken his toll on him," Bischoff stated in his autobiography. "It was all he talked about... constantly." In any event, Hart's WCW tenure failed to live up to expectations.
As WCW coasted with the same basic formula they had been following, McMahon set about revamping his creative approach and set in motion events that later put his company ahead of WCW for good. Under the "WWF Attitude" moniker, he elevated rising stars like Steve Austin, The Rock, Triple H and his DX group, Mankind, and Kane. McMahon himself, after having played in a supporting role on camera as the play-by-play announcer, capitalized on the ill will he received from fans for screwing Bret Hart by turning himself into an on-screen villain. The "Mr. McMahon" heel character feuded with babyface wrestlers and used his influence to screw them out of wins and titles. The April 13, 1998 episode of Raw headlined by a match between Austin and McMahon, marked the first time that WCW lost the head-to-head Monday night ratings battle in 84 weeks. WWF ratings began an ascent to highs previously unheard of in wrestling TV. WCW attempted to counter this by dividing the nWo into the Hogan-led heel nWo Hollywood faction and the Nash-led face nWo Wolfpac faction but this was seen by many fans as a poor rehash of the WCW vs. nWo storyline of 1996-1997 with boring predictable matches and vignettes.
WCW's next big attempt to regain ratings supremacy was by marketing ex-NFL player Bill Goldberg as an invincible monster with a record-breaking winning streak. Goldberg was incredibly popular, but business still quickly fell off for WCW, especially as the list of stars ready to be destroyed by Goldberg grew shorter, not to mention the declining quality of the PPVs. One of WCW's last wins in the Monday night ratings war was on July 6, 1998, when WCW aired Goldberg's long-awaited world title victory over Hulk Hogan on free television. This significantly increased the rating for the show, but only for that week. Such a match could likely have generated millions, possibly tens of millions for WCW on pay-per-view had the angle been built up properly for a matter of months. On September 14, 1998, WCW won the ratings war once again with a memorable moment that featured Ric Flair's return to WCW and the reformation of the legendary Four Horsemen. On October 25, 1998, WCW's Halloween Havoc ran longer than the time allocated because of the last-minute addition of a tag team title match between the champions (Scott Steiner and The Giant) and the challengers (Rick Steiner and Buff Bagwell), which Rick Steiner won by himself although Bagwell abandoned him as a tag partner. As a result, several thousand people lost their pay-per-view feed at 11pm during the highly anticipated world title match between Diamond Dallas Page and Goldberg. The following night, WCW decided to correct the fault by airing the entire match for free on Nitro and won the ratings war for the final time. This timing faux pas upset millions of viewers who had paid for the pay-per-view of whom WCW were forced to reimburse, only to have to wait to see the main event for free the next night .
At this time, Kevin Nash was in charge of booking the shows. After winning the World War 3 battle royal in November 1998, he went on to end Goldberg's winning streak and win the world title on Starrcade one month later. Many believed it wasn't the right time for the streak to end, nor was it believed Nash should have been the one to end it. Nash's abuse of power in booking was yet another factor in WCW's demise.
Then came the match between Nash and Hogan on the January 4, 1999, episode of Nitro. The match was originally advertised as a Starrcade rematch between Nash and Goldberg. As a result, the Georgia Dome in Atlanta was a complete sellout, with over 40,000 people watching live expecting to see the rematch. Throughout the broadcast the announcers hyped the main event as being the "biggest match in the history of our sport" and said that "unlike the other guys, we have a real main event". Instead, Goldberg was forced to forgo his title match after being arrested by the police for stalking Miss Elizabeth and was replaced by Hogan. Hogan faked a punch on Nash and then poked him in the chest. Nash overselled the poke in the chest by forcefully falling to the mat and allowing Hogan to pin him for the WCW World Heayweight Championship. After the match, Goldberg made his way down the stage along with Lex Luger, only to have Luger blindside him and Hall taser him with a shock stick once again, just like at Starrcade. This bait-and-switch damaged the credibility of the company as a whole, having failed to present the advertised match and using underhand tactics to sell out the arena for that night's telecast. On the same episode of Nitro, Tony Schiavone, under direction from Bischoff, revealed that Mick Foley won the WWF Title at a taped edition of Raw and mocked the WWF for making what he implied was a bad business decision. Nielsen ratings indicated that over 300,000 households changed the channel to watch the victory and shifted the ratings for the night in the WWF's favor.
WCW slid into a period of extravagant overspending and creative decline; the reasons and the people responsible are still a matter of debate. One possible reason was the overuse of celebrities in pay-per-view matches, such as Dennis Rodman and Jay Leno. Also, WCW's credibility was damaged by product placement, such as Rick Steiner trading barbs with Chucky the killer doll in order to advertise the 1998 film Bride of Chucky.
In addition, top-level stars had no motivation to excel in the ring due to their long-term contracts. WCW did not promote its younger stars to the company's top slots (a charge admitted by Bischoff). Despite having talented younger wrestlers like Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, Billy Kidman, Chavo Guerrero, Jr., Eddie Guerrero, Perry Saturn, Raven, Booker T., and Rey Mysterio, Jr. on its roster, they were kept away from the main event scene. Of these wrestlers listed, five would go on to headline main events in WWF/E and become World Champions, something WCW bookers believed these men would never be able to sell as.
WCW programming had started to decline in quality, leading to a loss of viewers, and the company reacted by throwing money at personalities, something it could ill-afford to do. Talents were reportedly signed to keep them from appearing on WWF television. At one point, WCW held over 260 individual performers under guaranteed contracts, many of whom rarely appeared in its programs. During one Thunder program, only 15 of the 260 contracted wrestlers appeared on screen.
Also in 1998, Bischoff recruited The Ultimate Warrior, a former WWF star, to feud with Hogan (to capitalize on the Hogan/Warrior match at WrestleMania VI). Their October 1998 rematch at Halloween Havoc was considered as one of the worst matches in pay-per-view history, and Warrior vanished soon after. The Ultimate Warrior also insisted on elaborate and costly apparatuses, such as a trapdoor in the ring which badly injured The British Bulldog when he landed on it earlier in the event.
According to Bischoff's autobiography Controversy Creates Cash, Time Warner increasingly micromanaged WCW, severely hindering (and occasionally overriding) Bischoff's control of the company. Time Warner initially gave him slight restrictions as to what he was and was not allowed to do with WCW. The restrictions mounted as time passed, with impending lawsuits between the WWF and WCW adding more. By the summer of 1998, he was outright ordered to alter WCW's format to a more "family-friendly" output. The forced shift in WCW's programming came while the WWF, buoyed by its new "Attitude" branding and product, was regularly beating an increasingly stagnant WCW week after week in the Monday night ratings war. Also, Time Warner had ordered WCW (like the other companies under Time Warner ownership) to slash their budget, putting even more strain on the company. As it was common knowledge that many executives in WCW ownership — from the Turner-owned era to the AOL Time Warner years – hated the idea of wrestling on their stations and attempted to remove the company entirely, Bischoff maintains that the restrictions and mandates placed on WCW was done in order to accomplish and accelerate the promotion's demise.
Bischoff was eventually removed from control of the promotion on September 10, 1999, after a failed push for the 1970s rock group KISS through WCW shows and a storyline involving rapper Master P and the No Limit Soldiers. The No Limit Soldiers stable flopped so badly that the fans turned on them and began supporting the West Texas Rednecks heel stable that they were feuding with. An announced "million-dollar contest" was later cancelled and a planned Nitro animated series was scrapped as well.
Bischoff was unexpectedly replaced by WCW accountant Bill Busch, who was named Senior Vice President. Busch would bring in former WWF head writer Vince Russo and his colleague Ed Ferrara. Russo and Ferrera presented themselves as the brains behind the "Attitude Era", and WCW offered them lucrative contracts to jump ship in October 1999. Russo and Ferrara tried to push the younger WCW talents straight away, and phase out aging stars such as Hogan and Flair.
Russo and Ferrara struggled to gain approval for their near-the-knuckle ideas from WCW management, such as a "Piñata on a Pole" match between Mexican wrestlers on November 15. In late 1999, Russo and Ferrera revived the nWo storyline, this time with Jeff Jarrett and Bret Hart at the helm. They next targeted WWF announcer Jim Ross with a parody character called "Oklahoma," who was played onscreen by Ferrara. Ross suffered from Bell's palsy, and the character lampooned his resultant facial defects. Bad luck struck in December 1999 when Hart suffered a career-ending concussion at the hands of Goldberg, who severely damaged his own hand less than a week later while punching through a limousine window in Salisbury, Maryland as part of a storyline that was written by Russo. Russo himself became an on-screen character during this period, though one whose face was never shown on camera: only his hand and the back of his chair were ever actually seen, as he called wrestlers into his office to receive their marching orders for the night.
Russo and Ferrara were suspended three months later amid rumors that they wanted to make former UFC fighter Tank Abbott the WCW Champion. Abbott, despite his legitimate fighting background, had little wrestling experience and had failed to connect with WCW audiences. Bill Busch would later be removed from power and replaced at the helm by Time Warner programming executive Brad Siegel. Kevin Sullivan, who had been an on/off booker over the course of several years, was placed in charge in the interim. The new writing team attempted to appease the demoralized wrestlers and fans by making Chris Benoit the WCW Champion at Souled Out in January 2000. However, Benoit was among a group of wrestlers who expressed their intent to leave the company prior to the show. He handed the belt back right after winning it and signed with the WWF the next day, along with his similarly frustrated friends Perry Saturn, Eddie Guerrero and Dean Malenko. The four quickly became popular in the WWF as "The Radicalz".
On February 11, 2000, 12 wrestlers, including African American wrestler "Hardbody" Harrison Norris and Japanese manager Sonny Onoo launched racial discrimination lawsuits against WCW, charging that, as a result of their ethnicities, they had not been pushed, had not been paid as well as other wrestlers and personalities, and had been given offensive gimmicks. Some speculated that the charges of racism led to African American wrestler Booker T. winning the WCW Championship later that year, and his real-life brother Stevie Ray being made a color commentator; Stevie Ray himself acknowledged that it may have been a factor. Onoo claimed that he had been given a disrespectful gimmick and that his final salary—$160,000—was only half of the average pay for a wrestler at that time.
Under Russo's leadership, WCW would continue to lose ratings, and eventually dropped to 1.8 in 2000, the second lowest WCW television rating to date, behind the 1.72 rating on April 27, 1998, which was also the lowest-ever rating during the Monday Night Wars.
In April 2000, with ratings hitting new lows, Russo and Bischoff were reinstated by WCW. They formed an on-screen union that stood up for the younger talent in the company (which they dubbed the New Blood) in their battle against the Millionaire's Club, which consisted of the older, higher-paid, and more visible stars such as Hogan, Sting, and Diamond Dallas Page. Though initially well-received, the storyline quickly degenerated into yet another nWo rehash, with the heel nWo recast as the New Blood and the face WCW embodied in the Millionaire's Club. Had the reverse been done, with the New Blood as faces and Millionaire's Club as heels, the angle may have worked but many saw the casting as an attempt for sympathy towards the veterans who had already gained bad reputations behind the scenes. Oddly, the New Blood was disbanded before the New Blood Rising pay-per-view began.
The unorthodox and controversial storylines continued. Although neither was a trained wrestler, Russo and actor David Arquette each won the WCW Heavyweight Championship, the latter in order to promote the box-office flop Ready to Rumble (though Arquette was vehemently against becoming the WCW World Champion, believing that fans, like himself, would detest a non-wrestler winning the title.) As neither looked physically capable of defeating actual wrestlers in a match, the title's credibility hit rock-bottom as a result. Goldberg turned heel, but the execution was botched and served to greatly diminish his drawing power. Russo scripted WCW Heavyweight Champion Jeff Jarrett to lay down for the pinfall for eventual champion Hulk Hogan and delivered a shoot speech at Bash at the Beach 2000 aimed at Hogan, the latter which led Hogan to resign and file a defamation of character lawsuit, which was eventually dismissed in 2002.
Infuriated by Russo's actions (which conflicted with his intentions for Bash), Bischoff departed once more in July 2000. At the New Blood Rising pay-per-view on August 13, an injured Goldberg walked out of a triple threat elimination contest against Kevin Nash and Scott Steiner (violating the script of the match) and swore at Russo on his way back to the dressing room on-camera, leaving Steiner to wrestle and lose to Nash by himself. As a result of Goldberg's actions at New Blood Rising, the storyline was drastically changed to a rivalry between Steiner and Goldberg, culminating in a match at Fall Brawl, which Steiner won. Immediately afterward, Russo informed Goldberg that if he ever lost another match from that point, he would be released from his WCW contract. In truth however, this was an opportunity for Goldberg to heal from previous injuries. Russo was gone from the promotion entirely by late 2000, leaving Terry Taylor holding the reins. During this time, a short-lived crossover feud began involving stars of WCW and Battle Dome.
By the beginning of February 2001, most female personalities had been released from the promotion in an attempt to cut costs. Also as of February 2001, WCW would hold its events in Southern States only.
Attempted Bischoff/Fusient purchase
Meanwhile, Time Warner had bought out Turner's empire in 1996, including WCW. Turner was personally faithful to WCW regardless of whether it was losing him money because an earlier incarnation of the promotion had helped establish Turner's first television station, WTBS. However, Time Warner did not share his loyalty especially when accounts showed that WCW was losing between $12–$17 million a year at this point (and an astonishing $60 million in 2000 alone), but Turner was still the single largest Time Warner shareholder, so WCW continued to operate at his behest. When AOL merged with Time Warner in 2000, Turner was effectively forced out of his own empire.
Although WCW tried all it could to alleviate the strain of debt in early 2001, the financial burdens proved too heavy to bear for the promotion and its new parent, AOL Time Warner. Once it gained the power to sell off WCW, AOL Time Warner looked to unload its financial albatross. A sale nearly occurred in late 2000 to Bischoff and a group of private investors calling themselves Fusient Media Ventures, with news reports and even Eric Bischoff declaring a deal was in place. However, Fusient backed out when Turner networks head Jamie Kellner formally cancelled all WCW programming from its television networks. With no network on which to air its programming, WCW was of little value to Fusient, whose offer depended on being able to continue to air WCW programming on the Turner networks, despite the fact that WCW, according to Bischoff in his book, had received offers from FOX and NBC.
Acquisition by the World Wrestling Federation and aftermath
On March 23, 2001, all of WCW's trademarks and archived video library, as well as a select twenty-four contracts, were sold to Vince McMahon and World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, Inc. WCW's properties were purchased for a mere $3,000,000. Most of the main event-level stars including Flair, Goldberg, Kevin Nash, and Sting were contracted directly to parent company AOL Time Warner instead of WCW, and thus AOL Time Warner was forced to continue to pay many of the wrestlers for years. The company has since itself reverted to Universal Wrestling Corporation.
TNT did allow a final Nitro show to air from Panama City Beach, Florida which had been scheduled for the following Monday on March 26. McMahon opened the last-ever episode of WCW Monday Nitro with a simulcast with WWF Monday Night Raw, which aired from Cleveland, Ohio, with a self-praising speech. The final WCW World Heavyweight Championship match for the show and the company saw WCW United States Heavyweight Champion Booker T defeat Scott Steiner to win the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. The main event featured Sting defeating Ric Flair with the Scorpion Deathlock as a culmination of their trademark feud, then both men embraced one another at the match's conclusion. This was a direct parallel to the very first Nitro, where Sting vs. Flair was also the main event. After the Sting/Flair match, Vince appeared on Raw to close Nitro and to declare victory over WCW. Vince's son Shane McMahon then appeared on Nitro, declaring that it was actually he who had bought WCW. This initiated a storyline in which Shane led a WCW invasion of the WWF, which lasted from March to November 2001 and marked the end of WCW.
Despite aborted attempts to run WCW-branded events (including a proposed Saturday night timeslot that later evolved into WWF Excess and then WWE Velocity) the WWF only ran a handful of matches on Raw and SmackDown! under the WCW banner. These WCW-branded matches were ill-received by the longtime WWF fans so much that on the very first WCW-brand main event between Booker T and Buff Bagwell the crowd cheered when the WWF heels Stone Cold Steve Austin and Kurt Angle ran in to jump the WCW babyface Booker T.
In 2004, WWE produced a DVD called The Monday Night Wars. Two hours in length, the DVD left out a large portion of the wars, breaking off around 1997 before jumping straight to the post-WCW era of WWE. The objectivity of the DVD's content was questioned, as some believed the documentary was simply telling the WWE side of the story. On August 25, 2009, WWE released The Rise and Fall of WCW on DVD. The DVD looked back at the roots of WCW during the days of GCW and Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, to the glory days of Monday Nitro and the nWo, and to its demise and sale to WWE. This DVD included several new interviews from Vince McMahon, Jim Crockett, Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes, Bill Goldberg, as well as many of those responsible for running the NWA and WCW. Archive interviews were included from former WCW talent such as Hulk Hogan,and Eric Bischoff, due to their respective contracts with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling not allowing them to provide fresh interviews for WWE.
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