What Killed WCW (Full Version)

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

Now we get to the first of the big guns and something that I’ve considered a possible suspect in the past: the departure of the Radicalz. You have to remember that WCW had started their big run in 1996 on the idea of taking talent from the WWF. Now this had already happened in the form of Big Show a year prior and Chris Jericho about 4 months before, but this was a large group of people going at the same time. Now let’s take a look at what this meant both individually and then collectively.

We’ll start with the biggest of the four in Chris Benoit. Whether it was for the sake of trying to get him to stay or not, he had been given the WCW World Title just before he left. In other words, whomever was the next champion had no claim to the title. Why should I buy him as the best when the guy that was champion never lost it at all? The same thing happened to Lex Luger back in 1991, which I assure you we’ll get to later on.

Second is Eddie Guerrero. Now he was never nearly as big as Benoit was back in WCW but he was certainly worth something. He gave solid Cruiserweight Title matches and had arguably the best match in WCW’s history with Rey Mysterio at Halloween Havoc 1997. Eddie was the best of all of the Hispanic wrestlers there and it gave them a door into Latin America, along with guys like Juvy and Mysterio.

Saturn was a rising star in WCW, having won some tag titles in 99 and having a few runs as TV Champion as well. His popularity was growing, so WCW made him wear a dress and hook back up with Raven. Saturn kept getting cheered so he and Benoit were shoved down in favor of guys like the Jersey Triad and the reformed Harlem Heat. Oh and the Steiners. We don’t want to forget them.

Malenko is probably the weakest of the whole team, but he was certainly good for some solid mat work as well as being one of the members of the Horsemen (there’s a long thing that could be written on how badly that group was screwed up past about 1995 but that’s another story). Anyway, he wasn’t great but he was another loss.

So we combine all these guys into one unit that bailed on WCW in January of 2000 and showed up on Raw before February hit. Now what does this mean? First and foremost, those are four guys worth of at least watchable matches that you have to replace. At the end of the day, it’s a wrestling program. You have guys like Benoit and Malenko and Guerrero and Saturn out there having long matches on these shows and taking up a lot of the PPV time. Let’s say there are three matches between the four of them at 12 minutes apiece. Counting promos and entrances, you’re losing almost an hour or 1/3 of a PPV. That’s a lot of time to fill.

When guys like them leave, you have to fill their spots. For fun, let’s take a look at the three PPVs before they left and the three after and compare the matches in the spots on the cards with the Radicalz and the ones without them. The three beforehand were Mayhem 1999, Starrcade 1999 and Souled Out 1999. The three after they left were SuperBrawl 2000, Uncensored 2000 and Spring Stampede 2000.

At Mayhem, the matches involving the Radicalz were an eleven minute elimination tag third on the card and the main event for the world title which ran 18 minutes. Starrcade: fourth on the card was an 8 man tag lasting 5 minutes and the next to last was a ladder match for the US Title running 10 minutes. Souled Out was a two and a half minute opener, a ten minute hardcore match on sixth and a fifteen minute main event for the world title. On average, their matches ran about 24 minutes per show.

By comparison to the three shows after they were gone in the same spots on the cards: at SuperBrawl the third match had 3 Count and Norman Smiley lasting four minutes and the main event had Sid Vicious, Scott Hall and Jeff Jarrett running about 8 minutes. Uncensored saw Brian Knobbs vs. 3 Count for the Hardcore Title taking up 7 minutes and the next to last match was Sid vs. Jarrett running seven and a half. Spring Stampede was another handicap with Flair/Luger vs. the Mamalukes/Harris Brothers running 6 minutes, Sting vs. Booker for six and a half and Jarrett vs. Page for 15 minutes. The averages for these matches: 18 minutes per show.

That may not mean much, but it means the matches were shorter on average and instead of guys like Benoit and Saturn, you’re getting 3 Count and Brian Knobbs. Instead of Eddie Guerrero and Dean Malenko, you’re getting Sid and Jeff Jarrett. Some of those may sound interesting, but which matches do you think are going to be train wrecks and which do you think are going to be good technical matches with good intensity?

In other words, the Radicalz leaving left a big hole in the card and instead of replacing them with younger wrestlers, the answer was more old guys, which was a major criticism of WCW at the time. The problem with the Radicalz leaving was that the company lost a lot of their young talent that was able to put on long matches and eat up PPV time. After they left, you get things like handicap matches and boy bands. Combining that with the further damage to the world title and it’s pretty easy to add the Radicalz leaving to the list of suspects as to what killed WCW.

In reverse chronological order:
1. David Arquette Wins World Title – May 7, 2000
2. The Radicalz Jump Ship – January 17, 2000

Just before then in the fall of 1999, Smackdown debuted as a regular show for the WWF. Due to this, Vince Russo and Ed Ferrara, the writers for WWF, left and went over to WCW. Since WCW was the only other game in town, both guys headed down south (because WCW is a southern company don’t you know) and decided that it wasn’t Foley and Taker and Rock and Austin and the young guys that had made WWF the dominant force in the last 18 months. It was all about the WRITERS, not the wrestlers.

Russo’s first major show as head writer was at Halloween Havoc 1999 and things almost immediately went downhill. To begin with, on the first show we had a “shoot” where Hogan laid down for Sting to pin him. No reasoning was ever given for this, but hey, it’s a shoot so it’s good right? Also we had Goldberg vs. Sting in the last match of the night because the match that you could have seen as the main event of Starrcade a mile away should be thrown onto the end of the PPV unannounced and it should last 3 minutes right?

You had ludicrous gimmicks (That 70s Guy, Screaming Norman, Oklahoma etc), more swearing, more semi-naked women (the guy wasn’t all bad), a lot more people talking about how things were behind the scenes, and a lot more title changes. Here are a few more numbers for you stats people. We’ll take a look at how many times the WCW World Title changed hands in the years from 97-99 and then the year 2000.

In 1997, the world title changed hands 3 times, in 98 it changed hands 6 times, in 99 13 times, and then in Russo’s first year: 24 times, or once about every 2 weeks. The world title changed hands or was vacated seven times in January alone. In 2000, the title was vacated or stripped six times. Like we talked about before, why should I buy whomever the next champion is if they didn’t win the title? Also during this stretch, Arquette and Vince Russo himself were world champions. While TV ratings went up, the limited integrity that WCW had left as well as the general idea of what wrestling still was were thrown away for the sake of shock value and soap opera style television.

You’ll often hear that the difference between WWF and WCW under Russo was that there was a filter in the form of Vince McMahon. The differences is that at the end of the day, the big matches of the WWF Pay Per Views were usually awesome. You were getting Austin vs. Foley and HHH vs. Rock and Rock vs. Austin and Undertaker vs. Foley and Foley vs. Rock and there was some great wrestling going on. Yes it was all over the top and there were a lot of wild brawls, but what mattered was who got the 1-2-3.

In short, the WWF World Title was treated as something special. Instead of these matches happening on Raw, they happened on PPV. Remember those 24 world title changes in a year? Of those 24, 7 took place on PPV. The world title changed hands or was vacated on Nitro or Thunder SEVENTEEN TIMES IN A YEAR. By comparison, over in the WWF in the year 2000, the title changed hands 5 times, once on TV. Since Monday Night Raw debuted, the WWE Championship has changed hands 19 times IN TOTAL on something other than PPV, one of which was at a house show and one of which was it being vacated due to injury and being announced on WWE.com.

In short, Russo’s regime made the WCW World Title look a lot more worthless than it ever had before. With stuff ranging from the title being vacated to everything happening for free on TV instead of PPV, to constantly vacating the title, to David Arquette as champion, to Vince Russo as champion, why in the world would I want to see a WCW World Title match? The problem was that no one did want to.

The world title was probably the biggest thing he killed, but you also have to factor in things like the idiotic angles (pinata on a poll, That 70s Guy/The Fat Chick Thriller, Duggan turns Canadian, the Graveyard match (exactly what it sounds like), to Scott Steiner’s main event push, to Jeff Jarrett’s main event push and more stuff I’ve probably blocked out of my memory. He took a wrestling company and turned it into whatever WCW was from late 99 to the year 2000, so we’ll have to add him to the list. The minute he was hired, things were put on a very slippery slope and they never recovered.

In reverse chronological order:
1. David Arquette Wins World Title – May 7, 2000
2. The Radicalz Jump Ship – January 17, 2000
3. Vince Russo Hired – October 5, 1999

But could they have survived before that? Let’s keep looking.

Russo and Ferrara were hired in October, but for the majority of the year, 1999 wasn’t all that bad for WCW. I mean, ignoring the bad storylines, bad matches, getting destroyed by WWF more and more every night in the ratings, trying to come up with ways to stop the downward spiral and all that jazz, WCW had a passable year in 1999. Except for that first Nitro of the year.

This would be the famous January 4, 1999 rematch between Nash and Goldberg. For the sake of this, I’m just going to give you the match and some of its build. The idea is that Goldberg was arrested on stalking charges but Liz was faking the whole thing. Hogan had come in and said that he’d fight Nash for the title instead. Here’s the match, and the night that changed wrestling forever (granted Tony say that every night). I’ll throw in the segment we saw just before the match as well.

Goldberg is released from jail, making him yell at cops. He wants an escort to get to the Georgia Dome, which keep in mind, is across the street. Ok at this point, there are about 12 minutes left in the show. Let’s see how long it takes him to cross the street.

WCW World Title: Kevin Nash vs. Hulk Hogan

Hogan has Scott Steiner with him. Keep in mind his last match was back in October. What a coincidence that he’s here. I always wonder what’s going through their heads when things like these are about to happen. Nash comes out with Scott Hall, so the Outsiders are back again I guess. Keep in mind that this is, yet again, NWO vs. NWO. Hogan is in street clothes.

These are NOT taped matches mind you. There’s the bell, Nash mocks Hogan’s shirt rip. There was a commercial in between Goldberg leaving the police station and the introductions, so adding on let’s say three minutes for that, he left the station about nine minutes before the bell rang. They circle each other and the crowd is white hot. “This is what WCW is all about” according to Tony. Nash shoves Hogan, Hogan pokes Nash in the chest, Nash goes down, Hogan wins the title.

The four guys flood the ring and Goldberg arrives, in a car that he was driving. It happens to be the same car he went to the police station in, and it’s not a police car. So did the cops just steal his car or did he steal the unmarked cop car? The fans TOTALLY turn on the ending and are furious but HERE’S GOLDBERG! Down goes Steiner. Down goes Hall. Add Nash to that. Hogan gets some shots in but takes an AWFUL spear.

Goldberg sets for the Jackhammer, but Lex Luger comes out and beats up Goldberg, joining the NEW NWO! Yes, this is the NWO being reformed, two and a half years after it started. Goldberg gets handcuffed to the ropes and taze the heck out of him. He gets the spraypaint treatment as the fans want Sting. He would show up….two and a half months later. Hogan sprays the belt with the red paint and Steiner does the hand sign to end the show.

Now there are a lot of problems with this but most of them are short term based and that’s not what we’re looking for here. At the end of the day, while it was bad, I’m actually going to say that the Fingerpoke of Doom and the night that they threw away the whole potential ratings win due to Foley and all that jazz actually wasn’t actually a major contributor to the death of WCW. The ratings didn’t fall off a cliff or anything and while it brought Hogan back to the title, it had been done already by Hogan vs. Sting (oh believe me, that’s coming). Hogan was only champion for about two months and after that things went back to normal.

It really wasn’t that much of a problem in the long term. Things had already been falling apart and the fans were annoyed enough at Goldberg losing the title. Yeah things were bad and it’s probably the most infamous moment in WCW history, but it’s not like things were guided by this one moment for all time and eternity. They had won one week out of the last four months and other than the Warrior months they didn’t do anything at all in the ratings. It was bad and everyone rolls their eyes at it, but it really didn’t change anything long term and probably to the shock of some of the people reading this, I’m not going to call the Fingerpoke of Doom a suspect in what killed WCW.

In December of 98, Nash won the title from Goldberg. Now this is something that’s kind of interesting I think. It’s famous for being the moment that broke the Streak and the rise of Nash and all that jazz, but what else did it mean long term? Now the answer that you’ll often hear is that they screwed up Goldberg with this, but I’m not sure if I buy into that or not. Let’s think about this for a minute.

What we’re supposed to believe is that Goldberg was going to be the WCW version of Austin. The problem with that is simple: Goldberg wasn’t really a character. He ran through everyone and do you ever remember him talking? It would happen once in awhile, but all he had going for him was the Streak. Austin was an interesting character who fought a war against Vince and was the voice of a generation that was sick of what they had been seeing. Goldberg was bald and wore black trunks. That’s about the extent of his similarities to Austin.

Goldberg was a character that had very little depth to him, and there was one major problem to him: he had to lose eventually. No matter who beat him, once he lost, his mystique was going to be gone. Without the Streak, unless there were some MAJOR alterations made to Goldberg’s character, I really don’t see him being a viable character for all that long. Once you get past the quick squashes, what else is there to him? The answer to that is not much, so I really don’t buy the argument that they crippled a potentially huge character or anything like that. It was a bad move, but it shouldn’t be a suspect.

A small thing that could be considered a suspect would be the formation of the NWO Wolfpac. After months and months of infighting between the NWO, they seemed like they were finally going to die. And then they completely changed plans and formed the NWO Wolfpac to give us not a dead NWO, but TWO NWOS! It was a sign that things weren’t going to get any better, because WCW had no idea what the fans wanted. Actually, I’m going to probably get some disagreements for this but I think it’s the fourth possibility.

In reverse chronological order:

1. David Arquette Wins World Title – May 7, 2000
2. The Radicalz Jump Ship – January 17, 2000
3. Vince Russo Hired – October 5, 1999
4. Formation of NWO Wolfpac – May 4, 1998

Going back a little further into WCW history, there wasn’t much else to talk about in 1998 (other than the whole losing the ratings night to Raw on April 13), so let’s jump to one of the BIG guns: Starrcade 1997.

Now this one requires some backstory I’d think. Back in September of 1996, WCW had been reeling from the assault of the NWO and it led up to their first WarGames match against each other. Earlier that month, Sting had allegedly turned heel and joined the black and white, but in reality it was a fake and Sting hadn’t been there. He had been the fourth guy on the team for WCW but they weren’t sure if he’d show up. Sting showed up and destroyed the NWO on his own, but then walked out on WCW.

After a promo a few months later on Nitro telling the fans that he wouldn’t be around much anymore, Sting stopped showing up other than once in awhile. Now he was dressed in black and white and no one was sure as to what side he was on. Until March and Uncensored, no one had any idea. Then at the end of the show and another WCW win, Sting dropped from the rafters and laid the NWO out, confirming that he was WCW and blowing the roof off the joint.

After more months of not talking, all roads led to Starrcade and Sting’s first match in over a year against Hogan for the world title. Now before we even get to the match, there’s more backstory that you need. About a month and a half before Starrcade there was a show called Survivor Series and it was in the city of Montreal. If you need an explanation of what happened there, WHY ARE YOU READING THIS? Anyway, Bret Hart is now in WCW and he’s making his debut at Starrcade…..as a guest referee in the match between Eric Bischoff and Larry Zbyszko. I’ll give you a minute to let that sink in.

Anyway, after months they finally got together. Now here’s how the match SHOULD have gone: Hogan won’t come out. He locks himself in his dressing room or whatever and just won’t fight. WCW guys kick the door in and literally drag him kicking and screaming to the ring. He tries to run and the Giant and Luger carry him back to the ring and they stand guard of him until Sting gets there. The bell rings, Hogan MIGHT get a punch or two in and Sting just beats the tar out of him for about 3 minutes, Stinger Splash, Scorpion Death Lock, new champion, we’re out in 5 minutes. THAT’S IT.

Hogan instead struts down the aisle, playing the belt like a guitar like there isn’t a single thing to be afraid of. The match begins, and Hogan destroys him. I mean Sting gets in something like 4 moves the whole first five minutes of the match and what was the hottest crowd this side of ECW ten minutes ago is DEAD. After a LONG match which is just terrible, we get to the bad part. Since there’s so much stuff in here that you need to know to get the full horribleness of it, here’s an excerpt from my original review:

Stinger Splash of course misses on the floor. That could have gotten the fans to cheer so we couldn’t have that of course right? With Sting more or less out on his feet, there’s the big boot and legdrop. As he’s in the air, Bret Hart walks by the front of the ring. Keep that in mind. Patrick does a semi-fast count for the clean pin. Hart keeps the bell from ringing and shouts at Patrick and half into the microphone that he won’t let it happen again. He hits Patrick, throws Hogan back into the ring, the NWO runs in and gets beaten up, Splash and Scorpion ends the match and Sting wins the title. The WCW guys run in for the massive celebration and we end the show.

Now the fun part: explaining why this was absolutely horrendous.

For those of you that haven’t heard the history, here was the new plan that for some reason that I’m not sure God himself understands. Nick Patrick, the referee, had been very biased towards the NWO in the recent months. He was supposed to make a fast count, leading to Bret Hart running down and saying he wouldn’t let this become Montreal all over again (not in those words but that was the idea). Two things caused this cluster of a plan to fall apart: Patrick counts a relatively normal count, and Hart is there before the bell rings. With Patrick counting normal speed, it looks like Sting just got pinned in a normal match.

Another problem with the whole fast count thing: Sting stayed down. You can see him getting up about 20 seconds later when Bret is arguing with Patrick. If this was supposed to be a fast count then Sting should have popped up a split second after the three correct? Instead he popped up almost half a minute later and looked like he could barely get up if his life depended on it. If this was supposed to be a fast count, why did no one tell Sting that was the finish? Could it be that he knew it would bomb?

The announcers don’t bring up Patrick’s heel tactics, and they touch on it being a fast count. They don’t have time because instead of Hart running down to the ring like he was supposed to, he was already there, so he stops the bell from ringing about two seconds after the pin. He says it won’t happen again, which makes no sense to non-WWF fans, or to wrestling fans in general. Since he was a referee earlier in the night, he is apparently has refereeing powers all night, so he jumps in as referee. Sting hits the splash, the scorpion, and he gets the title to end the show. Two weeks later, the title is held up vacant, and Sting FINALLY pins Hogan mostly clean in LATE FEBRUARY (this was three days after Christmas) at Superbrawl.

The whole thing just made no sense and everyone saw that it was nothing but a way to get the buyrate for Superbrawl up. Hogan and the NWO should have died then and there. Hogan should have disappeared until about June before coming back in the red and yellow, begging for the fans’ forgiveness while Sting slowly accepts the fans again and becomes the surfer or at least a normal looking wrestler. Instead, it’s the same things over and over again. All the fans, myself included, had their intelligence insulted. I and many other fans I knew at the time started watching Raw and loved what we were seeing, because it wasn’t WCW. I never left.

Sting would wind up holding the title for about two months until Savage beat him for it at Spring Stampede, only to lose it back to Hogan the next night. Goldberg beat him for it three months later. To say the fans didn’t react well is an understatement. The next night on Nitro the ratings were GREAT. The lead for Nitro stayed intact until the fans started getting what was going on.

Once the fans were told the title would be held up, they started to watch Raw more often. You couple this with the introduction of Mike Tyson and Steve Austin getting the world title and the lead was gone. About a week after Mania, Raw won for the first time in nearly two years. While the content on Raw was a major factor in this, there was no reason for WCW fans to watch Raw until they got screwed over here.

Sting had been this hero for WCW and would end the NWO once and for all. That was supposed to happen, much like Austin winning the title at Mania. Sting was supposed to destroy Hogan but that just didn’t happen for some reason. That reason would be Hogan didn’t want to lose clean like that and when he got the title back just a few months later, everything fell apart. WCW proved they had learned nothing a little over a year later in the Fingerpoke of Doom. The fans wanted something new and WCW decided that wasn’t going to happen. The rest is history.

In case you didn’t get it, this is another suspect.

In reverse chronological order:

1. David Arquette Wins World Title – May 7, 2000
2. The Radicalz Jump Ship – January 17, 2000
3. Vince Russo Hired – October 5, 1999
4. Formation of NWO Wolfpac – May 4, 1998
5. Starrcade 1997 – December 28, 1997

Now with that one, we can jump back a good distance in time, because from about the time that Hall jumped the guardrail until Starrcade 1997, they pretty much could do no wrong. They made a fortune, they dominated the ratings and they were the dominant company in the wrestling world. Even before then, you could probably argue that they didn’t have any glaring errors until you get back to June 1994 and the signing of Hulk Hogan.

The first reaction a lot of people are going to have is “but KB, that got then to their success later.” Well yes that’s true. However, let’s take a look at what they’re giving up. First and foremost: money. Hogan was going to have a heavy pricetag and I’ve heard (and no I have no hard proof of this so if someone says I’m wrong and has proof I’ll certainly say I’m wrong) that it was in the neighborhood of seven hundred grand per PPV appearance. Then again, this is Ted Turner’s company, so money doesn’t mean much.

However, there’s one major thing that Hogan seemed (emphasis on that word) to change: the youth movement. Let’s take a look at some of the WCW roster that was gone soon after Hogan took over and some of the people that were brought up to the top.

Steve Austin: went from being US Champion, TV Champion and tag champion to losing to Jim Duggan in about 30 seconds. Now the interesting thing: Austin had been developing this character that was anti-authority and anti-old school, wore black trunks and had started swearing a lot. He got hurt and then was released for not being marketable. Austin had allegedly been in line for a world title feud for Starrcade with Flair but then Hogan got there, “retired” Flair and held the title for a year and a half, defending the world title against Brutus Beefcake at Starrcade. So Austin was replaced (allegedly) by Duggan and Beefcake and left WCW at age 29.

Mick Foley: he was probably the best promo man in the world for about a year, then had a huge feud with Vader where he got to incorporate more of his hardcore stuff. Foley and Kevin Sullivan won the tag titles in early 1994 and lost them to Paul Orndorff and Paul Roma before leaving in September, because there was no place for someone like Mick Foley there right? He was 29 when he left.

HHH: yep he was there too. He played a Connecticut blueblood who thought he was better than everyone else. They wanted to put him in a tag team, he wanted to be a singles guy. WCW released him and he was in WWF about 4 months later. He left at age 25. And no, you can’t really blame that on Hogan.

I’m probably forgetting others. The thing is though, instead of pushing these guys, you saw guys like Orndorff and Roma and Duggan with titles and guys like John Tenta and Kamala and Beefcake and the Nasty Boys and One Man Gang being on TV and getting pushes and you have to wonder why these guys were in the spots they were in. Now again, you can’t prove that these guys got depushed/pushed due to Hogan, but doesn’t it seem a little strange that these changes all happened right around the time when Hogan arrived? I’m going to add this to the list of suspects, but again there isn’t much hard evidence for it.

In reverse chronological order:

1. David Arquette Wins World Title – May 7, 2000
2. The Radicalz Jump Ship – January 17, 2000
3. Vince Russo Hired – October 5, 1999
4. Formation of NWO Wolfpac – May 4, 1998
5. Starrcade 1997 – December 28, 1997
6. Hulk Hogan Hired – June 11, 1994

You know, I think that’s about it. There are some major problems and blunders that WCW had before then, but I don’t think there’s anything that you can really point at which couldn’t be recovered from. There is however one major thing that I think we need to talk about and that would be the idiocy of what they did with Ric Flair in 1991.

Now as we’ve gone over, Ted Turner bought Jim Crockett Promotions in the late 80s. However, he was a tycoon and didn’t exactly have time to run a wrestling company. So Turner brought in a bunch of people that had no freaking clue how to run a wrestling company, with the main one being Jim Herd who arrived around 1991. Herd looked at Flair and thought that he was washed up and past his prime.

This was totally wrong as well since Flair was not only world champion but the top draw still. Herd thought the Nature Boy gimmick was stupid and wanted to change Flair into, and I’m not making this up, a bald gladiator. Yes, he wanted to drop one of the most famous gimmicks in history to make him a stupid character.

As Kevin Sullivan put it, “after we change Flair’s gimmick, let’s go change Babe Ruth’s number.” Flair, having a brain, told Herd that this wasn’t going to work. Herd, being the idiot that he was, decided he knew more wrestling than Flair and told him that Flair would do it or be fired.

Now this is where Flair had him. Since, like everyone that knew what they were talking about, Flair knew that he could walk straight into the WWF and be launched right to the top of the show, he didn’t back down. Herd fired him and Vince got a nice big present called Ric Flair just handed to him. Now let’s get to the interesting part. When he was fired, Flair was still WCW and NWA champion.

Yes, Herd was dumb enough to fire him BEFORE changing the title. See what kind of idiot he was? He was stripped of the WCW Title which was then put in a match between Luger and Barry Windham, which was booed out of the building with chants of WE WANT FLAIR! The winner didn’t matter, because no one was going to take them seriously as champion (noticing a recurring theme in this?), and why should they have? They never beat Flair for the title so they were in essence fighting for the number one contender spot.

No one bought it and the title was hurt badly for the next year and a half since instead of watching fake champions, they turned the channel to USA to see how the real WCW champion did in the WWF. Now the REAL interesting part lies in the NWA title. Like I said, Flair held both titles which were represented by the same belt.

The NWA had a policy for its world champions: you win the title, you pay 25,000 dollars as a deposit on it. The deal was done to prevent people from showing up in other companies with the title. In other words, you rented it. Once you lost the belt you got the money back with interest on it.

Now that’s fine and good. Flair paid the deposit and all was well and good. However, once he was fired from WCW he was stripped of the belt and was told to return it to the NWA. Flair said he’d be glad to do it as soon as he was given his money back. Problem: the NWA didn’t have it. Flair says well then you don’t have a belt either. He took it to Vince and used it in a gimmick, calling himself the REAL world’s champion.

The NWA panicked since there was no way they could let this happen. They took Flair to court over it and were laughed out of the room since they had absolutely no case. They made a deal with Flair and weren’t living up to their end of it. Therefore, there was nothing they could do to keep Flair from using the title on WWF TV. It was his property so he could do whatever he wanted with it. Eventually Flair went back to WCW and let them use the belt after they paid him what he was owed. The big gold belt became the WCW Title and the rest is history. Again though, I don’t think you can really call that a candidate in this because they managed to recover and got out of the NWA before they could do much additional damage.

With that, we have our six final suspects as to who/what killed WCW. We’ll now go through and look at which of these really was the worst. Now remember, what we’re looking for here is the moment where once it had occurred, WCW was simply not going to be able to recover.

Looking over these six, I think we can knock off two right away: Hogan’s signing and Arquette winning the title. The former is easy: they DID recover after it and hit their all time highest after it. As for Arquette, I think that once they had hit April of 2000, there was no way they were going to recover and it’s not like the title had meant anything in a long time anyway.

That leaves us with four possible suspects:
1. The Radicalz Jump Ship – January 17, 2000
2. Vince Russo Hired – October 5, 1999
3. Formation of NWO Wolfpac – May 4, 1998
4. Starrcade 1997 – December 28, 1997

Now the question becomes, what was WCW able to do after all of these things? Were they already done by the time they reached any of them? Was one of these moments the one that sent them over the cliff? There are many ways to come at this, so whichever way you want to go with is is fine. We have people leaving, people arriving, a start of a new angle, and a culmination of an old angle. Let’s take a look at these in chronological order.

Starrcade 1997: Now this was certainly a blow to WCW because it was their first major taste of failure after almost a year and a half of being unable to do anything wrong. Now, what people don’t seem to realize is that this show catapulted them up into MUCH higher ratings than they had been seeing before. In February, the show set a record for its highest TV rating ever, only to break it two weeks later. People were watching and they were watching in numbers they had never hit before.

It wasn’t really until May (we’ll get there in a bit) that things fell apart. The numbers for Raw were going up also, but Nitro had a good 4 months to keep the fans interested with something new. They also had Bret Hart, so it wasn’t so much that Starrcade killed them, but rather the following months that really injured them. All Starrcade did was show that WCW could in fact be hurt. Therefore, I think we can eliminate Starrcade 97 from the possible suspects.

In reverse chronological order:

1. The Radicalz Jump Ship – January 17, 2000
2. Vince Russo Hired – October 5, 1999
3. Formation of NWO Wolfpac – May 4, 1998

Formation of NWO Wolfpac: I wasn’t thinking much of this one but when I look at the numbers more and more, I’m thinking there might be something more to it. When you look at May 4, 1998’s Nitro, other than the NWO being split in two, nothing else happened that night. Hogan was already champion and had been for a month but thing were fine.

However, once that show happened, within about six weeks of a record high rating in late April, the number had lost over 20% of its rating. Raw’s went up a bit, but they weren’t exactly jumping off the page. In short, it appears that fans were not wanting to watch what WCW had to offer. That’s the difference between Starrcade and this: after Starrcade the fans kept watching, but after this the fans left. Therefore, we’re keeping it on the list.

Vince Russo Hired: This works the same as Starrcade but in a lesser version. The ratings went up for a few months after he arrived. People were interested again and then WCW fell apart and things just went through the floor in 2000. Russo was fired in I think April before being brought back and making himself WCW Champion but that’s a different story. Anyway, since things did in fact improve for awhile and they had one last chance to maybe salvage something, I think we can eliminate this one and cut it down to the final two.

In reverse chronological order:

1. The Radicalz Jump Ship – January 17, 2000
2. Formation of the NWO Wolfpac – May 4, 1998

The Radicalz Jump Ship: With this one, I think we might have a winner. In 1999 you had two major names leave: The Giant (Big Show) and Chris Jericho. Both guys bailed when they realized there was nothing left for them in WCW because the company was in big trouble. They made the jump, but they were about six months apart, meaning they could be replaced. As for the Radicalz, they all jumped in one night. Malenko, Benoit and Saturn all had their final matches for WCW at Souled Out 2000.

Now think about that for a minute. Imagine you lose four guys (remember that Eddie left too but wasn’t on the PPV card) in one night. Imagine if WWE lost let’s say Bryan, Barrett, Rhodes and Kofi all in one night. That’s a lot of stuff they’d have to replace in a hurry. You would have to throw guys up there all of a sudden who may not be ready for it, you have to convince people to not go and watch them elsewhere and watch your new guys. That’s not easy, especially when things were already falling apart as they were. This was a bad moment and yet another big blow to the company.

Now which of these two was worse? I think I have the answer and it’s one word long: Goldberg.

Much the same way that Russo and Starrcade 97 can be written off, the key difference was that after the NWO Wolfpac formed, things were about to get new life in the form of Goldberg. In about two months, WCW would win a night in the ratings due to Goldberg vs. Hogan (why that wasn’t a PPV show is still beyond the common sense of most people) and everything would change. Also, they had ANOTHER good run with Ultimate Warrior showing up in the fall where they won 8 weeks in a row. The NWO moment was bad and things dropped quickly, but they were right back on top later that year.

With the Radicalz leaving, everything was falling apart, but they were already falling apart. The difference was with this big blow, they didn’t recover. The company continued its downward spiral and was out of business in about 14 months, which I think everyone knew was just a matter of time anyway. Everyone knew at that point that WCW was going down and they were going down hard. Ratings kept dropping and the match quality (arguably of course) got worse minus those four. It also gave WWF a nice boost of new talent which didn’t help anything for WCW and was the final blow which they weren’t going to recover from.

So there you have it: after all of the years of WCW screwing things up and somehow managing to come back, it was a group of people rising up together and just walking out that did them in. WCW survived for a little bit after that but they were living on borrowed time. Therefore to me, it was the Radicalz leaving that was the move that killed WCW. To keep up the gimmick of this piece:

As for who killed WCW, the Radicalz did, in Ohio, by walking out.

6 comments

  1. Matt says:

    I can’t really agree with this. I don’t think the Radicalz were the reason. 3/4 of them weren’t top stars in WCW, and Benoit was still just up and coming. Sure they had to fill the time given to them, but that isn’t a big deal, especially with the roster WCW had.

    I would think Starrcade 1997 was what did it. Sure, the rating and what not were still high, but it set the wheels in motion that nothing was ever going to change in that company. The same old same old would keep happening. WCW had a change to really breathe new life into itself, and failed miserably. It was all down hill from there in terms of everything.

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  2. The Killjoy says:

    I agree that it was The Radicals that killed WCW. More on a theoretical sense. The mismanagement of a majority of it’s talent climaxed with their leaving. By this point the talent knew they could stay and collect free paychecks without doing much or head to greener pastures.

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  3. Keith says:

    Awesome article. Very well written. I still miss WCW to this day, eve n though at times it was dire. It seemed to be part of the appeal! Story lines dropped randomly and crazy gimmicks. I remember the last few months where they pushed Scott Steiner to the hills, cus they basically had no one else. Man, his promos were legendary, in a weird, what will he says this week, way!.

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  4. Gunther_224 says:

    It was the head kick by Goldberg that knocked Bret Hart into retirement. WCW was building on some positive momentum when Bret returned and after his terrific match with Benoit and his great showing in the title tournament everything was looking great. Then not long after winning the WCW title in his home country nearly 2 years after Montreal Bret suffered a concussion and was forced to retire. After that Benoit was given the title but they didn’t bother to find out that HE WAS LEAVING THE COMPANY. After that we had Sid and after that I stopped caring.

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  5. #MrScissorsKick says:

    “This would be the famous January 4, 1998 rematch between Nash and Goldberg.”

    …I think you mean January 4, 1999 brother!

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    klunderbunker Reply:

    Indeed I do.

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