HomeRetro WrestlingWCWWCW: A Retrospective look at WCW's effect on modern wrestling

WCW: A Retrospective look at WCW’s effect on modern wrestling

When you think of the legacy of WCW, automatically a few special moments come to mind. The Monday Nitro debut episode, the formation of the nWo, Goldberg jackhammering Hogan in the Georgia Dome, Kevin Nash ending Goldberg’s undefeated streak, and the surreal situation surrounding the purchase and takeover of the company by its fiercest rival: Vince McMahon and the WWF.

However, when you think past the special moments, parts of WCW still live on in today’s wrestling world. WCW was at the forefront of many innovative and unique ideas that you could not imagine not being part of today’s landscape. Due to their worldwide reach, they introduced a world to brands of wrestling only available in regional territories at the time, they broke the television and pay per view moulds, they broke the bank to get the stars and keep them happy, and they ultimately tried every trick in the book to stay one step ahead in a ruthless and brutal wrestling war.

This year is 24 years since Hulk Hogan dropped his Leg Drop on Randy Savage, turned heel, joined Scott Hall and Kevin Nash in forming the nWo, and changed the wrestling world forever. WCW tried their hardest to continue to change the wrestling world, and for large parts of it, they succeeded. It wasn’t all rosy though as you will come to see, but WCW definitely made an impact and had an effect on the wrestling world that is still present to this day.

A lot of today’s top stars could give a lot of credit to WCW for helping them have a successful wrestling career even though most were only kids when WCW was around.

You would have a strong argument if you were to say that WCW stole a lot of ideas from ECW, especially in the talent department. The land of extreme gave a North American spotlight to many talents from around the world, but WCW could give them world-wide exposure, and with their financial backing they rounded up the best workers in ECW and let them shine in one of the bigger stages.

Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Jericho and Dean Malenko who made their initial names for themselves in Japan fighting in the junior heavyweight division were brought into ECW by Paul Heyman and given exposure to the American audience. They made such a big impression that they were quickly snapped up and amongst the first to make the jump from ECW to WCW, and eventually onto WWE where some became world champions. ECW filled the holes left by Jericho et al by bringing in luchadors from Mexico like Rey Mysterio, Psicosis, LA Parka and Konnan, all of who again were snapped up by WCW in quick fashion.

Hard-hitting Japanese style junior heavyweight and Mexican Lucha libre style wrestling were hard to come by in WCW or WWF before these stars came on board. One thing that cannot be denied is that WCW’s cruiserweight division was miles ahead of WWF’s thanks to those names mentioned above. Sprinkle in Ultimo Dragon and Jushin Thunder Liger into the mix and WCW had years worth of feuds and amazing matches at your disposal.

As much as WCW gave these names exposure to a larger audience, their development and use of them were lacking. After years of being pigeon-holed as cruiserweights who couldn’t credibly challenge anyone in the heavyweight division, and with no path onto main event feuds those that got out made their way to the WWF who were (eventually) more open to giving real talent the push they deserved. Benoit, Guerrero, Jericho and Rey Mysterio all ended up winning a version of the WWE’s top title, showing that they had what it took to become big names and put on main event level matches despite any size disadvantage some people thought they had. This lack of pushing new stars would be one of the bigger downfalls in WCW’s history.

This group of talented workers from this generation have been credited as being examples for many current wrestling stars, proving that you don’t need to be over 6 foot tall of have muscles exploding out every part of your body to be a success in the wrestling business. Think about CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins, Cody Rhodes, Kenny Omega, all these guys would have been pigeon-holed the same way Guerrero and Jericho were in WCW if they were there at that time. But thanks to WCW initially exposing these talents to the world and opening the door for WWE to push those who deserved it, we have an amazing pool of wrestling talent who may still work an old “cruiserweight” style, but get the push and the main event spots they deserve.

And while these talents were tearing up the cruiserweight scene, they soon had more exposure than before due to the increased number of monthly pay per views that were showing up. The increase to monthly pay per views was a result of the WCW vs WWF war in the mid-90s.

From the late 80s up until 1994, the WWF ran four, then five big shows a year once the King of the Ring started in 1993: Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, KOTR, SummerSlam and Survivor Series. These would famously be known as the WWF’s “big four” or “big five”, depending on your opinion of giving the KOTR the same notoriety as the others.

WCW, however, ran six, seven and eight pay per views in 91, 92 and 93 respectively, always seeming to try and one-up the WWF with the amount of content they could produce. And when Hulk Hogan hit the scene in 1994, WCW’s expansion plans were in full force as they planned to produce a monthly pay per view starting from February 1995. How did the WWF respond? By starting the In Your House series in May of 1995, giving them a big show to promote in the months outwith the “big five”. This resulted in a huge increase in monthly content in 1995, with both companies giving us 10 pay per views each that year.

21- Bret Hart vs the British Bulldog from In Your House:Seasons Beatings.

Questions and doubters raised their concerns, and rightly so given that this was uncharted waters for both companies. Monthly pay per views seemed too much and worries about the products being diluted was a fair assumption. There was no evidence that this new format would work. Would wrestling fans part ways with their cash every month when they had been so used to doing it only sporadically throughout the year? Would this divide the audience and cause them to pick “one or the other” and thus hurt both companies revenue streams? Would the fast-paced nature of culminating certain storylines every month hurt the product and move things along too quick? All questions were answered and all fears were put to bed as the monthly big show format was an instant success. Instead of dividing audiences the same way the Monday Night War had threatened to do, it actually doubled with even more fans coming on board to sample both companies products. Creatively 1995 was one of WWF’s worst years, but financially it was a success due to the In Your House series. And if 10 pay per views were a success, then 12 would surely be a success too right? Correct. 1996 saw the WWF increase their PPV schedule to 12, with WCW still sticking by 10 but the sure-fire success was quickly capitalized upon as both companies put on 12 shows a year from 1997 until WCW’s collapse in 2001.

The monthly pay per view format has been a staple ever since for the WWF/WWE. In recent years we have seen more than one big show a month with the likes of NXT and NXT: UK putting on other special events on the WWE Network. Overkill? I’ll let you decide on that one, but one thing for sure is we can thank WCW and their pursuit of being #1 in the wrestling world for bringing the monthly pay per view format into modern wrestling.

And if WCW tried to beat the WWF in the pay per view department, they absolutely tried to beat them in the television department too.

When WCW Monday Nitro debuted in 1995, the world of weekly wrestling TV changed with it. Up until that point, wrestling television had one major part to play: promote money-drawing opportunities like local live events and pay per views or big events. So that meant the stars who would be headlining those big shows or tours were showcased, had interview time, and squashed opponents left, right and centre on television. So when the time came in one of those three or four pay per views a year where two stars collided, it was a big, big deal.

Superstars rarely wrestled each other for free on television, and if they did it often led to a cheap finish like a disqualification or count out which would lead to the feud ending blow-off that you would, of course, have to pay for on pay per view or buy a ticket when the tour came to town.

So when WCW Monday Nitro rolled around and debuted with a Ric Flair vs Sting match, plus Hulk Hogan main eventing against long time rival Big Buddy Rogers, it caught the attention of wrestling fans around the world. Not to mention the debut episode built towards a Hulk Hogan vs Lex Luger match the next week, fans were seeing matches they would normally have to shell out money on for free each and every week.

This star heavy attitude towards weekly television brought on the Monday Night Wars and the incredible ratings and viewers both WCW and WWF got at the time. It forced Vince McMahon and the WWF to push its own envelope and take risks to keep up with the edgy bright shiny new toy on the other channel that was starting to turn heads. This began the real emphasis to have an exciting non-stop, car crash, Jerry Springer style show filled with stars top to bottom in the hope they could keep the viewers watching their product and not switch over to the competition.

WCW was the spark that kick-started the Monday Night Wars. Imagine where we would be if Nitro debuted, but not opposing Raw. Would we have had the wars at all? Would either side push the boat out as much as they did? And more on topic- would either side have given away as many mega money-drawing matches such as Hogan vs Goldberg, or Rock vs Mankind if they didn’t have to try and one-up their competition? I guess we will never truly know that answer.

And what about those huge stars who would be wrestling each week? WCW was also at the forefront of gathering talent and also keeping them financially happy.

Back in the 90s, the WWF would pay their wrestlers dependent on the crowds they drew to the shows. If the product was hot and the houses were good, their pay would match that. That forced the talent to work hard in the ring, have great matches, put effort into their interviews and storylines so the crowds would become emotionally invested and would want to pay to see the conclusion, whatever the outcome. This drove the roster to keep on improving, keep bettering themselves to climb the card and try and make as much money as possible. It also encouraged camaraderie amongst the workers, as you need two to tango and you can’t really wrestle yourself out there can you? Would you rather work with someone and make money with someone who is motivated to put on a great show and entertain fans or someone who you know is getting paid no matter what performance he puts in?

This is where WCW differed from WWF in where the majority of the 90s roster would have guarantees tied into their contracts, basically giving them a monetary downside no matter how the company was performing or how many times they were being used. Do you remember The Genius in WCW? Probably not. But I’m sure he does, as he reportedly was on a $250,000 a year guaranteed contract and only ever wrestled a handful of matches during his multi-year run. Having guaranteed contracts took away the need for the WCW talent to make the extra effort in order to draw fans to the buildings or viewers to the screens. If you knew no matter how many fans bought tickets to see you live or how good your match was or how wide your fan base was growing that you would be paid the same amount every month, would you go the extra mile night in night out? On occasion yeah, but night-in night-out? Probably not.

Of course, when the hot crowd does come, or the big event and big match does come your way, the professional wrestler inside you will rise to the occasion and put on a good show if they are motivated to do so, however with the allure of making money based on performance non-existent, the need to put in the extra effort diminishes.

This was a big downfall in WCW in that everything seemed to resort back to money. Allegedly, when Hall and Nash signed in 1996, they had a clause in their contract that would automatically make their contracts match anyone who was brought in or signed deals for more money than them. No matter who it was, if they were to make more money than the Outsiders, Hall and Nash’s contracts would be changed to match the fellow big spender.

Guaranteed contracts were a thing WCW was renown for, and those contract clauses are still here today.

And speaking of Kevin Nash, he was at one time head of creative and it just so happened that he was also the one to beat Goldberg and break his undefeated streak at the time he was WCW head booker, what a coincidence eh?

From too much money to too many bookers. WCW was a lesson in the phrase “too many cooks spoil the broth”. The cooks being the bookers or head of creative, and the broth being the output on our television screens.

Throughout the six and a half years of the Monday Night Wars WCW had no less than eight (that we know of) changes in the head of creative. Some had more than one run, some had runs on their own, some as parts of a team or a committee, some were there for a few years, others only a few months. This constant change in direction played havoc with both the wrestler’s storylines and their overall development and direction. How could you possibly put together a 6-month story arc if you know there’s a good chance the guy in charge of the shows wont be there for the full duration? And you can bet your house on the new creative mind coming in with 100 new ideas he wants to try out so everything from the old regime can be tossed to the side. Ever wonder why WCW in 99 divides so many of us between those who loved the carnage and those who loathed it? Three changes of lead creative in one year. That’s an average of four months of someone in charge, making storylines, changing titles, turning people face and heel, only to be replaced by someone a few months later for everything to start fresh. WCW fell off a cliff creative wise towards the end of the 1990s, with six of the eight known creative changes coming between 1998 and 2001. No-one seemed to be able to steady the ship, and the writing was unfortunately on the wall for their eventual downturn.

What WWF and now WWE has that WCW didn’t was one man at the end of the line who would give a yes or no answer to all creative ideas: they had a Vince McMahon.

Love him or hate him, he is the be-all and end-all of WWE creative. No matter how many writers or creative team members they might have writing the shows if something goes on WWE television or pay per view: Vince gave it the go-ahead. WCW had no Vince. They had creative minds and ideas, but they had no single last point of contact before whatever idea was exposed to the world. As much as WWE’s creative has been a shambles in recent years, believe me when I say there were many years in the WWF/E when wins and losses mattered, storylines made sense and story arcs had a very clear and logical path.

Something that can be learned from WCW is that without someone steering the ship (however haphazardly at times), without a true leader wrestling creative can easily unravel and become confusing, convoluted and eventually unimportant.

WCW’s legacy has been written about a lot over the years. A lot of the time they get stick for everything they did wrong, sporadically there is a book or article or interview that shines a light on the good they did do in their time in the spotlight. Name wise they were officially founded 1988 and closed their doors in 2001, some 13 years later. In wrestling terms, 13 years is not that long a time. To make a comparison, John Cena has been wrestling in the WWE for an additional 5 more years than WCW was in existence.

In those 13 years, WCW gave the wrestling industry a lot of great memories. They pushed the boat out and created a wrestling war which led to the biggest boom period that we have still to see replicated again to this day. Stars were made who still have relevance today such as Sting, Goldberg, and DDP, and they have given us moments in time that we can never take away.

Their impact is still seen in today’s wrestling and I can guarantee it will continue to be seen for many years to come.

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