As we approach the 16-year anniversary of Vince McMahon purchasing his biggest competition, Ted Turner’s little wrestling side project that turned into a global sensation, World Championship Wrestling, has essentially turned into one of the industry’s ultimate punch lines. Eric Bischoff and the various other VPs Turner placed in charge had absolutely ever resource imaginable and were given countless chances to drive McMahon out of business, and at times they even came close. In the end, however, constant mismanagement and outright ridiculous ego-based decisions caused WCW to implode at the peak of its powers, spending more time falling from grace than enjoying the spotlight.
While there’s no denying WCW went out of business for a reason, that doesn’t necessarily mean the company did everything wrong. Short though it was, there existed a brief period when WCW was the unquestioned peak of professional wrestling, at least in terms of its global scope and the size of their viewing audience. Some of it was luck and some of it was that fans had grown tired of the New Generation of WWE, but a big part of WCW’s success came the old fashioned way: by creating a unique and engaging product.
Knowing Vince McMahon, suggesting that he had anything to learn from Ted Turner would have about the same effect as telling him fans don’t like Roman Reigns. Typically speaking, when the idea has been broached in the past, it often meant the writer who brought it up was going to get fired pretty soon. Luckily, we don’t work for WWE, so there’s no threat to our job security in recommending Vince McMahon look into wrestling’s graveyard when trying to turn around his modern day product. Keep reading to learn about 15 things WCW did that WWE should think about reviving.
15. Spring Break Outs
According to Wikipedia, the tradition of college kids heading to Florida for Spring Break dates back as early as 1934. Other than children, the parents of children, and adults who were wrestling fans when they were children, college kids are one of the most ideal audiences for pro wrestling, especially if they’ve had the benefit of a little alcohol to get them seriously into the show. For these reasons, the four special editions of WCW Monday Nitro presented from Club La Vela and known as Spring Break Out remain amongst the most fondly remembered episodes in the program’s five and a half year history. As if the unique audience and location wasn’t enough, WCW went all out on the set, as well, putting a wrestling ring in the middle of a pool (which, incidentally, at least one wrestler was always bound to take a swim in). The outdoor setting also created one of the most spectacular entrances of Sting’s career, rappelling to the ring from a helicopter at the 1998 version of the event.
14. Specialty Events From Unique Locations
Speaking of Spring Break Out, those special episodes of Nitro weren’t the only instances of WCW placing their wrestling ring in places you would never expect to find a wrestling ring. The 1995 Bash at the Beach literally took place on Huntington Beach, the Road Wild series always came from a motorcycle rally in Sturgis, North Dakota, and the early days of Nitro were filmed from landmark attractions like the Mall of America and Walt Disney World. Cool as all of these shows looked, a huge flaw in this design does need to be acknowledged. Outside of Disney World, all of these locations are free to attend—and even at Disney World, there was no extra charge to watch Nitro when you were there. This wasn’t that huge a deal on Nitro, where they could have at least broken even thanks to TV advertising money, but it was a complete loss on Pay-Per-View, where wrestling companies are supposed to earn their highest dividends. However, now that the WWE Network exists, the company has the means to experiment on this sort of thing without taking a huge loss. Even better, because WWE is better at business than WCW, they would probably be smarter about picking the unique locations, and might be able to find some places that would pay them just to be there.
13. Theme Events With Matching Sets
In case WWE doesn’t feel like holding a bash the beach for Spring Break, or worries the bikers might be racist again like they were during Harlem Heat’s match 1996, there’s another great WCW idea they could look at to make Pay-Per-Views and special events feel more special. While Bash at the Beach was only held at an actual beach once, the other versions of the event all had a very present beach feel, as did the 1993 PPV Beach Blast. Likewise, Spring Stampede was always designed like a dude ranch, The Great American Bash was draped in stars and stripes, Halloween Havoc was a fun kind of spooky, and the smaller Pay-Per-Views all had specialty sets even if there wasn’t much to the theme. WWE occasionally did this throughout the Attitude Era, almost always earning praise when they did—who could forget the spikes of Backlash 2000 or the glass panels at King of the Ring 2001? They always go out for WrestleMania, but even the Grandest Stage of Them All is feeling too sterile to be a positive these days.
12. Make The Cruiserweights Unique
The WWE Cruiserweight Championship was revived on September 14, 2016, and is finally starting to gain a little traction five months later thanks to Neville winning the title at the Royal Rumble. The thing WWE has been missing until now (and they aren’t quite there yet) is having the cruiserweights feel different from the rest of the roster, using moves, styles, and techniques that you wouldn’t generally see in your average John Cena match. The company was able to accomplish this throughout the Cruiserweight Classic and from time to time on 205 Live, but for whatever reason, whenever the cruiserweights are on Raw, it’s just another condensed match with nothing to make the division special. In the very least, these brief glimpses of potential are much better than WWE was doing during the Attitude Era, when smaller guys were so scarce the Light Heavyweight Champion took almost a year off without anyone noticing. For the 205-and-under crowd to truly earn a shot at the spotlight, though, Vince McMahon needs to get it through his head that smaller wrestlers aren’t smaller talents; they’re different talents.
11. Make Main Events Feel Important
Whenever Michael Buffer was in a WCW ring, fans knew the match they were about to see was a main event in every sense of the word. With or without the catchphrase, the entire Buffer family have been blessed with voices that embody both gravitas and professionalism. We’re not trying to argue that WWE needs to hire Michael or his brother Bruce to introduce every Raw, SmackDown, or Pay-Per-View main event. They still have Howard Finkel, and probably a dozen other ring announcers with booming voices. All they need is to pause before the big one and have someone important looking to hype up the crowd while introducing the stars, the way it is in boxing and other legitimate athletic competitions. There have been moments throughout WWE history when they did things like this, in the distant past even doing so for virtually every match. Reserving the idea for only the tip top programs keeps it important, with the universality of the concept ensuring it will always work with the right audience.
10. Genuinely Feel International
Before we get too far on this one, we’ll acknowledge that with the UK Championship Tournament and rumors about more international titles to come mean we might be a little bit late on this one. Up until recently, though, WWE hasn’t been a very international company, at least in terms of their roster and where they run their biggest shows. They have more than the resources to do so, and often brag about how many countries broadcast their programming in dozens of different languages. Despite this, some 95% or more of their content is filmed in America, and still the vast majority of their employees were born in the country. The first issue is mostly a business decision, and it might be the best way for them to make money. As for where the talent comes from, WCW blew WWE out of the roster in terms of having dozens of European, Mexican, Japanese, and other foreign superstars all throughout their roster. On top of that, they ran major Pay-Per-Views in Japan, Korea, and Germany and taped Nitro and Thunder episodes in Australia. WWE goes to the UK once in a while and ran a Network special from Japan once, that’s as far as they’ve come in matching WCW’s global reach, despite how it would be for them to simply air more international tours on the Network.
9. Treat Wrestling Like A Legitimate Sport
Legendary wrestler Johnny Valentine once told a young “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, “I can’t make you believe that professional wrestling is for real, but I sure the hell can make you believe that I am.” The young Piper based his career on it, as have all the true greats of the industry, whether they knew it or not. Unfortunately, these days the popular product isn’t called pro wrestling anymore, it’s called sports entertainment, and top executives have put shows to an immediate halt in order to convince children in the audience it wasn’t real. WCW was a bastion of salvation for traditionalist fans who didn’t like Vince McMahon’s sports entertainment, at least until Vince Russo came along and ruined everything. Pre-Russo, Ted Turner’s employees always treated wrestling like an actual athletic competition, meaning there was pride in each victory and every individual deserved credit for their work. Of course, this is the very reason it could never happen, as WWE wants to ensure Vince McMahon, Triple H, and Stephanie McMahon can act like everyone’s success is because of them.
8. Company Wide Focus
Continuing on that last idea, something that goes along with treating wrestling like an actual sport is that every athlete in the company needs to keep tabs on the major happenings of the business in order to stay relevant. In modern day WWE, most wrestlers are so insularly focused on their own angles that they never interact with anyone they haven’t been feuding with for months. If they do, it’s only to set up a new program, and never a short segment between talent on different levels of the roster. Moments like that make WWE feel like a real company where lots of strange personalities work, and keeping everyone apart blares a spotlight on how scripted the industry has always been. In WCW, everyone cared about the nWo, most people wanted a shot at Goldberg, and even the introduction of Vince Russo had everyone talking. We’ll probably never know how Sami Zayn feels about The Club, for example, because a solo wrestler doesn’t care about tag wrestlers, no matter how high profile their entrance into the company happened to be.
7. Let Wrestlers Speak Their Minds
Outside of booking issues, arguably the most consistent criticism lobbied against modern day WWE is that the company relentlessly over-scripts almost every single segment to the extent wrestlers no longer have any true individuality. They can still show charisma in matches, but that only seems to confuse things thanks to McMahon’s writers apparently being tone-deaf in terms of the type of charisma the superstars possess. WCW did the exact opposite of this, giving wrestlers from the top of the card all the way to the bottom a microphone and time to talk pretty much whenever they asked for the chance to do so. Not every wrestler has a skill for this, but those blessed with a gift of gab like Raven, Chris Jericho, Konnan, Brian Pillman, and of course Ric Flair, all used it to their great advantage. WWE followed the practice for decades, as well, with superstars as recent as “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Rock, and Mick Foley all building their reputations the same way. On rare occasions, WWE still lets a top star say whatever they want to this day, but the idea of a low level talent getting the idea is almost laughable. Considering how many stars it made in the past, maybe the joke is once again on Vince.
6. Give Bonuses For Good Performances
WCW went through so many executives in its short 13 year existence that we have to clarify the practice we’re about to discuss, brilliant though it was, wasn’t even in action for a full year before penny-pinchers in the company pulled the plug. For a few short months in 1992, Kip Allen Frey was the company’s Executive Vice President, and one of his innovative concepts was offering a considerable cash bonus to whichever wrestler he believed gave the best in-ring performance of the evening. This practice seems tailor-made for modern day WWE, where everything is so scripted the only place wrestlers can show any personality is during their matches, and thus they should be rewarded for doing an especially good job at it. The more sterile and lifeless the promos are getting, the more the in-ring product needs to shine, lest fans stop caring altogether. Since WWE seems so stuck in their ways they refuse to listen to fans or base pushes on actual talent, they might as well give their best wrestlers a little extra cash, or else the wrestlers might stop caring, too.
5. Make Midcard Titles Mean Something
Including NXT, there are currently 13 active championships in WWE. We’ll move past all the basic criticisms about oversaturation and instead focus on what these various championships mean. Specifically, the United States and Intercontinental Championships, which at this point are virtually pointless, and have been for quite some time. Again, we’re a little late to the punch with this one since the company has at least reintroduced the Cruiserweight Championship, although as we also mentioned already, they haven’t quite made it feel special yet. There was another specialty title in WCW that WWE has yet to revive in the TV Championship, contested with a strict time 10 or 15-minute limit and defended with a much greater frequency than the other titles in the company. Giving simple stipulations like this go a long way in making a title unique and meaningful. WCW also had the shorter lived Six-Man Tag Team Championships, and there was even a time WWE tried to jump on the trend with the Hardcore Championship, though it turned into a joke before it could be taken seriously. Even so, that was better than what we have today, with random pieces of gold justifying heatless midcard matches.
4. Shock The Crowd And Try The Unexpected
The more connected with social media WWE becomes, the harder it is for them to genuinely surprise the audience with a sudden bombshell and/or major twist in a top storyline. Any fan who bothered checking the rumors about the 2017 Royal Rumble could have discovered with perfectly accuracy every result for days before it actually happened, and it will only get worse on the road to WrestleMania. For this reason, it isn’t entirely WWE’s fault that they can’t blow wrestling fan’s minds anymore. That said, even before the Internet age, WCW was much better at pulling off the so-called ultimate swerve—at least until they started doing it to the point of self-parody. Up until Vince Russo came along, when WCW did something no one saw coming, no one saw it coming: Rick Rude as The Halloween Phantom, Sting dropping from the rafters and building a literal army of copycats, Lex Luger and Goldberg winning the WCW Championship on episodes of Nitro, and plenty of other moments took live and television crowds by complete and total shock. The downside is that these moments occasionally happened because WCW didn’t plan on them until the last minute, which is bad enough that WWE may be right to avoid it altogether and keep letting it slide when their plans slip.
3. Outreach With Other Media
This suggestion is probably going to be a little controversial, because in many ways it was responsible for some of the darkest moments in WCW history. Therefore, yet again, we find ourselves admitting there were nonetheless plenty of flaws behind one of WCW’s better ideas, that being consistently sending their wrestlers to various outside media ventures and treating them like regular celebrities wherever they went. It definitely backfired by the point Jay Leno stepped inside a wrestling ring, but back when it was wrestlers cutting promos on Leno, doing guest spots on MTV and TBS programs, playing game shows, and swimming with the lifeguards of Baywatch, it simply felt like WCW was so popular the company was unavoidable no matter what channel you turned to. WWE always kept up with the Joneses in terms of talk shows, and having superstars regularly show up on ESPN is a step in the right direction to bringing this feeling back to sports entertainment. With The Rock poised to star in a Baywatch movie, this too may be an issue that no longer applies before long.
2. Lethal Lottery And Battlebowl
Thus far this list has mostly focused on WCW’s technical innovations and how they had a greater focus on wrestling traditionalism than seen in WWE, both of which helped the company stand out as Vince McMahon’s strongest competition. On top of the broad strokes, they were also responsible for at least two brilliantly original match types, neither of which have been used by WWE despite the fact they clearly have the right to do so. The first of which was the Lethal Lottery and subsequent Battlebowl, a one night only tag team tournament that lead to a special two-ring battle royal, the winner of which earned a shot at the WCW Championship. The tag team tournament was special in and of itself, with partners chosen by random selection, offering boundless potential for unique pairings the company otherwise would never book. As usual, WCW didn’t always stick the landing with Lethal Lottery and Battlebowl, picking some strange winners and practically forgetting about the idea after only trying it a handful of times. With WWE’s expanded roster and expert bookers using the idea to its fullest potential, they could not only take one of WCW’s better ideas, but put a strong enough spin on it that it strokes McMahon’s ego by proving he did it better than the people who invented it ever could.
1. War Games
If you thought Lethal Lottery and Battlebowl were the two match types we were talking about in that last entry, think again. The two were always held on the same night, and we consider them a single event because of it. The other brilliant match type created by WCW was actually created when the company was still the NWA, but it was brought to arguably its greatest peak in WCW, and we’re definitely not talking about Bunkhouse Stampede or World War 3. No, we’re talking about the one and only “match beyond”—War Games. Contested in a giant cage stretched over two wrestling rings, War Games requires two teams of four to five wrestlers, and has the potential to blow off upwards of 10 storylines at once because of it. On top of that, virtually every time a WCW feud got so heated wrestlers needed to enter the giant cage, fans were practically promised an absolute classic, and the wrestlers never failed to deliver. That is, until 1998, when the concept totally jumped the shark with a trapdoor and bizarre stipulations muddying the waters, but again, we’re talking about the version of War Games WCW actually got right.