Vince McMahon purchased WCW in 2001, and when he did so, he was actually buying a whole lot more than a dying wrestling company. World Championship Wrestling was getting pretty dire near the end, but the company nonetheless represented decades of wrestling excellence, with a legacy completely disconnected from Vince McMahon and his WWE. For this reason, once Vince purchased WCW, he more or less threw that history directly out the window.
Included amongst the unwanted scraps of Ted Turner’s attempt at taking over wrestling was the WCW Hall of Fame. The WCW Hall of Fame was established in May of 1993, three months after WWE had established their Hall of Fame. Over the next three years, 16 wrestlers and one announcer were inducted into the Hall. Inductions took place at Slamboree, a yearly Pay-Per-View designated to honor the long tradition of professional wrestling in the United States.
Much like almost everything in WCW, the WCW Hall of Fame was marred with controversy almost from the very start, and therefore was not long for this world. WCW never official put the Hall to rest, however, and thus it could be fair to say the inductees were so honored until WWE purchased the company. WWE’s own Hall of Fame was dormant at the time of the purchase, but has since resumed in full force, with hundreds of inductees that trivialize the much smaller WCW version. Nevertheless, these 17 legends of wrestling deserve better than to be forgotten, so keep reading to learn all about the inductees to the WCW Hall of Fame.
17. Gordon Solie
If Jim Ross is considered the greatest wrestling announcer of all time, then Gordon Solie is the man who taught JR how to get so good. In fact, old school wrestling fans could easily argue Solie was even better than JR at calling pier-six brawls and identifying variations of plays. To WCW fans, Solie is probably best remembered as the man who called the first Starrcade in 1983, amongst dozens if not hundreds of regional TV shows for Georgia, Florida, Puerto Rico, and Alabama territories. Wrestling critics have drawn comparisons between Solie’s professionalism with that of Walter Cronkite, and claimed his love of the sport he called rivaled the same of legitimate sports broadcasters including Howard Cosell.
Gordon Solie never made the jump to WWE, largely due to the fact he was so respected backstage in WCW and NWA that he was part of some big-time company decisions behind-the-scenes. Notably, Solie was one of the members of the board for the WCW Hall of Fame itself, and it was due to his involvement that the Hall went by the wayside in 1995. Solie was against an induction you’ll read about later on the list, and his departure from the committee led to the organization putting the whole thing to rest. Solie was also posthumously inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2008 by his long-time mentee Jim Ross.
16. Big John Studd
Despite the fact that Big John Studd arguably reached the peak of his career at the first WrestleMania, his induction into the WCW Hall of Fame two months after his death wasn’t entirely a move motivated by the publicity Studd’s death brought him. Studd had a great deal of success in the various territories of the NWA throughout the 1970s, often competing in the tag division with a cavalcade of future legends as his partners. Specifically, Studd won the NWA Mid-Atlantic Tag Team Championships four times, once each with Ric Flair, Ken Patera, the future Ax of Demolition, and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper.
Studd went on to become better known for his antics as a monster heel in WWE, but these early accomplishments aren’t to be overlooked when considering his legacy. Therefore, while his untimely early death likely did motivate WCW’s decision to induct him into the Hall of Fame, it was nonetheless a deserving honor bestowed upon a legend of the industry. Big John Studd was later inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004.
15. Terry Funk
The only strange thing about Terry Funk’s induction into the WCW Hall of Fame is that it occurred in 1995, when The Funker’s career was very much still in full swing. Funk was less than one year removed from his latest WCW Pay-Per-View main event, and though it would prove to be his last in that company, Funk wasn’t even in the middle of one of his many short-term retirements when he was inducted. Despite the peculiar circumstances of his induction, Terry Funk remains one of the preeminent legends of the wrestling industry regardless of the company, and therefore it barely requires an explanation about why WCW felt the need to honor him so quickly.
Terry Funk eventually became so synonymous with hardcore wrestling that some fans forgot he was once an extremely skilled technical wrestler as well, and Funk even took those skills to a year-long reign with the NWA World Heavyweight Championship in 1975. For decades after this reign, Funk would continue amazing fans with his incredible matches, powerfully impassioned interviews, and overall mastery of the art that is pro wrestling. Funk continued winning WCW titles well after entering the Hall of Fame, specifically the United States and Hardcore Championships. Funk was also inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2009, along with his equally legendary brother, Dory Funk, Jr.
14. Angelo Poffo
Occasionally, a person’s child will so far surpass their skills that they nearly become irrelevant in retrospect, and that is very nearly what happened to the father of “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Angelo Poffo. While it’s true that Savage was far more charismatic and skilled in the ring than anyone else in his family, his father may have been the closest to replicating his abilities, as Angelo too was a huge star in his day as a performer. However, Angelo had barely wrestled for WCW or NWA, and didn’t make much of an impact when he did so, thus making his induction one of the most controversial on the list.
If the earlier entry on Gordon Solie felt a little big ambiguous, look no further for your answers than this fact: it was Poffo’s induction that essentially put an end to the WCW Hall of Fame, because Solie felt Poffo wasn’t worthy of receiving the honor. Many insiders agreed with Solie at the time, feeling that Poffo was only inducted to appease the wishes of his son Randy, who WWE had recently been signed away from WWE. While Poffo’s induction almost certainly had a political motivation behind it, perhaps Solie was overreacting, considering Angelo did have a decently successful career outside of the NWA, primarily as the owner of his own International Championship Wrestling.
13. Antonio Inoki
Upon first glance, one might argue that Antonio Inoki could be considered another strange choice for the WCW Hall of Fame, considering very little of his career even took place in the same country where WCW and the NWA do most of their business. However, Inoki is such a giant star in Japan that he had been making occasional appearances in NWA territories dating as far back as the early 1970s, and he even managed to win a few NWA affiliated championships while doing so. That in mind, his induction was also likely heavily influenced by other recent events at the time, namely the 1995 induction ceremony occurred mere weeks after the record-breaking Collision in Korea.
Given the fact that this in reference to North Korea, the details have been long debated and remain a bit fuzzy, but what is known for sure is that the Collision in Korea had the largest indoor audience for a pro wrestling event, hosting an alleged 300,000 Koreans over a two-day period. Of course, the nature of that country means the attendees didn’t have much of a choice. Still, WCW was proud of the massive crowd and what it meant for the history books, and thus Inoki was honored with an induction in the Hall of Fame. For less spurious reasons, Inoki was also inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2010.
12. Dusty Rhodes
The legacy of Dusty Rhodes in WCW and the NWA is something virtually every wrestling fan already knows full well. Dusty is remembered as one of the most charismatic superstars in history, and he built that reputation while wrestling for dozens of territories throughout America, winning countless NWA affiliated championships as a solo wrestler and in the tag division while he did so. Despite never formally winning a WCW title, Dusty was a former NWA United States, Television, Tag Team, Six-Man Tag Team, and World Heavyweight Champion, all of which morphed into WCW versions of the same, making him one of the most decorated performers in company history.
In addition to Dusty’s many talents in the ring, he was hugely important backstage in both WCW and the 1980s NWA. Dusty’s power was diminishing by the time he was inducted into the Hall of Fame, although it was still a slightly curious decision in that he, like Terry Funk, still had plenty of time in the ring left at the time he was given the honor. Nevertheless, one can hardly question if The American Dream deserves to be remembered forever, and luckily, he still is today, albeit it as a member of the WWE Hall of Fame, to which he was inducted in 2007.
11. Wahoo McDaniel
Truth be told, most modern day wrestling fans probably best remember Wahoo McDaniel for the fact Ric Flair would constantly talk about him in his promos during the dying days of WCW. While this may be true, there was also truth in Flair’s words, specifically his claims that Wahoo was a legend of the NWA era and specifically the Mid-Atlantic territory, where he feuded with legends like Flair, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, and Sgt. Slaughter, in some of the bloodiest and most violent matches of the early 1980s.
Wahoo McDaniel was as known for his abilities in the ring as for his wild and expressive character, which included a ceremonial Native American headdress. Unlike his WWE contemporaries Chief Jay Strongbow, Jules Strongbow, or Billy White Wolf, McDaniel was legitimately of Native American descent, with lineage from both the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes. Despite Wahoo’s personal history making him one of the few wrestlers of his type not to feel like a racist stereotype, WWE has for some reason chosen to ignore him, and thus Wahoo is relegated to smaller territorial Hall of Fames only.
10. The Masked Assassin
Perhaps more than anything, WCW is remembered for fostering a constant political nightmare behind-the-scenes. Therefore, perhaps the only shocking thing about the blatantly politically motivated induction of the Masked Assassin is the fact no one really seemed to mind the company did it. The Masked Assassin was actually a wrestler named Jody Hamilton, and his induction wasn’t for nothing, in that while performing with various partners as The Assassins, Hamilton truly was one of the most hated heels of the territorial era, and a personal favorite of Jim Ross.
Despite these accolades, Jody Hamilton was much better known at the time of his induction for the fact he held a backstage position at WCW, which he continued to hold until that company closed. The fact Hamilton was inducted without any of his Assassin teammates was especially curious, considering he almost never wrestled as a solo performer. Adding fuel to the controversy, the Assassin has never been inducted into a wrestling Hall of Fame for his solo career since, although he has entered the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame for his work with Tom Renesto.
9. Ole Anderson
Being a member of a famous wrestling family can make it hard for superstars to stand out on their own, even if that family is entirely fake. While modern wrestling fans probably think Arn Anderson was the standout of his fake family, old school fans could definitely make the argument that it was Arn’s uncle/older brother/cousin (fake families aren’t known for their consistency) Ole who first made it clear the Anderson family was one that wrestlers should never mess with.
Ole was actually the third Anderson himself, joining older brothers Gene and Lars in the late 1960s. Ole first came to fame teaming with Gene as the Minnesota Wrecking Crew, winning countless regional tag team championships while doing so. Ole himself was also infamous for his work on the microphone, which turned him into one of the most hated men most Southern wrestling territories would ever see. Ole won a variety of solo titles while making the fans hate him, and served as an integral and violent mouthpiece to many early adaptations of The Four Horsemen. Despite Ole’s role in the Horsemen, he wasn’t included when the group was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, and in fact, no other major wrestling Hall of Fames have yet to bestow him the honor, most likely due to his infamously irascible attitude.
8. Dick The Bruiser
Dick the Bruiser already had a reputation as one of the toughest and meanest wrestlers in Detroit when an interaction with Alex Karras turned The Bruiser into a national star. The Bruiser used his notoriety to create his own promotion, the World Wrestling Association, which would succeed with Dick himself as the top star until the mid-1980s. The Bruiser wasn’t Dick’s only nickname, as he was also considered “The World’s Most Dangerous Wrestler,” and not unlike “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, these vicious and combative nicknames turned The Bruiser into one of the preeminent anti-heroes of his day.
While The Bruiser had his own company to deal with for the majority of his career, he also managed to enjoy solid stints in a variety of NWA territories, as well as a long-term partnership with Verne Gagne’s AWA. The Bruiser held his own WWA World Championship 13 times, the AWA World Championship once, and dozens of other solo and tag team titles on a regional level. For whatever reason, an induction to the WWE Hall of Fame eludes Dick The Bruiser as of 2016, although he was thusly honored in the inaugural class of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s, as well as the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame along with his tag team partner, The Crusher.
7. The Crusher
The success of The Crusher is such that although he wasn’t the only Crusher in wrestling at the time, history has decided the distinction no longer needs to be made when using the bombastic nom de guerre. Nonetheless, we’ll point out the inducted Crusher was Reginald Lisowski, one of the most hated heels in wrestling until a chance meeting with Dick The Bruiser turned him into a folk hero of almost the same caliber. While The Bruiser was a powerhouse brawler, The Crusher was famous for his ability to withstand incredible amounts of punishment only to make a heroic comeback, predating Hulkamania by decades (and often doing it with a cigar in his mouth, just for fun).
The Crusher won the AWA and WWA Tag Team Championships with The Bruiser multiple times, and he won the AWA World Heavyweight Championship three times while on his own. Crusher won a plethora of other titles both as a solo competitor and in tag teams with The Bruiser and a variety of other legends, and even appeared on WWE television in the late 1990s to be interviewed by Jerry “The King” Lawler. Although WWE clearly acknowledged Crusher’s legacy, like The Bruiser, The Crusher has yet to earn induction to WWE’s Hall of Fame.
6. “Big Cat” Ernie Ladd
Standing 6 foot 9 inches tall, “Big Cat” Ernie Ladd was famous for being one of the first true giants of professional wrestling with the microphone skills to back up his amazing size. Ladd dominated in the ring like most monsters his size, but it was his gift of gab that turned him into one of the most hated heels wherever he went, and especially the hateful nicknames he would throw at his various opponents (i.e. Andre The Giant, “The Big Fat French Fry,” or Mr. Wrestling, “The Masked Varmint”).
Although Ladd was likely best known for his feuds with Bruno Sammartino and Andre the Giant, as well as his later commentary career with WWE, the Big Cat did indeed have a genuine history in the NWA worthy of induction into a Hall of Fame. Ladd won solo titles in the Texas, Georgia, Florida territories, as well as a handful of tag team belts with legendary partners like The Masked Assassin, Ole Anderson, and Edouard Carpentier. Ernie Ladd was also inducted in the WWE Hall of Fame in 1995, only one year after WCW gave him the same honor. Therefore, Ladd made history as the first man inducted into both Halls of Fame, and he would keep making history in 1996 when he added entry into the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame to his list of firsts.
5. Harley Race
The territorial days of wrestling were harder to track than today’s version of the sport, considering how many small, regional promotions existed, with as passionate and fervent fans as WWE has today all supporting their own local legends. This list proves huge stars existed well before wrestling became mainstream, but the WCW Hall of Fame isn’t all regional stars, as the organization also represented the global span of the NWA. And few men held the NWA World Championship more honorably, more often, or for longer overall than Harley Race.
Though Ric Flair and Lou Thesz both eclipse him in terms of overall time with the belt, Harley Race remains one of the consummate names associated with the idea of a World Champion, thanks to his tenure in NWA. Even with dozens of territories around the world with their own stars, Race was chosen by the NWA board of directors as the top champion of the entire organization as many times as he was for a reason, found in his unmatched intensity and incredible skills in the ring. Harley Race continued proving his legend when he jumped to WWE in the 1980s, and therefore earned an induction into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004, as well.
4. Eddie Graham
Part of what makes NWA and WCW history so different from WWE history is how splintered the organization was before Ted Turner made it international. NWA existed in the form of satellite territories around the country, all of which had their own bosses, meaning no Vince McMahon figure could rise up and get credit for controlling it all. However, the NWA does have a board of directors, which in turn has a President, and Eddie Graham was one of the most famous NWA Presidents in organization history.
Graham only served as NWA President for a brief time, and perhaps it was actually his journey towards receiving that title where his legacy truly resides. Graham was also the owner and lead booker for the Florida territory, which housed such major stars as The Funk Brothers, Barry Windham, Kevin Sullivan, and most notably, Dusty Rhodes. Unfortunately, Graham was also a severe alcoholic who battled a host of personal problems throughout his life, and he committed suicide in 1985. Nevertheless, Graham’s legacy lived on, and he was also inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2008.
3. Mr. Wrestling II
Every wrestler probably has a secret favorite fan, the approval of whom meant more to them than anybody else. Few wrestlers might admit to this, but if Mr. Wrestling II were to claim his favorite fan was former United States President Jimmy Carter, his other fans fighting for the honor would probably understand. Indeed, Carter wasn’t the only one outspoken about the fact Mr. Wrestling II was his favorite grappler, although the fact has gone down in wrestling folklore. Mr. Wrestling truly was Carter’s favorite, though, and he became such due to his heroic performances as the longstanding top hero in the NWA’s Georgia affiliates.
Mr. Wrestling II won the NWA Georgia Heavyweight Championship a record 10 times, along with countless other honors throughout dozens of different NWA territories. Mr. Wrestling II was also well known for his prowess as a tag team competitor, teaming of course with Mr. Wrestling I, and also legends like Jerry Lawler, Magnum TA, and Tony Atlas. Somehow, induction to the WWE Hall of Fame still escapes Mr. Wrestling II. However, he has since received the honor from both the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and the Wrestling Observer Newsletter.
2. Verne Gagne
One trend evident in the WCW Hall of Fame is that most of these performers became stars before wrestling was worldwide, and therefore they may not have been famous throughout the entire country despite how successful they were at the time. Verne Gagne breaks this trend as one of the first true TV stars created through pro wrestling, and he took that fame a step further by using it to create his own promotion to combat the NWA, the American Wrestling Association. Gagne, in turn, became the AWA’s top star, and went on to win the AWA World Championship an incredible nine times, once holding the belt for over seven consecutive years.
Gagne eventually became as well known for the mistakes made running his promotion as the years he spent as a top wrestling star, but this in no way negates just how massive Gagne’s star was shining while he was on top. Gagne’s AWA was standing strong in competition against both the NWA and WWE until late into the 1980s when his repeated errors caught up with him, and he was no longer physically capable of being his own top star. Nevertheless, Gagne remains one of wrestling’s true self-made men who wrote his own legend. Appropriately, he continued writing that legend as late as 2006, when he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in addition to this earlier honor.
1. Lou Thesz
The first person inducted into any given Hall of Fame is an extremely important choice, and one that speaks volume about what the organization being established stands to represent. The inaugural inductee into the WWE Hall of Fame was Andre the Giant, a great choice to represent the sports entertainment side of pro wrestling, while also honoring a spectacular and one-of-a-kind career. The WCW Hall of Fame made an equally pointed move when establishing their Hall of Fame, the first induction to which was arguably the greatest professional wrestler in history, Lou Thesz.
While the superstars on this list are all legends in one form or another, it might be fair to say none hold a candle to the significance Lou Thesz holds to the sport of pro wrestling. Thesz held the NWA World Heavyweight Champion six times, for a combined total of more than 10 years. Thesz won his first World Heavyweight Championship in 1937 while only 21-years-old, still making him the youngest person to hold such an honor more than eight decades later. Hardly a flash-in-the-pan, he went on to an unmatched legacy and a career that lasted until 1990, making him the only male wrestler to compete in seven decades. Thesz kept making wrestling appearances for various promotions well after his retirement, including a rare interview in WWE for Tuesday Night Titans. After decades of being considered one of the most unforgivable snubs, Thesz was finally inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2016, with the distinction of being a “legacy” inductee.