This past week marked a pivotal anniversary in the annals of pro wrestling. As of March 26, 2001, Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling was officially purchased and absorbed by Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment (then-Federation). McMahon announced this live on the air during what became the final WCW Monday Nitro, kicking off an era of unprecedented (even for WWE) domination and monopolization of the wrestling business. Twenty years is a long time, and a lot has happened over those intervening years in terms of on-screen events and real world change. Now there is again wrestling on TNT; a second, nationwide, name-recognized federation in business; and a revitalized independent scene alongside a resurgent IMPACT Wrestling. Given all that, it seems a perfect time to sit back with a pint and take a listen to the Word ‘Round The Inn on the lasting effects and lingering what-ifs of WCW and its talent and staff.
What was your first reaction when you heard WCW went out/was bought by WWE?
Molly: Well, I was only eight, so I am certain I did not understand what was happening. I wish I could remember more clearly, but if I had to guess, I might imagine I thought it was simply another story. What I do remember about the time following that fateful night was being very confused and very hurt. Nitro was my favorite show and most treasured time of the week during that period (cringe now, but I was just a kid!). I wondered if I’d ever see any of my favorites again and wished very much things had been different.
Corey: Still in my childhood and not knowing much of wrestling at the time, I had heard about it from my brother. I remember the hype in his voice, imagining the feuds between WCW and WWF wrestlers, all these dream matches – though I vaguely recall him admitting he was sad to see Nitro and Thunder go away. As for me, I just knew Goldberg, Sting, and – in my own weird childhood thoughts – “Hulk Hogan’s chainmail grandpa with more muscles” (Scott Steiner), were coming to WWF.
Thumbly: This moment being post-Screwjob and all, I knew better than to think Shane was actually taking WCW out from under his old man. Still, I’d hoped it would be either 1) still a robust alternative with different talent and a change of pace style, or at least 2) a source of ultimate showdowns like ‘Taker vs Sting, or Austin vs Big Poppa Pump. You know what we got instead, a watered-down version of the collision that did not change history as it should have.
Scotland: I was eleven when it all unfolded but I was fully aware of the magnitude of what was happening. I still remember reading the headline that it was purchased on WWE.com. I was excited about the possibilities that were going to happen and immediately started fantasy booking all the dream matches that I thought we were going to see, as any kid would.
Adam: I clearly remember sitting at the computer in the spare room at my mom’s house and following along with the news. I’d heard about the potential sale to Eric Bischoff and his partners earlier in the year but I didn’t know the inner workings of everything, how that purchase worked, etc. So when I heard that the WWF had swooped in and purchased WCW I was shocked. I was also excited at the time because I figured it could lead to several dream matches (Austin vs. Goldberg anyone?) and a really cool looking wrestling landscape. I also knew in the back of my mind that this was a monumental thing because WCW and ECW had closed down within months of each other and the wrestling world as a whole was going to drastically change.
What WCW moment is most vivid in your memory?
Molly: There are bits and stories that I remember fondly for different reasons, but as far as vivid moments that stand out, I think it might be the soft reboot with Bischoff & Russo. I remember being captivated and again a little confused with the whole idea and ensuing New Blood and Millionaire’s Club stuff. It seemed big at the time, for me anyway. I feel like I enjoyed it then, but having watched it back since, I am much less of a fan of that period.
Corey: There are two moments. One, was a moment watching my brother play WCW/NWO: Revenge for the Nintendo 64, and he was playing some battle royale mode. Perry Saturn had been eliminated, and for some reason he had decided to stick around and eventually eliminate Dean Malenko, leaving my brother the victor. My second WCW memory was during the rise of the New World Order, following their beatdown on WCW talent and driving off in a limo. The most vivid moment of this memory was Randy Savage clinging on to the roof of the limo as it sped away, with Bobby Heenan shouting that he always knew Savage was a lunatic.
Thumbly: I loved babyface Diamond Dallas Page spending ‘97 and ‘98 hitting his trademark Diamond Cutter in any and every way possible – counters, off the ropes, off turnbuckles, or even out of a fireman’s carry (which Scorpio Sky still uses today!). The roars grew louder with each creative use and, without fail, each pin that followed. Page got so over that WCW booked him face-against-face for Goldberg’s WCW championship at Halloween Havoc 1998. After a Goldberg spear, I was resigned to the usual Jackhammer-pin-scowl sequence. I lost my mind when Page instead floated over into the Diamond Cutter. If you go back and listen to the house explode, you’ll understand why I still think that should have been the finish. That it wasn’t makes for a great what-if to this very day.
Scotland: I still remember when they started the Fake Sting angle with the nWo. I remember sitting with my mom and crying my eyes out watching “Sting” turn his back on Lex Luger. I was determined to get rid of all my Sting action figures and wanted nothing to do with him. So that whole buildup to the real Sting emerging at Fall Brawl and a six year old begging for forgiveness is a memory that has forever stuck with me.
Adam: Without a doubt, it’s Hulk Hogan turning heel and forming the nWo with Scott Hall and Kevin Nash. That sent shockwaves throughout the entire professional wrestling industry and sent WCW on a path that would ultimately lead them to beating the WWE for 83 straight weeks in the Monday night ratings battle. One could also argue that the nWo and its various iterations (Wolfpac, nWo Japan, nWo Hollywood, nWo 2000, etc.) would ultimately lead to the downfall of the company but that’s another discussion for another time. But as a kid, seeing Hulk Hogan turn his back on his fans and join Hall and Nash, was a complete shocker.
What WCW match should newer fans watch to get a sense of the difference?
Molly: For those who are fans of the current style of wrestling, namely high-flying stunt work and the like that so many superstars do, find the cruiserweight stuff and enjoy. There were a ridiculous amount of talented individuals who came and went in those days. If I had to narrow it down to specific matches, Billy Kidman vs Rey Mysterio vs Juventud Guerrera (Starrcade 1998), Dean Malenko vs Chris Jericho (Slamboree 1998), Eddie Guerrero vs Rey Mysterio (Halloween Havoc 1997), or anything with Ultimo Dragon…seriously, anything. This division is where WCW shined brightest as I look back now.
Corey: April 26, 1999. Sting vs Diamond Dallas Page. Having recently turned heel, Page fought to defend his belt against Sting in a match that feels quintessentially WCW; this match resembled WCW at its strongest with characters that developed without having made their name from some other promotion, who were arguably the company’s biggest stars. As these men fought through teeth and bone for the title, the soul of WCW, to me, is ingrained within this match. A highly underrated match that isn’t spoken of much, this bout gets a high recommendation from me.
Thumbly: Ricky Steamboat vs Rick Rude – Iron Man Match at Beach Blast 1992. You know these names, so the difference in how they are presented, featured, and allowed to work will really drive home WCW’s more reality-based, visceral style of the time. Both are in peak condition and at their best, not letting up during the duration of this see-saw battle with one of the more frantic finishes I can recall in a major contest. Quality action, serious stakes, and nary a magic spell, janitor, or exploding camera in sight!
Scotland: Eddie Guerrero vs Rey Mysterio Jr will always be my go-to for any fan that wanted to see why WCW was ahead of the curve in American wrestling. It is a match that has aged beautifully and I wish I could go back and view it for the first time to really appreciate the art and story that those two told that night.
Adam: That’s easy … Sting’s Squadron vs. The Dangerous Alliance in War Games at Wrestle War 1992. On one side you had the Dangerous Alliance consisting of Arn Anderson, Steve Austin, Bobby Eaton, Rick Rude, and Larry Zbyszko and the opposing side had Sting teaming with Nikita Koloff, Dustin Rhodes, Ricky Steamboat, and Barry Windham. This was a violent and wild bloodletting that is one of the most insane matches you’ll ever seen. The ring even gets destroyed. Yes, you read that right, this match was so crazy that even the ring didn’t make it through the whole thing in one piece. It’s my favorite War Games match that WCW ever did.
Whose post-WCW career felt the most fulfilling to you?
Molly: I’m going to buck the trend a little and say Molly Holly (Miss Madness and Mona in WCW). Announced as an inductee into the WWE Hall of Fame this year, she joins a few other deserving WCW alumni in the hallowed “halls.” I remember watching her with wide eyes in those days, and the fact that she was able to transition to WWE and attain the success she did as a woman during that time impresses me to no end. She helped to pave the way for many others and still continues to cement that legacy today. Some forget her WCW career, but the legacy began there and will now live on forever.
Corey: This could possibly be cheating, since he came into WCW near the end of its life, but for me, it’s AJ Styles. A young man starting out in what was once WWF’s biggest competition showed a lot of promise, only to be rejected by WWF when it was evident he didn’t fit their image back then. He made his name in Ring of Honor, TNA, New Japan Pro Wrestling, and finally WWE. Regarded as one of the all-time greats, Styles has come a long way since the promotion’s dying days.
Thumbly: I’m going to focus on the “post-WCW” phrasing (as opposed to “in WWE”) and say Sting. While his eventual run in Stamford was too late, mishandled, and suffered from bad luck, in TNA we got to see him continue to fight for the underdog and put on great stories, matches, and exciting moments. Despite essentially coming in as an outsider, Sting showed he still had the ability and charisma to carry a roster and became the franchise guy for a 2nd, entirely separate company. This is when he became (deservedly so) “The Icon.” Since he had already won me over before that point, it felt like he proved not just himself, but me right with each performance. Those classic bouts against Kurt Angle, AJ Styles, and more still hold up to this day.
Scotland: Without question, Booker T. Watching his debut at the King Of The Ring and attacking Stone Cold Steve Austin actually felt like we were in a true invasion angle but it was his work after the storyline ended where he stopped feeling like a WCW guy and truly become a WWE guy. I don’t feel like anyone else made a better transition without losing their position as a main eventer.
Adam: I’ll go outside the box here and say Jeff Jarrett. He stayed in WCW until the bitter end but never returned to WWE after the purchase. Just over a year later, in June 2002, he partnered with the NWA to start Total Non-stop Action Wrestling with his dad, Jerry Jarrett. TNA gave many ex-WCW wrestlers like Scott Hall, AJ Styles, The Wall, Sting, etc. a home. Based on the name recognition of former WWE, WCW, and ECW wrestlers, plus the thriving X-Division that featured lots of new stars, TNA eventually became a solid number 2 promotion with Jarrett himself at the top of most of the cards. Over the years, TNA had many ups and downs (including a breakup with the NWA and nearly going out of business several times) but found a solid footing with new ownership and is now thriving again as IMPACT Wrestling. As for Jarrett, he finally returned to WWE in 2018 and was rightfully inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
What’s the biggest legacy of WCW for you?
Molly: WCW’s legacy, for me personally, is what jump started a lifelong love for professional wrestling as a whole. I fell in love on the first Monday Nitro intro, followed by the sound of Tony Schiavone’s voice and a roaring crowd of the craziest fans ever. I’ll always look back fondly, even as I rewatch the cringiest of moments all these years later. As a company though, the real legacy came before I found it. The history alone is staggering. I look at Ric Flair, Ricky Steamboat, Sting, Vader, Brian Pillman, and so many more amazing talents. They took the fight to New York and nearly toppled a giant – taking risks no one else would dare take along the way. Whenever anyone talks about innovation in wrestling, good or bad, they should look to what Eric Bischoff and WCW did in the mid-90’s and take notes. They changed the game forever.
Corey: WCW’s biggest legacy in my opinion, is what followed after. You can see it especially in All Elite Wrestling – with Dusty Rhodes’s sons competing weekly, building new stars and telling long-term stories, and reconnecting the wrestling world in partnering with NJPW, NWA, and IMPACT Wrestling – all companies with strong connections to WCW in some way. NJPW with the past connection, NWA with the origins of WCW, and IMPACT with those left without a promotion following the fall of WCW.
Thumbly: As Molly’s match selections allude to, WCW made their “cruiserweight” division a priority on a national stage and was the first major American promotion to do so. While much of the talent was poached from elsewhere (ECW in particular), and varied in their actual size, the high-paced flying magic put on by the likes of Dean Malenko, Rey Mysterio Jr., Eddie Guerrero, Psicosis, and Chris Jericho opened eyes as to what a “wrestler” could look like. They may not have been hulking superhumans, but they could do things I’d never seen in the ring before and draw just as many eyes when given the chance. So many of these men went on to hold major titles in WCW, WWE, and elsewhere after starting from a spotlight in the Nitro undercard. That’s quite an impact.
Scotland: WCW’s legacy is literally my childhood. I was a WCW fan through and through. Every Monday was Nitro. I never missed an episode of Saturday Night. The older I got and learned about my dad going to NWA’s shows when it was Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling. Even today, I find myself watching more WCW than what is currently on television. It brings me back to a time of innocence and adolescence. It furthered my love for pro wrestling and whenever I think about the glory of WCW, I just smile.
Adam: There’s so many things I could choose from to answer this question but I’ll go with one of the most unique things they ever came up with … War Games. Their predecessor, Jim Crockett Promotions, literally invented that style of match. Two rings, one cage, 8-10 people going to war. The only way to win is via submission or surrender. It truly made for some memorable contests and was a staple of the promotions pay-per-view calendar (first Great American Bash, then Wrestle War, and finally Fall Brawl) until they stopped doing them in 1998. Since then, that type or style of match has most notably popped up in places like MLW and TNA. NXT brought the War Games match back several years ago, with an updated look, some updated rules, and it put a huge smile on my face. To this day, whenever I hear the ring announcer say “Let the War Games begin!” it sends chills down my spine.