What Killed WCW (WCW Clue) Part 1

Those of you that have read my stuff for years now (thanks for that) know that I like to talk about WCW. The company officially closed over ten years ago and yet there are still people that talk about how great it was. Now yes, WCW had some absolutely dreadful stuff over the years, most of which I’ve at least touched on. However, what people forget is that WCW had some flat out AWESOME stuff that today’s WWE wishes they could do. WCW had WWF beaten and then screwed up, and today Vince McMahon and WWE rule the wrestling world totally and completely.

Now, there have been books written about how WCW died and went out of business and all that. However, there are a few things we’re not quite clear on and to be fair, I don’t think there’s a clear answer out there. As you’ve probably guessed from the title, the purpose of this piece is to try to figure out who killed WCW, when it happened, what caused it. This is very important to start things off with: I don’t have a specific answer to those questions as I write this. I’ve tried to figure these answers out for years and I thought maybe by writing it out I could come to some sort of conclusion. When I started reviewing the late WCW shows I thought about doing this and was going to call it “Jumping the Shark Backwards”, but I never got around to it. Here it is now though, so let’s see if we can figure it out.

One major note: about 99% of this isn’t researched and most of it is coming off the top of my head, so if I mess up a few dates or names, don’t be surprised.

Another warning: this is LONG. It’s easily the longest piece I’ve ever written on wrestling so don’t expect it to be quick like a lot of other things I write. There are stats, history lessons, my thoughts on things, and a lot of other stuff. It reads almost like a college paper so this is going to take awhile to get through.

To begin with, I’ll give you a brief(ish) history of WCW. For the sake of clarity, we’re going to say that WCW officially started when Ted Turner took over the company, which took place on November 21, 1988. Now before I explain how we got there, I’ll go a bit further back into history. Not that it’s important to this, but I like talking about the history of the sport I love. If you’re already familiar with the way the territory system and Jim Crockett Promotions worked, skip ahead a little. The first paragraph after the history lesson begins with “Now that we know how it started, how did it die?”

See, today wrestling is way different than it originally had started as. WAY back in the day (as in like before the 1950s) you would have local territories and local promoters would run their individual areas. To cross over into another promoter’s territory was almost an act of war, which would somewhat be the case into the mid 80s. In 1948, a group of promoters combined to form the organization known as the NWA. The basic idea was they would all still run their territories, but there would be one name over all of them and one champion to rule them all. Local champions would exist, but the NWA World Champion would travel around.

For a non-wrestling analogy, think of the NCAA. You have your Big East, your ACC, your SEC and so on, but they’re all members of the NCAA and while you’ll have conference champions, there’s one NCAA Champion. Then imagine that champion traveled to individual conferences, wore trunks and tried to pin the other players down.

Anyway, this was the dominant situation for about 12 years, until two guys named Toots Mondt and Vince McMahon Senior thought that the NWA Champion, Lou Thesz, wasn’t a good enough draw in the northeast where they ran a territory. They withdrew from the NWA and changed their name to the World Wide Wrestling Federation (that’s about as abridged and simplified as saying a babies come from a mother’s stomach but you get the idea).

More companies eventually did this and the NWA started to realize they were in trouble. At the same time, a man named Jim Crockett promoted in the Carolinas area. His son took over the company and became president of the NWA. At the same time, Vince McMahon Jr. (the Vince that most of you are familiar with, had a radical idea: what if wrestling was a national product? I want this to be clear: this was INSANE at the time. Nothing had ever been attempted like this and most people laughed at him.

Then Vince got evil on them. He started going around and taking up all of the talent around the country from various promotions. Now his dad had this wrestler that was a heel, but was offered a part in a big Hollywood movie. Vince Sr. said you’re a wrestler, not an actor (there’s a joke in there somewhere) so if you take the movie, you’re gone. The wrestler took the movie, became a sensation, then went to the AWA, wore red and yellow, and Hulkamania was born. Vince Jr. bought his father out, brought back Hogan, and the rest is history.

Now around this time, Jim Crockett Jr. (both big time players in the 80s were juniors. Kind of interesting) had taken over and came up with an idea of his own: why can’t I own more than one territory? So basically, Crockett did the same thing Vince did: he went around and bought up every major name in a bunch of territories or flat out bought the territory itself. He had his own empire going in the southeast and for all intents and purposes, he owned the NWA (note that officially he didn’t but he owned about 90% of the talent anyone would want to see).

Crockett did really well for awhile, namely on the strength of the Flair vs. Dusty feud and the Four Horsemen. He had a national TV show on Ted Turner’s TBS station and life was good. The problem was he had a booker named Dusty Rhodes, and Rhodes was a little crazy. He would create what is known as the Dusty Finish, which would involve a fall going down and then something happening to cancel it, he created the Bunkhouse Stampede, which was a cage match battle royal where the idea was to throw people out of the cage (think about that for a minute and guess who won) and then came up with the idea of putting the world title on Rick Steiner, who was more or less the Eric Young of his day.

Combine this with Crockett overspending on things like jets and buying all these promotions and Ronnie Garvin as world champion and Vince messing with his PPV debut and Hulkamania and it’s no wonder why he was broke relatively soon. Enter Ted Turner, who bought the promotion flat out and took over on November 21, 1988, which is where we’ll say WCW began.

Now that we know how it started, how did it die? You’ll hear a lot of different theories about this, but for this case, I think we should use the process of elimination. Now for an opening suspect, the most common answer is the day that Jamie Kellner, one of the new bosses at AOL-Time Warner, canceled WCW programming on TBS and TNT. I’ve heard the argument and statements that it was that move that killed WCW and it’s still as stupid today as it was then.

Just think about this for a few seconds. Kellner had built up a lot of what was the FOX Network dominance. The guy knew what he was doing. Do you really think he would have killed off WCW programming if it still had value? By 2001 when the switch was pulled, WCW had been driven so far into the ground that there was absolutely no way that it was going to come back. Scratch that. It could have, but it was going to take YEARS to do.

Why in the world would they want to keep the company on the air when it was so damaged and bleeding money like it was already doing? This idea that Kellner and his cutting off the programming was what killed WCW is just wrong on all levels. He didn’t kill WCW. He simply put it out of its misery.

We’ll move back in time for the rest of this and go to Bash at the Beach 2000. This is a far less likely candidate because it’s really not that remembered. The idea here is that there was some kind of worked shoot which we’re still not sure how much was a work and how much was a shoot. It was Hogan vs. Jarrett for the title, Jarrett laid down, Hogan got the title and was never seen again. Russo came out later and buried him and made Booker vs. Jarrett the main event where Booker got the world title.

What did this wind up meaning? Nothing. The ratings didn’t go up, no one ever mentioned Hogan again, and Booker was moved up to the main event out of nowhere. A telling sign about WCW and the state of their world title at the time though: Booker is famous for being a five time world champion in WCW right? He won all of those in a span of about 9 months, including a span where he was injured for awhile. The title at this point was completely worthless because no one could keep it more than 5 minutes. We’ll get back to that very soon. This isn’t the right answer either so let’s keep going.

The next suspect is one David Arquette. I’m sure you’re all familiar with this story. For some reason WCW thought it would be a good idea to have a movie featuring the company. In short, it BOMBED, but that’s not the point here. In an effort to market the film, WCW took one of its actors and made him HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION OF THE WORLD. Yes, an actor was world champion at the same time that HHH was WWF Champion.

So to the shock of no one, the angle bombed and they didn’t take the title off him immediately. Instead, they let David Arquette keep the title until Slamboree 2000 where they had a triple cage match with him vs. Jarrett vs. DDP. Jarrett won the title after Arquette was standing on top of the cage by himself for a few minutes and could have grabbed the title. While it’s a stretch, it could be argued that this was more of making the title look worthless. You know, beyond the fact that the real life husband of Monica from Friends was WCW World Champion.

Let’s compare this to WWF and Drew Carey who was in the 2001 Royal Rumble. In 2001 he was promoting a comedy PPV and Vince put him in the Rumble. He took the spot that was going to either Chaz (Mosh from the Headbangers) or D’Lo Brown. Both Carey and David are about the same level of celebrity status and they’re here to promote something that not a lot of people are going to watch anyway. What does the WWF do?

They replace a jobber in a match where he absolutely won’t be missed. Think about it: what would Brown or Mosh do in the match? Hang around for about seven minutes and be destroyed by either Taker or Kane or someone like that. Would anyone really miss either of them being in there? Not in the slightest. Instead, you get a celebrity in the match where he might bring in a few fans to the show. See, that’s how you use celebrities.

You put them in a place where they don’t make a big difference at all, but they seem like they do. That’s smart business. You give up a little something and while you likely won’t get a big payoff, you might get a decent one. If not, you lost Mosh or D’Lo for one night. That’s something you can live with and if nothing else, Drew gets publicity and you look like nice guys. Now on the other hand you have WCW, where a celebrity of about equal status was there trying to promote something.

What does WCW do? THEY MAKE HIM WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION, thereby making the wrestlers look pathetic, the title look like a joke, their PPV look like a bigger freak show than a pro wrestling show normally is, an more or less drive yet another spike into their own coffin.

Instead of having him do something stupid with Disco Inferno or something for like 5 minutes on Nitro, they said that this actor is on equal footing with the champions of the other major company at the time, which at that time would have been HHH. See why they went out of business so fast?

To top it off, at the end of the show, Kanyon came out to help save DDP from a beatdown. Mike Awesome then threw Kanyon off the triple cage and through the ramp as the announcers said that this was the worse On top of that, Arquette came back at another PPV later on. Again, no one cared. The movie bombed, the title looked completely worthless, and WCW slipped one step further to worthlessness. We’ll call this the first of the potential suspects.

In reverse chronological order:
1. David Arquette Wins World Title – May 7, 2000

7 comments

  1. Vega says:

    Great read, but when was Rick Steiner world champion? I didn’t know about that, and we’re talking about a time where he’d been 25ish.

    [Reply]

    klunderbunker Reply:

    Rick never had the title put on him. Dusty Rhodes was going to put it on him but the idea was vetoed and Dusty was fired for coming up with a crazy idea like that.

    [Reply]

  2. Vermen says:

    Uh…I think a guy named RD Reynolds already covered this stuff.

    [Reply]

    klunderbunker Reply:

    Your point?

    [Reply]

  3. Jay says:

    Good Article and I loved the comparisons of Drew Carey & David Arquette. Drew Carey was in the Royal Rumble for a few minutes,was in & out. WCW making Arquette the Champion was just a desperate attempt to gain attention and it BOMBED.

    [Reply]

  4. Anonymous says:

    Kellner killed off WCW for the same reason that CW canceled Smackdown a few years ago. Jamie Kellner hated wrestling and didn’t care that WCW still drew good ratings. Wrestling didn’t appeal to the female audience that he wanted to reach, so it didn’t belong on his network.

    Kellner’s decision to kill off WCW hurt AOL Time Warner financially. Eric Bischoff was offering more money than Vince offered, so long as he had TV programs. WCW’s lack of profitability at that time was primarily due to bad contracts and AOL Time Warner ended up paying the bad contracts. It isn’t easy to replace a program that draws a 3.0 rating every week, so AOL Time Warner ended up with lower ratings and less ad revenue because of Kellner.

    Given the fact that WWF collapsed to the mid 3s by 2002 and that WCW had developed a new generation of young stars and Bischoff had planned to push the Cruiserweights (AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels among them) and RVD (the top star in wrestling in that era) was going to sign with WCW, this company could have easily turned it around in a year. Realistically, the WWF (soon WWE) would have been worse off without Booker T, RVD, the Cruiserweights, and the other WCW stars that they acquired due solely to Jamie Kellner. By the way, WCW had also signed a young wrestler by the name of James Storm, although he never really debuted for them.

    A likely scenario if Bischoff bought WCW is that WCW becomes the #1 company again by mid-2003. WCW continues to aggressively scout the indies for up-and-coming talent and signs up most of the top indy stars of the 2000s (CM Punk, Samoa Joe, Austin Aries, Bryan Danielson).

    Claiming that David Arquette as WCW Champion killed WCW is ridiculous. Yes, WCW’s ratings dropped in mid-2000. The problem was that the ratings drop occurred in June, weeks after Arquette had already lost the title. The ratings eventually came back to the same level and only dropped off again in October, by which point rumors of WCW’s upcoming sale were rampant. Obviously, a company that is in limbo for a period of months is going to have its ratings decline, but on the Nitro where they said they would finally announce the new owners, the rating returned to the same range it had been in previously.

    By the time TNA began, the WCW audience was basically gone. If you quit watching wrestling altogether for a year, you aren’t going to hear about the launch of a new promotion. Actually, TNA didn’t have television at all until more than 3 years after WCW’s demise (Fox Sports Net) and it was 4 and a half years until TNA debuted on Spike TV. There was no way that TNA was going to be competitive with the WWE having to build an audience and with a much weaker roster than a Bischoff-owned WCW would have had. It was late 2007 before TNA got a 2nd hour and had a roster loaded with starpower. Since then, they’ve done very well just holding steady as the abortive boom of the 2000s turned into a severe downturn for the wrestling industry (WWE’s ratings dropped and the indy DVD sales market dried up). Even if TNA hadn’t made any mistakes at all, they wouldn’t be competitive with the WWE right now.

    WCW’s ratings also were pretty much the same during Russo’s run as head booker as they were before. Ratings dropped a little bit after Russo got fired. The Radicalz left because Vince Russo was fired and replaced by Kevin Sullivan. Benoit and Sullivan had a mutual hatred going back to when Sullivan booked his own divorce.

    WCW ratings peaked in January of 1999. They drew a 5.0 3 out of 4 weeks that month (Raw drew a 5.5 or so every week that month, but WWF were 2 months away from the start of their peak that lasted until the middle of 2000). Their ratings started to decline below the 4 range (where WCW had been in late 1997 and all of 1998) in April of 1999. WCW lost around a quarter of their audience during the pre-Russo period in 1999.

    You can make as eloquent an argument as you like for the smark conventional wisdom, but facts are stubborn things. The real causes of WCW’s demise were 1) the awful pre-Russo period in 1999, 2) firing Vince Russo in January 2000, an 3) Jamie Kellner canceling WCW because he hated wrestling. The end of Goldberg’s streak could easily be added as a 4th factor because once Goldberg lost he could never be undefeated again. WCW fans wanted to see Goldberg, so he shouldn’t have lost a match at all until the fans got tired of his act. If Goldberg was still the undefeated champion of WCW, the fans would have continued to watch WCW during the awful period.

    Look up the ratings for WCW at the Wikipedia article on the Monday Night War. The fact that there is no ratings support for your theories refutes them. If WCW fans are tuning out because David Arquette is the champion, you won’t expect to see WCW ratings holding steady during that period. If a wrestling show is turning off viewers, that would be reflected in the ratings immediately. If the ratings are steady, that refutes the claim that [whatever] is turning off viewers.

    [Reply]

    klunderbunker Reply:

    Well done. You’ve somehow determined the conclusion of the whole article before it’s done. That’s impressive. Give me a break.

    [Reply]

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