With fan interest in WWE reaching an all time low, older members of the audience have been making lots of comparisons between Vince McMahon’s sports entertainment empire and his once great competition that he eventually ran out of business, WCW. As most people know by now, Ted Turner’s attempt at taking the NWA mentality mainstream ultimately turned out to be a failure, thanks to shockingly inept mismanagement. However, partially because WWE has taken every opportunity to mock WCW, many people have forgotten the company was also responsible for countless great moments that defined wrestling history.
Now that WWE is on a rapid decline, the real telling point about WCW versus the recent WWE Universe is that when it was at its peak, Turner’s company was putting on a much better show. Sure, there were bizarre mistakes even at WCW’s best, but they weren’t as offensive to fans as the nonsense WWE is trying to pull today. On the plus side, at least until the final years controlled by Vince Russo, audiences could always count on WCW to deliver something worthwhile thanks to their gigantic talent roster. WWE has that same plethora of employees, yet they can’t figure out how to parse things out properly, making a wholly unsatisfying show from top to bottom.
Obviously, WCW is never coming back, and fans don’t exactly have to choose between Nitro and Raw anymore (although they theoretically could on the WWE Network). Chances are that Vince McMahon thinks that’s a good thing, though, because huge portions of his audience might be running to Turner if they had the opportunity. Keep reading to find out why and learn 15 ways WCW beat the hell out of modern day WWE.
15. Less 50/50 Booking
It’s happened to virtually every wrestler in WWE today not named John Cena. Each and every feud they engage in will feature a bunch of normal matches against their enemy, where they both simultaneously rack up way too many wins and losses. This is what people are calling “50/50 booking,” where nobody can really become a star (again, except Cena) because each win will immediately be followed by a loss to the same person they beat. Cena’s incredible success shouldn’t be the exception to the rule, it should be the thing that teaches WWE in order for a wrestler to truly be a superstar, they need to have some definitive wins in their repertoire. Though WCW was definitely guilty of this at times, believe it or not, there were enough shining examples of the company breaking the trend they beat WWE in the issue. Most major feuds that had Pay-Per-View blow-offs in WCW were over with that match, and if they happened again, the same person who won the feud won the match, unless the other guy cheated or changed his strategy in a progressive way. More importantly, the rematch didn’t happen for months, allowing anticipation to grow instead of blowing it the next night on Raw.
14. Mo’ Titles Less Problems
One of the most mentioned issues in WWE today is that the company has way too many championships that all mean the same thing. The only thing separating the belts on the Raw brand from those on SmackDown is their colors, just like with the sets. Very few current belts feel important through lineage alone, because WWE likes to scrap them every few years and start over, for reasons that remain unclear. While WCW may have at times suffered from a similar title glut, at least the different belts all meant something, or had been around for years, or both. Most of them were pretty obvious, but there were some interesting ones, as well, such as the TV Championship, for up and comers who had to defend it with the most frequency, albeit with the strictest time limit. This slight differentiation in the rules separated the TV title from the US title in a major way, something that doesn’t exist between, say, the US and Intercontinental Championships today.
13. Wide Ranging Tag Teams
In the grand scheme of things, the unending downfall of tag team wrestling is hardly a new problem when it comes to the WWE Universe. Chances are doubles competition will never return to the prominence it last saw near the turn of the millennium, and granted, said explosion happened in WWE. However, the company has long forgotten how to build an action tag division, and has instead relied on tossed together teams and duos that feel like glorified jobbers for over a decade. Aside from American Alpha, even readymade stars from NXT are slowly killed by the same 50/50 booking that destroys singles wrestlers. The New Day were the exception to the rule when the broke the WWE Tag Team Championship longevity record, only to immediately turn into just another group the second they lost the belts, making the peak of the division as irrelevant as the rest. Back in the WCW era, there were teams like Harlem Heat, The Outsiders, The Steiner Brothers, Sting and Lex Luger, The Filthy Animals, Raven’s various groups, and plenty of other strong teams that all served unique purposes.
12. Variety In Production
For all the millions WWE spends on making their television and network events look as pristine and shiny as possible, they tend not to get particularly creative in doing so. The main difference between the sets of Raw, SmackDown, 205 Live, and NXT, for example, is that the ring ropes are red, blue, purple, and yellow, respectively. Stage set ups are virtually identical, with the color scheme slightly tweaked to match the ropes, and the only way special events are any different is that they tend to be bigger and shinier. Compare that to a WCW theme event like Spring Stampede, Bash at the Beach, or Halloween Havoc, where the show names so clearly lend themselves to interesting sets that we don’t even need to describe them. As a bonus, every time one of these shows would take advantage of the name and build a unique set, the wrestlers would find a way to use it, making every part of the show feel special. WWE used to do this, too, but the sleeker they get the more it goes away, much to everyone’s detriment.
11. Special Location Events
Continuing on the trend of WCW feeling aesthetically plain and uninteresting across the board, talking about mere production values alone doesn’t begin to explain how cool it was the few times WCW left arenas altogether and held select Pay-Per-Views and episodes of Nitro from wholly unique locations. The peak of the concept was Spring Break Out, when Nitro four times traveled to Club La Vela in Panama City Beach, Florida, wrestling in a ring surrounded by a pool. Hog and Road Wild were varied experiments, because the all-biker crowd could get kind of racist at times, yet that doesn’t change the fact it made for a different experience than every other show that year. Bash at the Beach 1995, from an actual beach, didn’t have that problem, though it did have Tony Schiavone bizarrely claiming 100,000 people were there, when it was clearly less than 10% of that. Questionably people counting notwithstanding, all of the shows looked and felt special, and especially thanks to the WWE Network, the practice should be back in full form today. The company has come close in 2009 and 2011 by hosting house shows at the Arena of Nîmes in France, but these shows weren’t broadcast anywhere, making them wasted opportunities.
10. Merging The Past With The Future
Despite widespread and accurate criticism that WCW was never great at making new stars, at least they never outright sacrificed potential main eventers for a part-timer wrestling one match per year. The company also never forced two thirds of the regular roster into giant battle royals so those same part-timers could wrestle each other, or spend ten minutes of WrestleMania time to talk about next to nothing. It never panned out quite as well as the younger guys wanted, but WCW at least made efforts at blending them with the established stars now and again. The problems were mostly related to the older stars refusing to lose, though when they were placed in groups or tag teams together, things worked out a lot better. In fairness, WCW’s attempts at doing this were often dire enough it may be more of a push than a way they beat WWE, but it’s still not a good sign that they were trying harder than Vince does today.
9. Respecting The Tradition Of Managers
Using the most liberal definition possible, there are less than five active managers in WWE as of 2017, and they all have one client each. Paul Heyman, Maryse, Bob Backlund, Lana, and Paul Ellering—that’s it, and two of them are wives supporting their real husbands. This is another area where the real criticism isn’t that WCW was better than WWE is today, but rather that WWE is generally failing at an area that they used to be great at, and it just so happens WCW was a lot better at it, too, at least to a point. Like with everything else, WCW lost track of how to use managers somewhere around the nWo era, but before then they had plenty of great seconds like Colonel Robert Parker, Jimmy Hart, Teddy Long, Sonny Oono, Eric Bischoff, and showing how long they’ve been around, Paul E. Dangerously and Paul Ellering. While this isn’t a huge increase in numbers over what WWE has today, the key difference is that the WCW managers generally had dozens of clients, like an actual manager probably would. Getting rid of minor details like that lampshades weakens the entire concept.
8. The Surprises Were Actually Surprising
This article is being written three weeks before WrestleMania 33, and yet it feels like we could probably spoil 90% of the show already. Of course, there’s always a chance WWE will take the world by surprise, but it’s been so long since that actually happened it feels like a long shot, to say the least. Before we go any further on this train of thought, let’s admit right away that the opposite isn’t exactly preferable, and it was WCW that proved it. While booking storylines so obvious fans can call them weeks in advance is bad, coming up with nonsense the night of the show and confusing the hell out of everyone is significantly worse. However, when the concept works and fans are actually shocked by what the see, the results are more than worth a little bit of chaos. Take for example Hulk Hogan’s infamous heel turn during the main event of Bash at the Beach 1996, to this day considered the most shocking and unexpected moment in wrestling history. WWE could never get away with a moment like this now, although the Internet and nature of journalism might have more to do with it than any faults of their own.
7. The Heels Were Jerks And The Faces Were Likable
Largely due to the fact John Cena is the unbeatable face of WWE, the idea of a strong villain has pretty much gone out the window for the company. Because Cena is a cliché goody too-shoes, adults don’t like him, but his success means most babyfaces need to follow his example, in turn making good heroes equally absent in the WWE Universe. Say what you will about how they monopolized or even destroyed the WCW roster, but the nWo were actually strong villains, and anyone with the brass to stand against them was inherently a genuinely virtuous hero. This made the crowds actually respond the way they were supposed to, rather than needing Vince McMahon to scream in JBL’s ear, telling his avatar to correct them through a patronizing dismissal of their opinions. Whenever WWE attempts to break the mold and have a layered face or heel with some shades of gray attached, they usually blow the landing so badly it results in an unintentional turn, that the announcers will then in turn remind fans they were wrong to react to. If WWE could actually get a heel audiences didn’t like or a face they did, maybe the other problems on this list wouldn’t be an issue.
6. Creative Jobbers Made Regular Wrestlers Look Great
WWE has well over 100 contracted wrestlers competing for the company, be it on Raw, SmackDown, 205 Live, NXT, or their widespread touring brands. One would think that with this much talent, there would be a clear distinction between the biggest stars on the roster and the lowliest of jobbers. While there are a handful of obvious main eventers in the mix, most of the roster on all four brands falls into a gigantic nebulous midcard, where everyone is bound to get a random win here or there, but mostly they feel like losers. This may be an improvement over the ‘80s and early ‘90s with completely nameless and irrelevant enhancement talent, but there was a middle ground in WCW’s incredible roster of low-level talent who never won a match who nonetheless were memorable through minor details. We’re talking grapplers like High Voltage, El Dandy, Los Villanos, Jerry Flynn, The Gambler, “Jumping” Joey Maggs, and “Hardwork” Bobby Walker. Some of them, like Norman Smiley, were so unforgettable as regular jobbers that they gradually broke out and became minor stars, showing that even WCW’s losers could get more over than WWE’s winners do today.
5. The Audiences Actually Cared
Yet another issue that held true across the board throughout the Attitude Era, across the board, audiences from 20 years ago were so much more invested in the show that it’s like night and day. Go to YouTube or the WWE Network and look up any midcard Raw or Nitro match from 1997 and it barely matters who’s in the match, there’s almost a guarantee the crowd will like it more than the latest Raw main event. Unfortunately, there’s not really anything WWE can do to fix this problem overnight, as it would take some seriously long term planning that pays off perfectly to suddenly double the fan base. On that note, the mere size of the wrestling audience is also worth noting, as when you combined the WWE and WCW ratings together, it would appear no less than three times as many people were tuning in during the Monday Night Wars than are today. It makes sense this incredible increase in viewership would come with those viewers caring about what they watched, and WWE needs to find a way to bring that feeling back.
4. Talent Was Allowed To Speak Their Mind
With the sole exception of Vince McMahon himself, it would probably be almost impossible to find someone who actually thinks his strategy of scripting every single promo his wrestlers speak down to the last word was a good idea. Sure, it can help to have an outline, and maybe some wrestlers need more than just the broad strokes laid out for them, but other superstars are more than capable of coming up with their own material. In fact, history has shown the best wrestlers in history generally wrote their own promos, sometimes crafting them off the top of their head minutes before a match took place. This was one area WCW completely excelled, regularly giving talent microphones and letting them do whatever they wanted with it. Men like Raven and Chris Jericho made their entire careers on this freedom, and should WWE bring it back, the next main event star could crop up where fans least expect it. Of course, that unpredictability is why WWE won’t let it happen, not wanting the wrong people to get over, a bizarre concept WCW never gave thought to.
3. War Games
Can a single match concept that only happened less than 20 times on television really be so important it genuinely made the company to create it better than their rivals? The answer would usually be no, but then again, this is The Match Beyond we’re talking about. War Games, invented when WCW was still the NWA, required two teams of four or five and thus managed to blow off or start no less than 10 new storylines at a single time. Were there some legal issue preventing WWE from using the match, maybe they’d get a pass, but the trademarks clearly belong to Vince McMahon, meaning he could easily revive the idea for a specialty Pay-Per-View or WWE Network event. However, the unique stage set up required means he’ll never do it, because the cost of a second ring and space it would take up in the arena probably adds up to enough money lost he wouldn’t see the appeal.
2. Cruiserweights Felt Special
It seems a little ridiculous that we’re still talking about how much better WCW was at utilizing smaller wrestlers than WWE in the year 2017, more than 16 years after the war was over, and yet here we are. Starting back when Ted Turner was still in the rasslin’ business, Vince McMahon has been attempting to keep up with the Joneses of cruiserweight grappling to no avail, his light weight divisions always coming off as a pale imitation to the era when WCW actually got the concept right. The main difference in how WWE and WCW use their cruiserweights is that WCW allowed them to wrestle their own style, rather than immediately adapt to the same type of action fans see from the heavyweights. Cruiserweight wrestling should be wild, fast, and out of control, with more high flying than you see in an aviary. The Cruiserweight Classic accomplished this for a few weeks, and the standouts on 205 Live still pull it off now and again, though not with the same level of consistency Rey Mysterio, Dean Malenko, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Jericho, Juventud Guerrera, and countless others offered on Nitro.
1. Star Power
Depending on how you look at things, it would be hard to fault anyone who thinks WCW having better star power than WWE is kind of irrelevant, since most of those stars came from WWE to begin with. On the other hand, this is merely the final example of WWE looking bad next to WCW if only because they would look bad compared to any successful wrestling company in this respect, mostly due to the many problems with the company this list has already outlined. Specifics aside, there’s no way to look at a roster that contained Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Ric Flair, Sting, Goldberg, “Diamond” Dallas Page, Lex Luger, and Bret Hart without appreciating the number of bona fide superstars WCW had at their disposal. In today’s WWE, there’s John Cena, Triple H, The Undertaker, and a few other semi-retired part-timers who might be able to match those luminaries, but they’re never around, and the people who are don’t come close. Of course, WWE has been able to come up with plenty of game changing legends in the past, and doing so again could supersede all of the other problems and put them on top once again.