Who killed WCW? Maybe the question should be what killed WCW? Any which way you look at it, the question does not have a simple answer. Some people may have a quick answer but it’s not so easy.
Why even pose this question some twelve years after the promotion closed? Well, I just finished reading the Death of WCW book by Bryan Alvarez and R.D. Reynolds. The book got me thinking (which is dangerous) as to who really killed WCW. I recommend reading the book because it gives you a nice timeline of how WCW went from a distant second behind the WWF to almost putting the WWF out of business to being out of business themselves.
I would venture a guess that’s there’s a good portion of you that read this website that never saw a live WCW match. It is for you that I really write this column. It’s important that people know what WCW was. WCW was the company that almost sent Vince McMahon to the poor house. If you’ve only been watching wrestling for the last ten years then you only know WWE as the global entertainment conglomerate that it is. WCW came very close to squashing that dream. For the rest of us that lived through the Monday Night Wars it’s important to see what went wrong and how the wrestling business changed forever.
So who killed WCW? Many say it was Hulk Hogan. Hell, his track record in TNA is doing him no favors in debunking that myth. I will say that while Hogan certainly didn’t help matters he didn’t kill WCW. Hulk Hogan saved WCW. The Atlanta based organization was floundering in 1994. WWF wasn’t doing much better but they were entrenched as the number one wrestling promotion in North America. While WCW was number two it wasn’t really that close. Almost, but not as bad as TNA is to WWE today. WCW needed something or more like someone to put them on WWF’s level. That man was the Hulkster. Hogan garnered WCW media attention and raised buy rates on PPV and ratings on TV. Love him or hate him, Hogan is the biggest star that this industry has ever seen. The way he put WWF and WCW on the map with his star power is a testament to that.
Of course, to convince Hogan to come out of retirement Eric Bischoff, the man in charge of WCW had to make it worth his while. Hogan received a huge guaranteed deal and full creative control of his character. That meant if Hulk Hogan didn’t want to lose to someone, he didn’t. Early on is his WCW tenure this wasn’t much of a problem as fans were into the rebirth of Hulkamania. Then he turned heel at the Bash of the Beach in 1996 and the nWo was formed. That wasn’t Hogan’s idea. It was Bischoff’s. If Hulk had said no, the nWo as we knew it wouldn’t have been formed and maybe WCW never becomes the number one promotion in North America.
I’m sure Hogan was no angel in WCW. His backstage politics in WCW, WWF and TNA are well known. The extent of how bad it may have been may be overblown by people that just don’t like Hulk. The fact of the matter is he did pull his “creative control” clause many times. He refused to put people over, he got the title almost at will, and he would walk out and come back as he pleased. None of that was best for business (Hi, Triple H) but that fact of the matter is that he was only doing what he was allowed to do. If you let your child play with a lighter and then he burns the house down it’s not the kid’s fault the house burned down, it’s yours. When Hogan’s drawing power diminished his huge salary wasn’t justified anymore but because he had creative control nobody was going to tell him to work with the young guys and put Chavo Guerrero over. I don’t blame Hulk Hogan for the demise of WCW. He brought the company to new heights and wasn’t the driving force behind its downfall. It’s more the people that enabled him that he himself.
Before we get to the people that enabled Hogan, another popular whipping boy for the death of WCW is Kevin Nash. Nash has been labeled as a selfish, lazy worker. It’s no secret that his reign as WWF Champion nearly bankrupt the company. When Bischoff brought him in and the nWo was formed he was a major factor in that. The reason he gets a bad rap is because he gained power backstage. Nash was actually the lead booker for WCW for a time. He booked himself to beat Goldberg for the WCW Championship and end his unprecedented winning streak. That alone may have been the worst single thing that ever happened in WCW. He booked Nitros with no wrestling in the first hour and featured stupid skits and even stupider angles. Because of this, people like to blame Nash and even when he wasn’t booking shows he still had a huge guaranteed deal and the dreaded creative control that was seemingly drowning the company. The fact is, Nash didn’t have the book long enough to sink the company. The company was already springing leaks when he was booking shows.
I guess irony is the word you use when the man that was responsible for building the company to its greatest heights is also the reason it reached its lowest low. That man is Eric Bischoff. When he took over WCW he had the one thing every spoiled brat has that makes you want to choke them, money. Money they didn’t earn and spend without a care in the world. You spend like money doesn’t matter when it is not your money. That’s exactly what Bischoff did. WWF guys had to work on downside guarantees which meant you had to put your working boots on to make more money. It wasn’t like that in WCW. Free agents were given guaranteed deals meaning that they could be a workhorse or a lazy ass and make the same amount of money. That was one of the biggest reasons WCW was able to grow. They spent like crazy, guaranteed the money and attracted a lot of stars with that.
In WCW’s later days that type of spending came back to bite them. They were hemorrhaging money and needed badly to cut costs, they couldn’t because of the millions they had to pay to aging stars that weren’t drawing. Wrestlers weren’t the only thing “ATM Eric” as he was called, wasted money on. Remember the Junkyard Battle Royal WCW did on one of their PPVs? If you don’t you’re a better person for it. It was shot in an actual junkyard and was a venture as dangerous as it was expensive as several of the wrestlers wound up in the hospital after the match.
Borderline (I’m being really nice) celebrities were brought in on huge deals to virtually do nothing. Rapper Master P was brought in which would have been fine if one of his lackeys wasn’t making $400,000/year working a very light schedule and doing things that make The Great Khali look like Bret Hart. The band KISS was brought in and caused WCW to lose money as their pay certainly wasn’t justified as when they performed on Nitro, people watched RAW. The spending was out of control. Eric could have had fiscal responsibility but why would you when it’s not your money? Eric Bischoff was a true visionary in the world of wrestling. He knew what it would take to bring WCW to the promise land. He had the stones to do things no one else would ever dream of and it worked. The problem Eric had is he never looked past today. Hogan, Nash and Ric Flair were in the twilight of their careers in the late 90s and he never did anything to ensure the company’s future. He has to be given credit for giving Chris Jericho, Dean Malenko, Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio their first big chance but they were never more that reliable midcarders. He relied on the horses that were winning the race for him but eventually that horse can’t run anymore. He never saw that far ahead.
When Goldberg was becoming WCW’s Steve Austin he got over despite his booking because he was something new and fresh and Bischoff did little to protect him instead he let Hogan and Nash run wild and kill the character. Then again it’s hard to blame Eric to keep riding those ponies. In reality he had no choice because of that dreaded CREATIVE CONTROL guys had. The only one in WWE that has creative control is Vince McMahon and that’s why WWE has survived the test of time. The inmates don’t run the asylum like they did in WCW. As I said before though, he was just doing what he was allowed to do.
Another well traveled theory is that Vince Russo killed WCW. He did not. WCW was already dying when he got there. He was brought in to help save the company. All he did was make matters worse. WCW saw Russo as the guy he said he was, the man that was the brain behind the Attitude Era in WWF. While Russo did help turn WWF around, he had Vince McMahon to control him. In WCW he did what he wanted to do and there was wacky swerve after wacky swerve after wacky swerve. Let’s not forget that he booked David Arquette and himself as WCW Champion. Ok, so maybe we can blame him for the death of WCW. Once you kill the value of the company’s main title the fans have nothing to invest themselves in because then what are these guys fighting for?
Did Jamie Kellner kill WCW? Who? Well, keep your pants on and I’ll tell you. AOL and Time Warner merged. Mr. Kellner became the new chairman of the Turner stations and saw the insane amount of money WCW was losing and cancelled both Nitro and Thunder. Granted, we wrestling fans should hate the guy because he was some TV executive that never watched wrestling and had a very low opinion of it and the people that watched it. The fact of the matter is that at the time Bischoff was putting together a group that was going to buy WCW and keep it alive. All with the premise that it would stay on TBS and TNT. When Kellner cancelled all WCW shows the brand became worthless and died. But did Jamie Kellner kill WCW? In short yes. If he didn’t cancel Nitro, WCW would have been bought by Eric Bischoff’s group and lived on to see another day. He’s not the person that’s really responsible for killing WCW. He was merely the man who kicked a nearly dead carcass into its grave.
You’ve read nearly 1,900 words waiting for one simple answer: who killed WCW? Ted Turner killed WCW. The man that owned WCW killed his own company. When Vince McMahon threatened to “kill” the WWF by bringing in the nWo for a lethal dose of poison that was just a story. When Turner brought in Bischoff, that was his lethal dose of poison. People are often blinded by love and Turner was as well. WCW was his baby. In the early 90s when WCW was losing money his board members wanted him to cancel WCW programming, he said no. He had such an affinity for wrestling because it was the backbone of his TBS station and a program that really helped the fledgling station get going. He brought in Bischoff, handed him the keys to the car and never once asked where he was going. Ratings went through the roof, Eric asked for more money to keep ratings up. Ratings tanked and Eric asked for more money to try and save the company and all the while Ted kept signing those checks. If Turner had once asked Bischoff to spend wisely or sign wrestlers to contracts that were better for the company than maybe WCW would still be here. If he would have restructured the company with people that had a clue in 1999, then maybe WCW wouldn’t have lost $62 million in their last year in business. Then maybe Kellner would have saw WCW as a profitable venture and not pulled the plug on their TV. The man that probably loved WCW more than anyone else was also the one that killed it.
Any business that fails in this country fails because of one person, the owner. For all of WCW’s crappy booking and bad contracts, Turner employed the men that allowed that to go on. He could have said no. It was his money and he had every right to do so. Maybe he was naïve and didn’t see Bischoff as the money spending poison he turned out to be. If he did, WCW may still very well be here.
I was and always will be a WWF/E guy. It’s what I grew up watching and it’s the style of wrestling I’ve come accustomed to and like the most. That said, WCW was what was best for the wrestling business. It created competition and better TV shows. It was better for the fans and the wrestlers. It’s a shame that WCW is dead no matter whom you think killed it.
(That’s what she said.)
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