World Championship Wrestling’s place in history can never be ignored. For decades, they were run by Jim Crockett who tried to go national but failed due to bad moves and forced to sell to Ted Turner. Taking off as WCW, the company took it to WWF pretty well with the Monday Night Wars, even close to putting Vince McMahon out of business. With the notable exception of Sting, slews of wrestlers jumped between WCW and WWE and thus their ranks include some of the biggest names in the business. That includes a lot of WWE’s biggest stars who plied their trade in WCW and rose up nicely. Many know Scott Hall and Kevin Nash as the Outsiders but fewer remember how they spent time in WCW in 1991 as the Diamond Studd and Oz before their rise to fame in WWF. They’re not alone as slews of guys spent time in WCW, some using it to become famous like Chris Jericho, Rey Mysterio and Eddie Guerrero. Others, however, had tenures in that company rather forgettable before becoming major stars in WWE.
Many older wrestling fans will recall these guys in WCW but younger fans may not realize just how many got their start in WCW and even did impressive work there. There’s also guys who are better known for work in WWE who went to WCW for a brief time. Many know of course of how Chris Jericho, Mick Foley and Steve Austin all got big starts in WCW only to be held by the politics and the former leaving while the latter was fired. However, there are plenty of guys who worked for this company that many fans (even experienced ones) didn’t know spent time there. They run the range from true major stars to some faded faces but all notable for how they spent time in the competition despite their fame in WWE being so much bigger. Here are 15 of the most notable WWE folks you may not have known spent time in WCW and how important that company was.
15. Rob Van Dam
From the start, RVD showcased a fantastic ring ability with taking flight and technical work and a great charisma as well. He actually appeared on WWF TV as a kid in one of the challenges of Ted DiBiase. When he started in WCW in 1991, he was in the rising Light Heavyweight division with the name “Robby V” as then-boss Bill Watts didn’t like the “Van Dam” label. Working barefoot, Robby was doing good work on TV, starting to get over with his terrific moves and promising to rise up more. Sadly, Watts’ decision to ban moves from the top rope killed the entire cruiserweight division and Rob would leave, soon landing in ECW where he took off massively as the highly popular high-flyer which he would later use to runs in WWE and TNA. Yet another example of a top guy WCW let slip away.
14. Molly Holly
A truly talented worker, Nora Benshoof went through multiple gimmicks in WWE from Spike Dudley’s girlfriend to superhero Mighty Molly before just going as herself for success. Long before that, however, she was in WCW in 199 as “Miss Madness,” one of the valets for Randy Savage during a particularly wild period in his career. She was fired to wrestle as Mona in a blue dress and bare feet and getting over well as a fan favorite. Sadly, WCW never knew how to properly use their female workers as Mona was among the slews cut in 2000 to cut costs. Nora would move to WWF for her rise to fame, retired now but still a notable lady for her time and a showcase of WCW failing to use women right.
After slews of failed gimmicks, Solofa Fatu finally clicked as Rikishi, the goofball dancing with Too Cool and sticking his rear end into people’s faces. Long before that, however, Fatu worked a while in WCW in the late-‘80’s as he and real-life cousin Samu were paired as the Samoan Swat Team, the classic “foreign heels” battling in WCW, in bare feet and wild antics. They didn’t last too long, losing quite a lot more than they won despite their skills and would move to WWF to become the Headshrinkers, winning the tag titles there. Fatu would then handle various whacky characters before hitting upon the Rikishi one for his biggest fame and notable how much leaner he was in his WCW days.
12. The Iron Sheik
Once among the top heels of WWF and the man who lost the World title to Hulk Hogan, the Sheik’s career took a major hit when he and Jim Duggan were arrested on DUI and drug charges in 1987. While Duggan was kept, the Sheik was fired from the company and after time in the indies, was signed onto WCW (then still under the NWA banner) in 1989. He was brought out under a big talk but his feud with Sting for the TV title wasn’t exactly stellar to say the least with Sting crushing the Sheik several times. He made a brief return in 1991 but that was even more forgettable as WCW didn’t seem a right fit for the once-great heel.
Adam Copeland always had the wrestling bug and freely admits he was more of a WWF man as he grew up in Canada where the company had a huge presence. After spending time in the Canadian indies, Copeland got his shot in WCW, appearing in 1996 as “Damon Striker.” He faced off against Meng and Kevin Sullivan, the latter involving him being chokeslammed on the floor by the Giant (The Big Show), losing both matches. It was a brief stop for Copeland who would move to other places before signed to WWF in 1998 for his rise to super-stardom. Still fun to look back at this young wild guy with no hints of the mega-star he would become.
Before his run as a monster in ECW, Terry Gerin was trained in Canada and soon trying his hand in wrestling. In 1995, he worked in WCW as Terry Richards, a strong guy but nowhere near as powerful as he would be, just a jobber in a lame outfit losing to Jim Duggan, the Renegade and Road Warrior Hawk in bad matches. He would soon move to ECW, remaking himself as a monster worker and later runs in WWE and TNA, even holding the NWA world title. Still funny to look back at the clean-cut guy he was before his rise to major fame.
9. Jimmy Snuka
Snuka has long been affiliated with WWF, from his days of superstardom in the 1970’s and ‘80’s, selling out Madison Square Garden, wowing folks with his amazing high-flying and the iconic moment of leaping off a steel cage at Bob Backlund. He had a falling-out with Vince McMahon in the 1980’s that led to a self-exile and made an appearance in WCW in 1993 at Slamboree for a big “Legends” gathering. He later came out in 2000 for a whacky segment that involved hitting Jeff Jarrett with a splash from the top of a cage. This ended up giving Jarrett a concussion so severe that he had to miss the next PPV, a move that led to Snuka fired. The man sadly is in the middle of a harsh legal battle today with WCW just a stop on his way.
8. AJ Styles
By early 2001, WCW was in its death throes which is sadder as they were making an effort to rebuild their cruiserweight and tag team divisions to their former glory. Among the various young talents they signed were A.J. Styles, a rising guy expert at high-flying maneuvers, teamed with Air Paris as Air Raid. The two would go at it in various bouts, including against Elix Skipper and Kid Romeo and Styles showcasing the early promise of a great career. WCW would go out of business shortly afterward with Styles spending time in the indies before his rise to fame in ROH and as one of the key players of TNA. Today, Styles is ready to take on WWE as well with his amazing work but it was WCW that gave a national audience the first look at what would become a phenomenal athlete.
7. Marty Jannetty
Amazingly, people once thought that Jannetty would be the guy to go far as a singles star rather than Shawn Michaels. Sadly, good as he was in the ring, Jannetty just came up short in talent and charisma to the Heartbreak Kid and his drug and drink issues didn’t help. He did have a run as IC champion and tag titles as well with other partners but still not as big as he could have been. In 1997, he moved to WCW for a run in the Cruiserweight division but nothing really notable, just beaten in various bouts. His most famous was beaten by Chris Jericho before Jericho’s hysterical “Man of 1001 Holds” promo and just showcasing how Marty was one of the most famous “other guys” in tag team wrestling history.
6. Road Dogg
Working as Brian Armstrong, the future Jesse James split between wrestling and time in the army and various small territories in the early ‘90’s. He appeared as Armstrong in 1994 in various bouts for their weekend TV shows, including against TV Champion Steve Regal and some tag matches with Brad Armstrong. It would be a short tenure for him and he would move to WWF, first as the “Roadie” for Jeff Jarrett and then a failed singles run. It all changed as he and Billy Gunn were thrown together as a team and became the New Age Outlaws, one of the most successful tag team champions of the time and a popular act that would later follow them to TNA. His run in WCW was forgettable but still a start for what would become one of the more popular voices of the Attitude Era.
5. The Undertaker
In 1989, Sid Vicious was getting his first push as one-half of a tag team called the Skyscrapers with Dan Spivey. Vicious was injured so to fill his spot, WCW called on “Mean” Mark Callous, a guy in dark leather and a tough build. He did okay, actually showing some promise as he battled with surprisingly agile moves for a guy his size. He seemed ready for a larger push as he faced off against Lex Luger for the U.S. title at the 1990 Great American Bash but Callous wasn’t happy with the politics of the company and ready for something else. He signed onto WWF who then gave him the gimmick of a guy in funeral clothes and a new name: The Undertaker. Yes, WCW had the guy who would become one of the greatest icons of the business and let him get away, something that must sting a bit.
4. Jake Roberts
From his rise in Mid-South, Roberts found massive success in WWF as “Jake the Snake,” winning over fans with his DDT, his python and his amazing promos. His tenure was marked by his drug and drinking abuses with many noting Jake could be high as a kite but appear perfectly sober and hard to get help. In 1992, the company thought Jake was too risky to keep and he signed a plush deal with WCW. But the day before he was to start, new boss Bill Watts called Roberts into his office, literally ripped that contract up and forced Jake to sign a much smaller deal. He made a big debut attacking Sting and the promise of a huge run but then Watts pushed them into the infamous “Spin the Wheel, Make the Deal” battle that ended with Jake having to fake being bitten by his own cobra. He was soon gone over his drug issues, making his WCW run a rather bad turn in the Snake’s journey.
The man who helped put ECW on the map, the “homicidal, genocidal, suicidal” madman was a great star for that promotion with his stunning work leaping about through tables, barbed wire matches, fireballs and more. Forgotten is that in 1995, Sabu was swayed by a big payday to leave ECW for WCW, one of the many talent raids Eric Bischoff made. Paul Heyman openly announced at a show how Sabu had left with no warning to publically fire him. Sadly, Sabu’s tenure in the company would be short-lived as the strict guidelines of Turner cut down on his most vicious antics, some table smashing but not the huge bloody brawls that made him famous. He would leave after just a few months, back in ECW and later WWE to show his stuff more and how some guys just weren’t cut out for WCW.
2. Junkyard Dog
As a massive star in the South, JYD put New Orleans wrestling on the map and boosted himself massively as a huge draw. His WWF tenure was marred by drug use and weight gain as well as clashes backstage and he left in 1988. He was hired by WCW for a big Clash of the Champions in New Orleans but missed multiple dates beforehand and was fired shortly after a bad match with Butch Reed. He was brought back in 1990 for a program with Ric Flair that was later voted the Worst Feud of that year. Bill Watts brought him back again in 1992 in hopes of the old magic but that was gone, JYD just not in the right shape for it and soon gone again. It’s sad how a great star was brought down low and his WCW tenure showing how his star had faded.
A major misconception is that Hunter is only successful because of his relationship with Stephanie. The truth is that from the start, Paul Levesque had a great talent and understanding of the business that could take him far. He started in WCW as “Terra Ryzing,” a wild man character with long Flair-like blonde hair and a so-so ring motif. That was changed to Jean-Paul Levesque, a French aristocrat at first with a bad accent but they later changed it to just a guy claiming to be French (WCW, folks). He feuded with Alex Wright and later formed a team with Steven Regal but despite how Flair saw promise in the guy, WCW just felt he wasn’t suited for a serious competitor. So he signed to WWF as “Greenwich snob” Hunter Hearst Helmsley before his rise to one of the biggest names in the entire industry. You have to wonder how many WCW guys grind their teeth when they realize the star they could have had.