World Championship Wrestling was the hottest professional wrestling company on the planet back in the summer of 1996. While the World Wrestling Federation was plodding along with storylines and shows, the feud involving WCW performers and faction the New World Order helped make the company the must-see promotion of the two. All of that would go away within five years, as WCW closed its doors for good in March 2001 after a long history of horrendous business decisions and booking choices that ultimately sunk the promotion for good.
Some of who have been regarded as the best overall performers in the history of North American pro wrestling made their names and their careers working in WCW. Included in that list is a man who now appears to have been wise for turning World Wrestling Entertainment down for years and instead working in Total Nonstop Action Wrestling because of worries about how his character would be treated by those running WWE. Obviously also on the list is also a legendary figure of the business who many have called the best wrestler of all time.
20 Eric Bischoff
Not only does any such piece have to include Eric Bischoff, who rarely served as a wrestler while working with the company. Bischoff may very well deserve to be atop the list. The commentator who became the head boss of WCW behind the scenes took it to Vince McMahon and the WWF in a way nobody else had before or has since, and he helped lift WCW to being the top wrestling organization in the world. Bischoff did not see the writing on the wall when things started to go poorly, however, and thus he is also a reason that the company no longer exists.
19 Scott Hall
His battles with addiction are public knowledge, and that they were featured in WCW storylines is downright disgusting knowing all that we now know. Scott Hall still remains one of the top performers in the history of WCW and the man who was front-and-center for the promo that changed the company. With four words – “We are taking over” – Hall announced to the world that a battle-line had been drawn. A founding member of The Outsiders and the New World Order, Hall likely would have been a world champion with the company had he defeated his demons in the 1990s.
18 Chris Jericho
One could see from the first time that he stepped out from behind the curtain during an episode of Monday Nitro that Chris Jericho was going to be something special. Nobody, particularly those running WCW, could have imagined at the time that Jericho would become one of the top acts in the company. Jericho would ultimately leave the organization after he was never given a true opportunity to be a star, and it has been well-publicized that Jericho may have remained in WCW had he been booked to work a desired feud with Goldberg. WCW instead wasted his talents, and Jericho became “Y2J” in the WWF/WWE.
17 Chris Benoit
The name of Chris Benoit will never be mentioned in such a list compiled by the WWE due to the sickening murder-suicide case involving the wrestler and his family. As it pertains just to in-ring work that occurred during the span that WCW was in business, you would not find much better than Benoit. Benoit showed flashes of future greatness during his time with the Four Horsemen, and WCW waited too long to put the championship on him before he, Dean Malenko, Eddie Guerrero and Perry Saturn left the company for greener grass and the WWF.
16 Dean Malenko
A wrestler such as Dean Malenko was never going to be pushed as a main-eventer during the 1990s. He was undersized, he was not great on the microphone, and he did not have the star-power had by the likes of Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair and Randy Savage. Malenko was, for a time, the best in-ring performer in all of North America, and his feud with a young Rey Mysterio helped propel Rey Jr. to stardom in his first year in WCW. “The Man of 1,000 Holds” is widely regarded as being one of the more underrated wrestlers of his time.
15 The Giant
Those of you who have access to the WWE Network and who have forgotten about Big Show's run in WCW should go back and watch his rookie year in the company. The Giant was the best heel act in either WCW or the WWF during that time, and he was a surprisingly good in-ring worker for somebody who had his size and his lack of experience. Giant eventually became just another guy lost in the shuffle during the New World Order storyline, and he wisely made the jump to the WWF when he was offered with a massive deal. WCW made a massive mistake not keeping Giant.
Some fans may not recall that Sid actually had three runs in WCW. Sid Vicious played the role of the physical “enforcer” for a version of the Four Horsemen. It has been rumored that Sid was going to beat Vader for the WCW Championship in 1993 until an ugly incident involving he and Arn Anderson forced the company to change plans. He would ultimately wear the “big gold belt” after rejoining the company for a third time in 1999, but an ugly leg injury that the suffered during a pay-per-view match would end his WCW tenure before the company died.
13 Kevin Nash
Of the two founding members of the New World Order, it is Kevin Nash who had the most successful run. Nash and Scott Hall helped change the face of North American professional wrestling as The Outsiders, and Nash would eventually break out on his own as “Big Sexy” and as a world champion. Along with his on-screen work, Nash also served as a booker who has, over time, been criticized for decisions that he made. Nash was also the man who, with an assist from Hall, notched the first ever WCW victory over Goldberg.
12 Diamond Dallas Page
The phrase would later be hijacked by the man who became the most electrifying man in sports entertainment, but it was Diamond Dallas Page and not The Rock who was the real “People's Champion” starting in 1997. Page's “Diamond Cutter” finisher was, for a time, the most over finisher in either WCW or the WWF, and his rise from a former manager to a world champion and one of the greatest wrestlers in the history of WCW is a story of grit and determination. It is too bad that Page was not able to do much of note after the WWF purchased WCW.
11 Randy Savage
Casual wrestling fans will remember “Macho Man” Randy Savage for his time in the WWF and his partnership with and feud against Hulk Hogan. The best work of Savage's career came when he was in WCW. His feud with Hulk Hogan and the New World Order in 1996 was tremendous, and Savage helped make Diamond Dallas Page a true star thanks to some memorable matches and segments. Do not forget about “The Madness” run that Savage had in WCW during the final years of the company's lifespan. Even years' worth of injuries could not slow Savage down.
10 Arn Anderson
The Enforcer was in the twilight of his career when the WCW brand first saw the light of day in the fall of 1988. Arn Anderson nevertheless was one of the best workers that the company had up until he had to retire because of injuries that had accumulated over time. Whether it was in the Four Horsemen or the Dangerous Alliance, Anderson was a heel who was able to have a solid-to-great match with anybody put in the ring with him. His work on the microphone has been underrated by far too many for far too long even if Anderson was more often than not overshadowed by Ric Flair.
9 Scott Steiner
While most fans would probably think of the Big Poppa Pump character upon seeing the name of Scott Steiner, it should be remembered that he was a tremendous worker while in a tag team along with real-life brother Rick. It was as a singles act when Steiner shined, though, and there was a time during the last years of WCW when he was the most over act in all of the company. His promos that were supposed to make him a heel instead made him an anti-hero for fans, and Steiner was, in reality, the last true WCW Champion in that he was holding that title when the company was sold to the WWF.
8 Booker T
One has to wonder if things would have gone differently had those making such decisions would have pushed Booker T as a legitimate singles wrestler long before he got his shot. As good as he was as a member of the Harlem Heat tag team, Booker proved himself capable of being in main events and of carrying the ball as the top babyface in the company. It was too late by the time that WCW learned what it had in Booker T, as the organization was already headed toward its doom when he was featured as a champion. Booker went on to have great success in the WWE.
7 Lex Luger
Some wrestling fans and critics of Lex Luger would point out to the fact that he was never known for being a great worker. Luger's WCW resume is, when broken down, shockingly impressive. He worked with and feuded against the Four Horsemen. He was a friend and foe of Sting. Luger defeated Hollywood Hulk Hogan for the WCW Championship on live television. He was with the company up through its dying days in 2001. Luger had two great runs in WCW, and it is revisionist history to claim that he was not one of the most-important performers to ever work in the company.
6 Big Van Vader
Vader was arguably the best big man in the history of the business, a powerhouse “hoss” who was also able to take to the air and perform moves such as a moonsault when he wanted to wow audiences. Before he feuded with the likes of Shawn Michaels in the WWF, Vader was a champion in WCW who appeared to be unbeatable until Ric Flair made his return to the company. A phenomenal in-ring worker who had a special ability to tell stories during matches, Vader too often goes unappreciated for what he contributed to WCW while he was working for the promotion.
At a time when it appeared as if the WWF was going to easily topple WCW, a hero emerged to feud with Hollywood Hulk Hogan and turn things around for a time. Bill Goldberg was an unknown commodity when he showed up on Monday Nitro and notched a surprise victory over Hugh Morris. That result would prove to be a win that would kickstart the most famous streak in WCW history. Those running WCW made a huge business mistake when they decided to have Goldberg beat Hogan during a television show and not on pay-per-view, but that does not at all take from the impact he made as a star.
4 Rey Mysterio
Of all of the Extreme Championship Wrestling performers who made the move to WCW in the 1990s, none had the success had by Rey Mysterio. Mysterio was a game-changer in the company starting in 1996, when he helped make the cruiserweight division one of the best parts of WCW at the time and one that had a role in the promotion being that much better than the WWF. As good as Rey Jr. was in WCW – and he was great – he would have even more success as a singles act in the WWE, where he won multiple championships and had many memorable matches.
3 Hulk Hogan
It is an easy argument to make that Hulk Hogan was the most important acquisition in the history of WCW. Without Hogan making the move, the door for WWF stars to link up with WCW on big-money deals may never have truly opened, and the New World Order concept may have flopped or never happened at all. Pro wrestling companies such as the WWE and TNA have been trying to recreate the magic that occurred when Hogan turned heel in 1996. That was a one-of-a-kind moment, one that will never be duplicated because of who Hogan was and what he meant to so many fans as a babyface.
1 Ric Flair
Those who would claim that Ric Flair should not be atop of this list because he left for the WWF for a short time in the 1990s are simply searching for a reason to not put “The Nature Boy” at No. 1. Flair carried the ball for WCW multiple times and in ways that Sting never did, and he was also the lead man of the greatest faction in the history of the company. It was, of course, fitting that Flair and Sting met inside of the ring for one final battle on the last ever WCW Monday Nitro. Sting beating Flair was the only way that WCW could close up shop for good.