The cliché goes that history is written by the winners, and that was certainly the case with the Monday Night Wars. WWE purchased WCW in 2001, ending at least 10 years of direct competition and decades more of shared history, and changing the face of sports entertainment forever. What gets lost in this fact is that WCW had already changed wrestling in countless ways already, and WWE has benefited from these changes more than any other organization.
Ted Turner established World Championship Wrestling in 1988 out of the remains of Jim Crockett Promotions, then the leading affiliate of the National Wrestling Alliance. While the history of the NWA goes back nearly a century, and often was included by WCW officials in their retrospectives of the company, we’re focusing on the Turner era specifically, if only to point out WCW was as powerful a brand as the NWA was in its prime, and for a brief period it may have even eclipsed the WWE.
WCW is as remembered for its many failures as it was for its relatively fewer successes. However, the successes of the company are not to be forgotten, especially the ones that managed to change the sports entertainment industry for all history. It goes without saying that the wrestling universe was a far different place in the 1980s than it has become today, and yet fans somehow take for granted the fact Vince McMahon alone did not mastermind the shifts, changes, and adaptations the sport has made since then. Keep reading to learn about 15 ways WCW changed professional wrestling that WWE fans tend to forget.
15. It Crowned The First Black World Champion
WWE and the McMahon family have long faced accusations of racism, and while the jury is still out on that idea, one damning piece of evidence the McMahons have yet to answer to is the fact they didn’t crown their first black WWE World Champion until 1998 when The Rock first earned the honor. WCW beat them to that accolade by six full years, when Ron Simmons defeated Big Van Vader in August of 1992 to officially become the first black World Champion of a worldwide wrestling promotion (Bobo Brazil had technically earned the distinction in the 1960s, although he refused the title and thus his win was never recognized by the NWA).
That it took either organization until the ’90s to crown a black champion shines an unseemly light on the wrestling industry in general. WCW at least deserves some credit for breaking the trend first, although it would be another eight years before their second black World Champion was crowned in Booker T. Simmons’ victory, a historic moment for wrestling fans of any ethnicity, as it proved all backgrounds had a shot at reaching the top of a major wrestling promotion.
14. It Proved WWE Wasn’t Untouchable
One of the most amazing aspects of Vince McMahon’s stranglehold on wrestling since at least the mid-1980s is that WCW was arguably his only true competition during this time. While dozens of independent promotions exist in America and around the world, and some of them even get fairly well known, such as TNA, ECW, or Ring of Honor, none of these companies have really posed any threat to the McMahon empire. WCW, on the other hand, came so close to putting Vince out of business that he still holds resentment over the fact more than 15 years after he ultimately won the war.
The exact numbers will always be debated, and the public will probably never know exactly how close Vince or WWE were to bankruptcy in late 1997. All we do know is that Vince was hurting badly enough to let one of his top stars leave the company, with the open admission he was doing so because WWE was going broke and couldn’t afford to keep him. The WWE version of this story focuses on the irony of losing a top star being part of what turned things around for the company. Had WCW somehow won, it would be comparable to the exit of Chris Jericho or The Radicalz, in one of the deathblows that ended the company. Obviously, that didn’t happen, but the fact that it was even possible was an absolute first and something that hasn’t really happened to WWE since. The fact remains, though, that WCW proved it could.
13. It Made A Handful Of True Stars
In retrospect, WWE constantly repeats the notion that the main reason WCW went out of business was a lack of creating new stars in favor of old stalwarts like Hulk Hogan or Randy Savage. While most WCW fans discredit this as the pot calling the kettle black, the notion also deserves some scrutiny over the fact it wasn’t entirely true. WCW only made a handful of stars during its existence, but some of these stars became the biggest legends in wrestling history, so perhaps they deserve at least a little more credit than they’ve been getting.
Goldberg and “Diamond” Dallas Page are often cited as only main eventers produced by WCW during the Monday Night Wars, and that might be true. However, WCW is also responsible for the continued legacies of Sting, Ric Flair, and Lex Luger, and they turned names like The Outsiders and The Steiner Brothers from superstars into legends. Despite the many downfalls these wrestlers would also suffer because of WCW, most of them also experienced the highlights of their career in WCW as well, and there’s a good chance they wouldn’t have all hit the same heights had WWE been the only place they could do so.
12. It Shattered Decades Of History
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves on this list, it would be fair to acknowledge the negative side effects of WCW that most certainly existed in addition to the good changes the company was able to make. There are pros and cons to the concept of changing history, and one manner in which WCW forever pushed the hands of fate was to forever destroy the legacy of the Big Gold Belt, the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. The company also damaged the career legacies of dozens of their top superstars, ostensibly even doing so on purpose in some of the worst examples.
Ric Flair had a reputation for breaking down crying more often than the average wrestler, although given the sort of things WCW forced him to do, maybe it shouldn’t be too surprising The Nature Boy was eventually prone to waterworks. The worst affront to history made by WCW was giving professional actor David Arquette the World Heavyweight Championship, at once the most respected title in the wrestling universe. Arquette was only one of a long string of terrible champions who destroyed any credibility the belt may have, and his story is only one of many in which WCW shatters their own great legacy.
11. It Gave Smaller Wrestlers A Chance
Most wrestling fans are well aware of Vince McMahon’s penchant for musclemen bodybuilders representing his company as World Champion. It was a tradition started by McMahon’s father when Bruno Sammartino underwent the longest WWE World Championship reign on record and cemented when Hulkamania brought WWE to national success. The flipside to this representation was always WCW, and even the NWA before that, both of which were ready to give smaller wrestlers a chance back when Vince McMahon wouldn’t even look at a wrestler twice if they dared stand under 6 feet tall.
WCW wasn’t without a fair number of bodybuilders as well, and wrestlers like Lex Luger, Sting, and Goldberg especially would have easily fit in WWE. Where they stood out, however, was introducing the cruiserweight division, which allowed much smaller superstars to compete against one another and stand out on the card for their incredible skills. Eventually, some of the cruiserweights even began mixing into the heavyweight division, and this trend went into full force in WWE. Chances are, people like Rey Mysterio, Chris Jericho, or Eddie Guerrero were too small to get hired by WWE fresh out the gate, though, and WCW was the integral middle step that allowed them to prove their worth to the wrestling industry.
10. It Introduced European Wrestling To America
Despite the word “world” making up the first letter in their acronym, WWE has always felt like an American company first and foremost. Vince McMahon presents himself as highly patriotic, and his babyface champions are generally expected to do the same, which may have contributed to the overall lack of actual foreign competitors to WWE until quite recently. WCW felt worldwide from the start, however, and proved it by introducing European wrestlers to America starting in the early 90s.
When it comes to WCW introducing foreign styles to America, the focus is usually on Japan and Mexico, and we’ll get to that momentarily. European wrestling can’t be discounted, though, specifically performers like Alex Wright, Fit Finlay, Steven Regal, and Norman Smiley, all of whom received their first true shots in America by way of WCW. WWE had The British Bulldogs and a handful of Europeans who assimilated to American styles, but in WCW, these superstars were allowed and even encouraged to wrestle in the European style they were more familiar with. WWE has finally allowed superstars to be themselves with the Cruiserweight Classic, a concept not too different from WCW’s Pat O’Connor Memorial International Tag Team tournament in 1990.
9. It Set The Trend Of Letting The Inmates Run The Asylum
Perhaps the biggest difference between WWE and WCW, and the difference that let WWE win the war, was found within the management styles of Vince McMahon and Ted Turner. McMahon infamously micromanages every detail of his product to the level it drives some of his employees insane. In stark contrast, Ted Turner essentially viewed WCW as a fun hobby and was one of the most laissez-faire executives an employee could ever imagine. Obviously, this attitude is how Turner’s company so quickly fell out of his hands, and it also explains why it was so easy for certain wrestlers to more or less dictate their in-ring careers.
Hulk Hogan is most likely the worst politician of the era, although Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, Randy Savage, Lex Luger, Roddy Piper, Sid, Goldberg, Scott Steiner, Jeff Jarrett, Buff Bagwell, and who knows how many other superstars all have stories attached to their names wherein they refused to lose a match or demanded something change so they look better. In WCW, they always got their way. Wrestlers have always asked one another for jobs, but it was practically the status quo for Hogan’s friends to use his clout in whatever way they pleased, and more than anything else it’s what drove the company out of business. WWE hasn’t been free of this trend, either, with stars like Triple H, Randy Orton, and John Cena all having rumored to use their backstage pull for a litany of reasons, and it may be reasonable to assume they could only do so after WCW weakened the industry resolve against such action.
8. It Produced Internet Pay-Per-Views
The WWE Network revolutionized wrestling forever, and while it might make sense for a media conglomerate like Turner to have enjoyed an idea like that, technology wasn’t anywhere near where it had to be for the Network to be possible when WCW was still in business. WCW did, however, utilize the technology that did exist to create the earliest examples of Internet Pay-Per-Views, the first of which was Boston Brawl, broadcast in January of 1998. Three more followed that year, culminating with L.A. Melee.
Technology was actually so nascent at the time when WCW offered their four iPPVs that the events were provided as audio only, called by WCW announcer, Tony Schiavone. Perhaps in part due to poor quality, none of the broadcasts were ever saved, and thus have virtually been lost to history. WWE tried an earlier iPPV of their own called Xperience in 1996, but WCW deserves credit for keeping the trend going for a full year with a whole series of shows.
7. It Forced The Creation Of Guaranteed Contracts
Looking back on the Monday Night Wars, one element that fans will never forget is the genuine unpredictability of the era, when a top star from either brand could easily show up on the other due to a contract dispute and suddenly change wrestling as we know it. The most infamous example occurred the same night the first shots were fired, on the debut of WCW Monday Nitro. Lex Luger had appeared on WWE television only one week earlier, interfering in the main event of SummerSlam, and had decided to leave the company without first informing the McMahon’s.
Prior to Luger proving how easy it is for a talent to jump ship, the wrestling industry was built on a great degree of trust between superstars and management that people would appear on dates promised, and get paid based on performance. In order to get stars to stick around, both WWE and WCW started offering wrestlers guaranteed contracts, which has since become the industry standard. The first guaranteed contract actually was offered by WWE to Marc Mero, but it was WCW that forced WWE to adopt the strategy in the first place. Shortly after Mero, Kevin Nash would use his legal acumen while in WCW to turn his guaranteed contract into the highest paying in wrestling, showing from the very beginning how this change would affect both the wrestling companies and their performers.
6. It Introduced Yearly Blow-Off Shows
The Monday Night Wars were when things seriously started heating up between WCW and WWE, and therefore Vince McMahon’s version of history tends to ignore the long legacy of WCW prior to that battle beginning. The reality is that WCW was changing the world of wrestling well before even McMahon, and in fact, the company beat Vince to the punch at one of his most “groundbreaking” moves. The first WrestleMania gets all the credit for being the biggest wrestling show in history at the time it took place, but WCW had already earned that distinction a full year and a half earlier when they produced Starrcade 1983.
Starting with the first, Starrcade was everything WrestleMania would turn into, a yearly event bringing the entire wrestling world together to blow-off every feud in the business all in one swift motion. WCW adapted the Starrcade tradition from NWA in 1988 and continued using it as the be-all-end-all show at a time WWE was introducing more and more events that were diluting WrestleMania. It wasn’t until far more recently that WrestleMania regained its status as the most important show of the year, much in contrast to Starrcade, which attempted to maintain that reputation even during the lowest points in WCW history.
5. It Started The Rise Of The Evil Heel Authority Figure
The Mr. McMahon character is so deeply ingrained in the minds of most wrestling fans that it can sometimes be hard to separate the evil Mr. McMahon from the real life Vince McMahon, owner of WWE. However, as history would show, the idea of an evil wrestling authority figure was hardly McMahon’s idea. Eric Bischoff probably wasn’t the first to come up with it, either, although the more important part is that Bischoff did, in fact, beat Vince to the punch, almost a full year before Mr. McMahon told the fans Bret screwed Bret.
Behind-the-scenes, Eric Bischoff was arguably as responsible for the WCW half of Monday Night Wars as Ted Turner. On-screen, Bischoff was just as important, and it was his sleazy, smarmy authority figure that started the yet-to-cease trend of douchebag heel authority figures that continues to plague wrestling to this day. Much like McMahon, Bischoff was so good in the role it became hard to accept anyone other than him in it, which is a big part of why future WCW authority figures like Vince Russo failed so spectacularly. Of course, unlike McMahon, Bischoff wasn’t the real boss, and it is due to that distinction we have to admit Vinnie Mac might deserve some credit in this area, after all.
4. It Gradually Created The Monthly PPV Model
In the beginning, there was Starrcade, and WrestleMania soon followed. They were presented on closed-circuit TV at first, switching to the more widely available Pay-Per-View as soon as it was technologically viable. By the end of the 80s, WWE was producing four Pay-Per-Views per year, and the NWA offered five in 1989. WWE kept it to four until 1993, when they introduced the King of the Ring, while WCW started adding more and more Pay-Per-Views each year as soon as the company was renamed.
The Pay-Per-View proliferation reached its peak in 1995, when WCW introduced Uncensored one month to the day after having already held SuperBrawl. WWE countered by creating the In Your House series in May, and the monthly Pay-Per-View model has survived in wrestling ever since. It actually took WCW until 1997 to hold a PPV every month, but this is another case where it is clear WWE only acted the way they did in response to WCW starting to do the same.
3. It Introduced Japanese Wrestling To America
In 2016, WWE finally began acknowledging some of their Japanese counterparts, most notably New Japan Pro Wrestling. NJPW has a history as long and storied as that of WWE, and by mentioning the company on television, WWE manages to feel global and aware on a level they had previously been almost intentionally avoiding. WCW never avoided these things, though, and instead were acknowledging NJPW and plenty of other wrestling organizations around the globe since as early as the 1980s.
Japanese wrestlers have been making their way stateside for as long as the sport existed, although few achieved success on a mainstream level. Arguably the first to do so was The Great Muta, and not only was his American success entirely in WCW, but Muta has never felt the need to work for WWE since. Muta is hardly alone in terms of being a Japanese star allowed to flourish in WCW, as he was joined by former NWA World Heavyweight Champion Masahiro Chono, not to mention decorated WCW superstars like Jushin Thunder Liger, Ultimo Dragon, Akira Hokuto, and Kensuke Sasaki. The only WWE counterpoint was Hakushi, who was very talented but could hardly stand against an entire division of Japanese stars.
2. It Introduced Lucha Libre To America
While the Japanese and European stars introduced to American audiences through WCW are often unfairly forgotten, perhaps the thing WCW is most fondly remembered for was bringing Lucha Libre to America. The man who deserves most of the credit on this front was Konnan, who negotiated for literally dozens of Mexican wrestlers to make their way to America and begin sterling careers in the WCW cruiserweight division. Outside of Konnan’s own success as a WCW United States and Television Champion, he also made way for wrestlers like Juventud Guerrera, Psicosis, El Dandy, Cíclope, and most importantly, Rey Mysterio.
It would be fair to point out Juvi, Mysterio, and a few other Lucha Libre stars actually got their American start in ECW. However, hindsight has been exceedingly kind to ECW, which was in many ways still a very small operation when those wrestlers had their runs. WCW was a significantly bigger deal, both in terms of long-term pay and international exposure, and it benefitted these superstars infinitely more than ECW ever could have, or WWE had any interest in doing.
1. It Made Wrestling Must-See TV
More than anything else, WCW’s lasting impact on the wrestling industry was inspiring Vince McMahon to try harder than he ever had before in his career. The Monday Night Wars were combative, contentious, and most of all, incredible television for wrestling fans on both sides of the spectrum. Monday Night Raw was first broadcast in January of 1993, and while it was groundbreaking from the start, the concept of “Must-See TV” would elude episodic wrestling until September of 1995. Naturally, the moment that changed everything was the debut of WCW Monday Nitro.
WCW had ups and downs like any company, but the one thing that remained true about the promotion from day one is that they were different. Different from WWE, different from the hegemony of sports entertainment, and different most of all from the obvious and the expected. Wrestlers appeared on Nitro despite seemingly having contracts with WWE, appearing in the crowd and making declarations of war. Raw would occasionally feature a good match or a nice moment, but big surprises didn’t happen until WCW started making them on a weekly basis. Not all of the surprises were good, and eventually, they would flat out tank the company. Until that happened, though, they kept the audience watching, and that audience most certainly included Vince McMahon, who wishes he could make modern day Raw as exciting as Nitro once was.