What if WCW never went out of business?
Arguably the most intriguing “what if?” in professional wrestling. So, what would have happened had World Championship Wrestling not been forced to close its doors in 2001 and sell up to Vince McMahon? No one knows for sure, but it’s fun to guess.
It also makes for a great article.
From 1988 to 2001, WCW existed as number two, and for a brief period of time number one, professional wrestling promotion on the planet. Later bankrolled by Ted Turner’s billions and run by an ambitious and creative man by the name of Eric Bischoff, the company took over the world and kicked Vince McMahon’s butt before WWE cottoned on to what they were doing and created the Attitude Era. The rest, as they say, is history.
With Bischoff at his creative best and able to buy all of WWE’s biggest names with the lure of guaranteed contracts, The Monday Night Wars began. Raw and Nitro competed every single Monday night from 1996-2001, with the Atlanta based promotion defeating WWE 83 straight weeks in the ratings. Vince McMahon’s answer was to usher in a brash unapologetic new era with a little bit of Attitude. The likes of Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, DX, Undertaker and Mick Foley eventually turned the tide back in WWE’s favour as fans were tired of seeing Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Ric Flair and Roddy Piper roll around in the main events. Times were changing, but WCW refused to move with them.
Things got so bad for WCW that Bischoff was let go and Vince Russo was brought in. Despite all of Russo’s talent and success in WWE, he was unable to stem the flow due to egos, creative control and network executives. It was a job doomed to fail from the very start. Bischoff was eventually called back to the helm in an effort to save the dying promotion, but by then the brand was already dead. In March of 2001, WCW was sold to Vince McMahon, and the greatest, most lucrative period in wrestling history was over. But what if WCW had survived? What if WCW still existed to this day? It would probably look a lot like AEW, but let’s go more in-depth.
When WWE bought WCW, they got a lot of talent too, and within the next couple of years, all the big hitters were part of Vince’s promotion. If WCW had stuck around, there is no doubt Hulk Hogan would have returned to WWE, along with Kevin Nash and Scott Hall. They were WWE guys anyway and only went to WCW for the money. However, I couldn’t see Goldberg, Scott Steiner, Booker T, DDP, and definitely not Sting ever going to New York. WCW was their bread and butter, they were happy there and they wouldn’t have wanted to have someone else control the characters they had spent years honing. So, in that respect alone, things would have been vastly different. There would also have been several WWE guys who would’ve jumped ship to WCW, making it a very interesting time to be a fan.
Another major development to take into consideration had WCW not closed its doors is to remember TNA would never have been born. Jeff Jarrett was the mastermind behind the upstart promotion, but he only did so because he had no place of work after burning his bridges with WWE in 1999. There would be no X Division, no Six Sides Of Steel, no Knockouts, nothing. But The Chosen One would’ve been a 20-time WCW Champion, so swings and roundabouts.
Vince Russo would definitely have been part of the booking committee, as he had people in high places who held him in top regard. He is a creative genius, and helped usher in the greatest era of all time. His last days in WCW weren’t great, but he did increase ratings which is why he was hired by TNA for many years. His style of writing isn’t to everyone’s taste, but he gets results. If he was given the creative freedom to write the shows, I’m convinced, WCW would’ve given WWE a major freight throughout the 2000s. They certainly would have kept McMahon on his toes, that’s for sure.
WCW did a lot of things wrong during their existence, and I mean a lot! However, they also did a lot of things right. One of the best things they ever did was the Cruiserweight division. It’s the one thing WWE tried to duplicate but could never better. Even TNA’s famed X Division wasn’t as entertaining. With that in mind, if WCW had stuck around you can imagine most of WWE’s smaller guys would have left for pastures new. The Smackdown Six would have looked a lot different, and who’s to say that Paul Heyman, given the right amount of money, wouldn’t have joined WCW too? Then Vince would really have had a big war on his hands. Smackdown in 2003 was the best thing in wrestling, but that could’ve been WCW.
Sticking with that point, if we imagine a hungry Paul Heyman at the helm, in Eric Bischoff’s role, then you also have to wonder how many ECW alumni would have taken the adventure with him? The likes of Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero, Rob Van Dam, to name just a few were all floundering in WWE around that time and would’ve bitten Heyman’s hand off to work with him again and be billed as top stars while Hogan took over Vince’s kingdom once again. If that had happened, then WCW may have been buying WWE before the decade was out.
Another thing that almost certainly would never have happened if WCW remained in business was Bret Hart ever sharing a ring with Vince McMahon or Shawn Michaels again. He wouldn’t have had to. His career was already over in 2001, but he could’ve remained an ambassador for WCW or even an on-screen authority figure. He would’ve been handsomely paid throughout, so would never have needed to answer Vince’s call to return. Many would consider that a blessing considering the mess of their WrestleMania 26 outing, but to not have the Hitman in the WWE Hall Of Fame and finally bury the hatchet with McMahon and Michaels would have been a real shame.
WrestleMania, the pinnacle in sports entertainment, but it would have had some serious competition in the form of Starrcade. WCW had a stacked roster, even when it closed its doors in 2001 which included Goldberg, Sting, DDP, Lex Luger, Booker T, Jarrett and more. Add in Jericho, Guerrero and RVD, and you have a stellar cast of talent ready to take over the world. Vince would’ve had a smaller pool of talent to choose from, and couldn’t exactly delve into the past for nostalgia unless he wanted to parade Sgt. Slaughter and Bob Backlund around. Certainly would’ve been interesting times.
If WCW was still a major threat in 2001, I am convinced that The Rock doesn’t become the mega Hollywood star that he is today. There is no way McMahon would have allowed it. He would’ve offered Rock absolutely anything to stay with WWE, and with Rock unsure of his acting talent and drawing power, he would’ve stuck with the devil he knew. So, if WCW remained in business, then Rock would be doing WWE produced movies right now. No one should be more thankful that WCW died in 2001 than The Great One.
Following on with that theme, if Rock did stick around then one has to assume John Cena would never have existed in the form we know today. He certainly wouldn’t have become The Face of the company. That mantle would’ve exclusively belonged to The Rock. We may also not had to endure the dire reign of Triple H in the early 2000s. That’s something to be thankful for, although I was a big fan of Evolution. Back to Cena, would he have still been employed by WWE? I’d venture to say no. You have to remember, even without The Rock, Vince was ready to wield the axe on Cena in 2003. If he still had Rocky on his books, Cena would’ve been out of the door but may have become the franchise player for WCW instead.
The biggest question is, if WCW had stuck around, what would’ve happened to Eric Bischoff? I still think he would have worked for McMahon in WWE, but I think they would’ve done things differently. There would’ve been no Invasion angle (thank God), but perhaps a spin on that would have seen Eric come to take over WWE with Hogan, Hall and Nash in late 2001, setting up a struggle of power with Vince. That would have been interesting to watch unfold.
It’s incredible to wonder the domino effect WCW remaining in business would’ve had on the wrestling landscape as a whole. AEW wouldn’t be around, for instance. ECW showed in the 90s that there wasn’t enough room for three major promotions in America. There wouldn’t have been a revival for NWA. NXT may not even exist.
CM Punk may have been working for WCW as we speak. Who’s to say what would’ve happened to the career of Brock Lesnar had Paul Heyman not been there? The possibilities are endless, but one thing is for sure, there will never be another Monday Night War and there will never be another wrestling company who pushes WWE to the brink.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @JK_CFC3. Thanks for reading!