It’s easy, knowing all that we now know about what occurred in the landscape of North American professional wrestling, to go back and laugh at all that went wrong with World Championship Wrestling during the final several years of that failed organization. Those running the company at the time made mistake after mistake as it pertained to handing out contracts to wrestlers and also in making booking decisions, and thus WCW was doomed to sink to the bottom of the wrestling landscape even before those of us on the outside could see the numerous holes that had punctured the foundation of the organization.
The history of WCW bled into that belonging to the old National Wrestling Alliance, but it is widely accepted that the first national appearance of that promotion occurred in the fall of 1988. That will, thus, affect the 20 moments that are mentioned in this list. Those of you who are looking for some legendary promos made by the first ever edition of the Four Horsemen or for the early days of stars such as “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes may be disappointed, as moments like those occurred under the umbrella of the NWA before WCW was known to wrestling fans who were not living in the south.
Limiting the timeline from late 1988 up through the final ever Monday Nitro that aired on TNA in March of 2001 does not at all make it difficult to recall 20 positive moments from what was the original WCW promotion. It should not be much of a surprise to anybody that one man in particular is mentioned throughout this piece, an individual who is, in the eyes of a large group of fans and insiders, the greatest overall performer in the history of the wrestling business. Along with him atop of this list is a group that helped change the face of North American pro wrestling, ultimately for better and for worse.
20. Hulk Hogan Parade
WCW and the World Wrestling Federation were companies going in different directions in 1994. While the WWF was looking to push talents such as Bret “Hitman” Hart and Shawn Michaels, WCW was happy to “raid” the competition and scoop up veteran wrestlers “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan. It would take a couple of years, but moves made by both companies led to a national wrestling boom unlike any before it. The events of the summer of 1996 helped make pro wrestling must-see television for even casual viewers, and it all started with this parade.
19. War Games: Fall Brawl 1996
The war involving WCW and the new World order was the top story in the wrestling world in 1996 when the two entities met in a War Games match at Fall Brawl 1996. Sting, who had served as the face of WCW from the first day that Scott Hall appeared on WCW television, was made to look like a turncoat leading up to the event, but it would be learned that the nWo had fooled the competition with a “fake” Sting. The conquering hero would show his true colors at the pay-per-view event, but the lack of faith from his friends would lead to a drastic change in the character that made for a fascinating storyline; until WCW ruined it in the end, of course.
18. Vader Destroys Cactus Jack
Big Van Vader and Cactus Jack were involved in a bitter feud in 1993 when the two faced off during an edition of WCW Saturday Night. The match would come to a swift halt when Vader, with the help of manager Harley Race, powerbombed his victim onto the exposed concrete at time when such harsh and dangerous maneuvers were not seen on WCW or WWF programming. What was supposed to be a serious injury angle was turned into a comedic joke by those working for WCW, a fact that Mick Foley has touched upon in his book Have a Nice Day and in interviews.
17. Cruiserweights Arrive
Eric Bischoff and others in charge of WCW got plenty wrong during the 1990s. “Stealing” from Extreme Championship Wrestling and bringing the concept of Lucha Libre cruiserweight wrestling to national television was nothing short of a stroke of genius. Not only did WCW have the hottest storyline in the business at the time in the new World order invasion, it also, thanks to these talented athletes, had better wrestling than did the WWF. You can pick you favorite from this large group of iconic and memorable matches. There are many worth mentioning, starting with the feud involving Rey Mysterio Jr. and Dean Malenko.
16. Lex Luger Beats Hollywood Hogan
“Hollywood” Hulk Hogan had been booked as the unbeatable heel champion and head of the new World order faction when he defended his title against Lex Luger during an episode of Nitro. Luger gained momentum about ten minutes into the contest, and he then fought off several members of Hogan’s group before lifting the champion up for the “Torture Rack” finisher. Hogan gave up almost immediately, sending the crowd into a frenzy as Luger was celebrated as a WCW savior by members of the locker room who lifted Luger up on their shoulders.
15. nWo Attacks WCW: July 1996
WCW pushed the envelope in many ways regarding the Nitro program in the summer of 1996 after Hulk Hogan turned heel and helped form the new World order. One such famous moment involved the heel faction executing a “sneak attack” on WCW performers behind the scenes. The highlight, one that has been replayed on WCW and WWE programming over the years, occurred when Kevin Nash caught Rey Mysterio and then tossed him into a trailer “like a lawn dart.” The fight was thought to be so real, Eric Bischoff would later explain, that the authorities were called to look into the situation.
14. Ric Flair Returns in 1998
Ric Flair had a tumultuous relationship with those running WCW throughout the final 11 years of that company’s existence, and that real-life drama was played out in televised storylines from time to time. The Four Horsemen were once again reunited in 1998 with the help of the retired Arn Anderson on an edition of Nitro. Anderson wisely allowed the drama to build before bringing “Nature Boy” Ric Flair out in front of an adoring audience that gave the legend a standing ovation. While Flair and the Horsemen would quickly be buried in storyline, this remains one of the greatest moments in the history of the Nitro program.
13. Chris Benoit vs Booker T: Best of 7
It would not be until years after the fact that fans would learn that the downfall of WCW had, behind the scenes, already begun when the company booked an all-time great series that made for one of the top feuds of 1998. Both Booker T and Chris Benoit were, at the time, working their way up cards en route to eventually becoming main event players, and both would win world titles in WCW and the WWE. This feud was so widely respected by those in the industry, in fact, that the WWE chose to recreate it years after WCW folded.
12. Goldberg Beats Hogan
The biggest knock on this moment and what keeps it from being in the top-ten of such of a list is that WCW chose to air the hyped Goldberg versus Hulk Hogan showdown on an episode of Nitro and not on pay-per-view. While the scenes that occurred on that night made for one of the most memorable matches in the history of the Monday Night Wars, it also likely cost WCW plenty of money that fans would have spent to see this match from the comfort of their living rooms. Remember, young wrestling performers, that television ratings mean only so much in the long run.
11. Arn Anderson Retires
Known as the “Enforcer” of the Four Horsemen, Arn Anderson was forced to legitimately retire as an active in-ring performer due to injuries in 1997 when WCW was on a roll. That real-life development was turned into a storyline that involved Anderson giving his “spot” in the group to Curt Hennig, who had made the jump from the WWF to WCW. What was truly an emotional moment for diehard fans who had watched Anderson over the years would, on a later edition of Nitro, be mocked by heel group the new World order in a segment that, in the eyes of some, went too far in mocking Anderson.
10. Ric Flair Defeats Vader
WCW was struggling financially in 1993 when Big Van Vader was serving as the company’s world heavyweight champion. Only one man could provide a lift to the organization and also compete for the championship in his home town of Charlotte, North Carolina: “Nature Boy” Ric Flair. This was not, truth be told, the greatest match in Flair’s career, as he and Vader had clashing styles inside of the ring. Flair, playing the underdog babyface on this night, clipped Vader’s leg before completing an ugly roll-up for the pinfall that sent the crowd into an uproar of elation.
9. First Ever Monday Nitro
The WWF was the lone wolf in the world of Monday night television when Eric Bischoff went to Ted Turner with a crazy idea: Put WCW on Mondays to compete against the WWF. Of all of the moments to ever occur on the first edition of Nitro that occurred inside of a shopping mall – the 1990s were wacky in many ways – the biggest to occur was Lex Luger, who had been working for the competition, showing up on the WCW program. Luger would never again work for the WWF as an on-air performer, and the existence of Nitro would, in time, help improve both wrestling companies.
8. War Games: WrestleWar ’92
One of the more underrated heel factions in the history of WCW was the Dangerous Alliance, one that was led by manager Paul E. Dangerously and one that included talent such as Steve Austin (before he was “Stone Cold”), Rick Rude, Arn Anderson, Bobby Eaton and Larry Zbyszko. Dangerously’s group faced off with the babyface faction known as “Sting’s Squadron” at WrestleWar ’92 in what has, for decades, been viewed as one of the greatest War Games matches ever put together. Good would triumph over evil on that night in one of several matches mentioned in this piece that was given a five-star rating from journalist Dave Meltzer.
7. War Games: WrestleWar ’91
The second-consecutive War Games match to be featured in this piece involved a version of the Four Horsemen that included Ric Flair, Barry Windham and Sid Vicious along with Larry Zbyszko taking on the team of Sting, Brian Pillman and the Steiner Brothers. The taxing affair went for over 20 minutes until Sid famously hit Pillman with multiple powerbombs, including one that looked particularly ugly after Pillman’s head legitimately hit the top of the cage. Sid’s antics won the match for his side, and they also made him a bigger heel among fans.
6. Ric Flair vs Ricky Steamboat: Chi-Town Rumble
All great feuds should, in an ideal wrestling world, start out with an instant classic of the match, and that was the case when Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat met up at the Chi-Town Rumble in February of 1989. The two engaged in a back-and-forth encounter for over 20 minutes when Steamboat seemed to have the match won after hitting a flying crossbody on Flair, a move that also took the referee out of action. Justice would prevail in the end, as Steamboat would pin Flair with a cradle to win the championship and kick-start this feud for the ages.
5. Ric Flair vs Ricky Steamboat: WrestleWar ’89
This match was, following the events that occurred in the showdown of these two icons that is featured in the No. 4 spot of this list, advertised as “Ric Flair‘s last chance.” Champion Ricky Steamboat and Flair wrestled for over 30 minutes in an absolute gem of an encounter, and it was Flair who made the most of his “final” opportunity and scored the pinfall after rolling Steamboat up off of a reversal. The “Nature Boy” would not be given long to celebrate, however, as Terry Funk would make sure that he had the last say on the evening.
4. Ric Flair vs Ricky Steamboat: Clash of Champions 1989
The truth of the matter is that you could rate the matches that made up the feud involving Ricky Steamboat and Ric Flair in any order you like and not be wrong. This match fell in the middle of the series of three contests, all of which were deemed to be worthy of five-star ratings from Wrestling Observer editor and creator Dave Meltzer, and it was a 2-out-of-3 falls classic that nearly went an hour before Steamboat had his arm raised. The conclusion of the match was not without controversy, however, and thus it resulted in the two meeting up again a month later.
3. Scott Hall Debuts
Critics would point out that this was not the greatest short promo ever cut in the history of pro wrestling. That may be the true, but Scott Hall appearing on Monday Nitro for the first time in 1996 would prove to mean far more than fans could have ever first imagined. The launch of an invasion angle the likes of which many national wrestling fans had ever before witnessed, Hall’s “we are taking over” threat was the start of WCW leapfrogging the WWF in Monday night television ratings and in revenue. WCW would go on to be the hottest promotion in the world that summer.
2. Ric Flair vs Terry Funk: I Quit
Any young wrestler who is booked to participate in an “I Quit” match would be smart to stop whatever it is he is doing, sit down and thoroughly examine this contest. Ric Flair and Terry Funk may not have put on what some would deem to be a five-star classic on that fateful night (Dave Meltzer did rate it five stars fwiw). They did not perform flips off of the top rope, nor did they take many unnecessary risks. The storytelling that was involved in this contest was pro wrestling at its finest, an example of what can happen when two legends of the business are given a blank canvas and an audience waiting to see something special.
1. Hulk Hogan Turns Heel
Hulk Hogan was a babyface wrestler unlike any other before him, a man who made the World Wrestling Federation a true phenomenon beyond the industry and who became an international superstar as an in-ring performer and an actor. While his character had become stale by the time he had linked up with WCW, turning him heel in the summer of 1996 could have nevertheless been a flop if not for Hogan’s superior performances during the early days of that run. It all began on that fateful night at Bash at the Beach, when the Monday Night Wars were turned upside-down due to the birth of the new World order.