This month, we marked the 25th anniversary of Ted Turner’s purchase of Jim Crockett Promotions and the creation of World Championship Wrestling. This milestone seemed to go unnoticed by most wrestling fans. While the battered and bruised stars of ECW continue to trot themselves out for reunion shows, WCW’s biggest names either integrated themselves into the WWE Universe, went to upstart TNA, or integrated themselves into obscurity (Buff Bagwell! WOO!) WWE seems to only commemorate WCW by cashing in on its extensive video library (Goldberg: The Ultimate Collection, available on DVD and Blu-Ray now!) or to make fun of its frequent missteps. But we’re here to celebrate not denigrate the legacy of World Championship Wrestling. Though its mistakes are well documented, we’re here to remember the company that, for the better part of its first five years, was better than the mighty WWE and in the mid ’90s, became even more popular.
I enlisted the help of some of my fellow Culture Crossfire writers as well as the members of The Real TSM message board to come up with a list of the 25 Greatest World Championship Wrestling Superstars of All Time. The only major qualification was that they had to be an active competitor between the time Ted Turner purchased the company in November 1988 till the time the company ended in late March 2001. Each week, we’ll countdown the best and brightest names who graced the stage of the biggest spectaculars in sports entertainment (according to Tony Schiavone) with #1 being revealed on the week of Thanksgiving. Many voted and here’s what they had to say…
First, let’s go over who didn’t make the list. Six WCW World Champions didn’t make the cut: The Giant, Bret Hart, Sid Vicious, Jeff Jarrett, David Arquette, and Vince Russo. First two are obviously more notable as WWE stars, Sid did receive a vote but his career was plagued with inconsistency and personal troubles and the last two title reigns never actually happened. YOU HEAR ME? THEY NEVER HAPPENED!!!
Guys who received votes but aren’t on the list are: Dusty Rhodes, Barry Windham, Billy Kidman, and Sid.
So with that out of the way, let’s get to the list…
#25. Rick Steiner
(November 1988 to September 1992. March 1996 to March 2001)
Titles: Eight Time WCW World Tag Team Champion (seven times with Scott Steiner, once with Kenny Kaos), Former WCW United States Champion, Three Time WCW World Television Champion, Two Time WCW United States Tag Team Champion (once with Eddie Gilbert, once with Scott Steiner)
Career Highlights: PWI Match of the Year (with Scott Steiner Vs Sting and Lex Luger, Super Brawl), PWI Tag Team of the Year (1990, with Scott Steiner), Wrestling Observer Tag Team of the Year (1990, with Scott Steiner), Wrestling Observer Match of the Year (1991, with Scott Steiner Vs Hiroshi Hase and Kensuke Sasaki, WCW/New Japan SuperShow), Five Star Match (WarGames ’91)
Lowlights: Also featured in WCW’s ridiculous Marvel Comic Book, participated in the Chamber of Horrors match, got verbally humiliated by Chucky (of Child’s Play) fame, had to team up with Buff Bagwell’s mom, spent the last days of WCW being used as a goon who legitimately roughed up underachieving mid-carders
Essential Match: Vs Mike Rotunda (Starrcade ’88)
Rick Steiner’s career has gotten so overshadowed by his tag team partner and younger brother Scott (who we will see later on the list) that we often forget that A. Rick was the one who arrived onto the wrestling scene first and B. He was a charismatic and distinguished wrestler in his own right with a fair share of solo successes. The Steiner Brothers were easily the most celebrated team in the history of World Championship Wrestling and Rick’s dog faced intensity and goofy mannerisms were just as crucial to their success as Scott’s athleticism and agility. While Rick’s solo career reached an early peak with a WCW World Television title win at Starrcade ’88, he did accrue singles titles right until the very end of the company.
(April 1992 to March 1993. June 1997 to August 1999)
Titles: Former WCW United States Champion, Former WCW Tag Team Champion (with Perry Saturn), Former WCW Light Heavyweight Champion (as Scotty Flamingo)
Career Highlights: Founder of Raven’s Flock, Co-Host of WCW/MTV’s Cancun Beach Brawl with Kid Rock and Jimmy Hart.
Lowlights: Have you seen some of the outfits that he wore when he was Scotty Flamingo? I hate the ’90s! Spending the last few months of his run, hanging out with Vampiro and The Insane Clown Posse
Essential Match: No Holds Barred Match Vs Chris Benoit, Souled Out ’98.
Though Raven probably achieved his greatest success in Extreme Championship Wrestling, his most notable successes were in WCW. You’d think it would be difficult for Raven to translate his success from the R-rated, cult beloved ECW to family friendly, corporate run WCW but he adapted his character without watering it down effortlessly. In the early months of 1998, his battles with Diamond Dallas Page, Chris Benoit, and Goldberg for the WCW United States title far overshadowed the muddled and confusing feuds that were being waged in the main events for the World Titles. Raven seemed ready to take the “leap” into the main event and then, things became stagnant. The Flock ended, he spent months building up a feud with Roddy Piper that never happened then he somehow got aligned with that goof Vampiro and the Insane Clown Posse. Then, somewhat understandably, he walked out on WCW in August of 1999 to return to ECW. In my opinion, despite some later successes in ECW and TNA, he was never quite the same after that.
This begins a recurring theme in Part One of the countdown; guys who weren’t utilized to the best of their abilities! However, despite maybe not being given the best opportunities, Raven managed to thrive and become one of the biggest heels in the company in the late ’90s, even occasionally overshadowing Hollywood Hogan and the nWo.
23. Eddie Guerrero
(August 1995 to January 2000)
Titles: Two Time WCW Cruiserweight Champion, Former WCW United States Champion
Career Highlights: Wrestling Observer Feud of the Year (1995, with Dean Malenko), Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s Comeback Wrestler of the Year (1999)
Lowlights: Battled substance issues, had his career nearly ended by car wreck which put him out of action for the better part of a year.
Essential Match: Vs Rey Mysterio, Halloween Havoc ‘97
Eddie Guerrero obviously went on to greater fame and fortune in World Wrestling Entertainment but from a pure workrate perspective, I think he was slightly better in WCW. Comparing his WCW run and his WWE run is like comparing “Dr. J” Julius Erving’s runs in the ABA and the NBA. Yeah, he achieved a lot of success on the bigger stage of the NBA but a lot of his most spectacular plays came earlier when he played in the less heralded ABA. The charisma, the character, and mannerisms that launched Eddie into the main event and superstardom in the last year or two of his life in WWE were there years and years earlier in WCW, it’s just that they were featured in the third match of the night instead of the main event. Unfortunately, during his WCW run, he was waging battles far greater than any he faced in the ring but he managed survive and eventually thrive and become one of the most beloved figures in the history of professional wrestling.
#22. Steve Austin
(May 1991 to May 1995)
Titles: Two Time WCW United States Champion, Former WCW World Tag Team Champion (with Brian Pillman), Former WCW Television Champion, Former NWA World Tag Team Champion (with Brian Pillman)
Career Highlights: Wrestling Observer Tag Team of the Year (1993, with Brian Pillman), Five Star Match (WarGames ’92)
Lowlights: Teamed with Terrence Taylor in one of the worst scaffold matches (think about that!) against Bobby Eaton and PN News at Great American Bash ’91. Jobbed to Jim Duggan in less than a minute, Fired over the telephone by Eric Bischoff because Bischoff didn’t see him as “marketable.”
Essential Match: Vs Ricky Steamboat (Clash of the Champions XXVIII)
People often forget how great Austin truly was in WCW. For the first three years of his run, he seemed on the fast track to becoming a future WCW World Champion. Even back then, in the nascent stages of his career, he was already a capital g Great worker and had tons of charisma. Though it would be impossible to imagine back then the unprecedented amounts of success that he would go on to have a few years later in WWE, the powers that be at WCW were foolish in ignoring that they had something very, very special in young “Stunning” Steve Austin. If we had some sort of wacky time machine, I think Austin is one of the very few wrestlers that I think had all of the qualities to be a main eventer in any major promotion in North America over the past thirty years. Austin thrived as a WCW World Tag Team Champion and United States Champion but I guess he arrived a little after the era when success in those divisions automatically meant a promotion to the World Title Scene but what was WCW’s loss ended up being the wrestling world’s gain.
#21. Dean Malenko
(August 1995 to January 2000)
Titles: Four Time WCW Cruiserweight Champion, Former WCW United States Champion, Former WCW Tag Team Champion (with Chris Benoit)
Career Highlights: Winner of the PWI 500 (1997), Wrestling Observer Best Technical Wrestler two years in a row (1996 and 1997)
Lowlights: Jobbed to David Flair.
Essential Match: Vs Chris Jericho, Slamboree ‘98
Dean Malenko was an absolute master technician in the ring. He’s one of those workers that was almost too good. He just didn’t seem to be made for the late ’90s. In an era of over the top gimmicks, his gimmick was that he didn’t have a gimmick. He was a wrestling fan’s wrestler. The kind of guy that even your grandpa, who stopped watching sometime in 1958 when wrestlers started wearing flashy robes to the ring, could admire. He got over on pure ability in the ring despite not being a great wordsmith on the mic or insanely charismatic (though he did prove to be a genuinely funny comedy wrestler at the tail end of his career after WCW). I wasn’t surprised to find out recently that Malenko was the favorite wrestler of a young, teenaged Daniel Bryan. Dean Malenko might not have been one of the biggest names of his eras or the most popular but he was definitely one of the best. Even though he got lost in the shuffle of the ’90s, he had skills that are not only a throwback to the golden era of pro wrestling in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s but are easily appreciated in 2013.
#20. Ron Simmons
(November 1988 to September 1994)
Titles: Former WCW World Heavyweight Champion, Former WCW World Tag Team Champion (with Butch Reed), Former WCW United States Tag Team Champion (with Big Josh)
Career Highlights: First African-American World Champion, PWI Most Inspirational Wrestler of the Year (1992)
Lowlights: Prominently involved in WCW’s ridiculous Marvel Comic book as well as Slam Jam.
Essential Match: Tag Team Street Fight, with Butch Reed Vs Arn Anderson and Barry Windham (Starrcade ’90)
Ron Simmons is not only an important wrestler in the history of WCW but professional wrestling, period. He truly broke ground for African-American wrestlers. When he arrived on the national scene in the late ’80s, the biggest black wrestlers were a guy who wore a chain around his neck and barked like a dog, a dude who walked around with a parrot while singing and dancing (and was referred to as “Buckwheat” by heel commentators), and Ted DiBiase’s indentured man servant. A College Football Hall of Famer like Ron Simmons wouldn’t let himself become a joke (at least not until he jumped to WWF and started wearing a Nerf Helmet to the ring) and proved to be an asskicker on the level of WCW’s biggest stars of the time, Lex Luger and Sting.
For all of his faults during Bill Watts’ time running the ship at WCW in the early ’90s, he made an absolute perfect decision in giving the WCW World title to Ron Simmons in August of ’92. Even though Simmons’ run with the World Title was a disappointment, his title win over Vader produced one of the most shocking and memorable moments in the company’s history to that point. And lest we forget Simmons’ run in Doom with Butch Reed, one of the most underrated tag teams of its era. Over his six year career in WCW, Simmons had a DAMN good run.
Sorry, I had to get it in.
#19. Chris Jericho
(September 1996 to July 1999)
Titles: Four Time WCW Cruiserweight Champion, Former WCW World Television Champion
Career Highlights: Wrestling Observer Most Underrated Wrestler of the Year (1999), Wrestling Observer’s Readers Favorite Wrestler (1999)
Lowlights: Had his first feud against a referee, was thought so poorly of by WCW upper level management that they didn’t even think he was even deserving of getting squashed by then WCW World Champion Goldberg, was taken off television in the last four months of his run
Essential Match: Vs Raven (Halloween Havoc ’98)
I’ve spent a lot of time in Part One talking about guys who weren’t utilized properly but let me take a slightly different direction here with Jericho. Re-reading his first autobiography A Lion’s Tale, it amazed me how over Jericho got despite the fact that the upper management at WCW barely remembered he existed. In 1998 (the last year of WCW’s boom period), he was arguably the most over heel in the company despite getting a tiny fraction of the exposure and airtime that a guy like Hollywood Hogan or Kevin Nash got. He was able to create some of the most memorable angles and become one of the most dominant cruiserweights in the company’s history. He did this without the help of somebody behind the scenes or one of WCW’s big money names but through sheer determination and by using his excellent creative mind. Yeah, he might never have become a main event guy in WCW but today, you couldn’t remember the main event of Slamboree ’98 without Googling it but you sure as hell could remember Chris Jericho getting his just desserts from
Ciclope Dean Malenko at that show. Jericho did wonders with what was given to him by WCW (which was little more than nothing most times) and used it as a springboard to wrestling superstardom.
#18. Rick Rude
(October 1991 to May 1994)
Career Highlights: PWI Most Hated Wrestler (1992), Wrestling Observer Best Heel (1992), Five Star Match (WarGames ’92), Co-Founder of Dangerous Alliance
Lowlights: Wrestling Observer Worst Worked Match of the Year (1992, Vs Masahiro Chono, Halloween Havoc ’92)
Essential Match: Iron Man Match Vs Ricky Steamboat, Beach Blast ’92
Of all of the huge names from the World Wrestling Federation who jumped to World Championship Wrestling in the 90s, Rude is one of the very very few who was actually used better by the second company than the first. In WWF, Rude was a star but when he jumped ship, he proved he could be a top dog. Rude had the looks and mic skills to be a World Champion prior to joining the company but in WCW, he developed top flight workrate. It’s too bad his career was ended by a back injury, not only right before WCW’s boom period (I’d like to imagine/hope Rick Rude would have main evented Starrcade ’94 against Hulk Hogan instead of The Butcher if Rude hadn’t retired) but before he could have faced a lot of the great young wrestlers that came into the company in the mid ’90s. However, instead of talking about what might have been, let’s talk about what was. Rude was one of the founders of the Dangerous Alliance, which was arguably WCW’s greatest stable before the arrival of the nWo. Now, I know some of you might think I’m on crack for putting them above the Four Horsemen but the Four Horsemen were a JCP creation not a WCW creation and all of the WCW iterations never quite lived up their mid ’80s heyday. Since we’re talking about WCW from November ’88 on, I think Dangerous Alliance might outrank them in the grand scheme of things. And Rude was the ringleader. In WCW, Rude backed up all of the braggadocio he had in the WWF. He was good in McMahonland but he was great when he made the jump to Where The Big Boys Played. Rude might not have had the longest time in the spotlight but he made the most of what he had and became one of the biggest villains in WCW in the early ’90s.
#17. Randy Savage
(December 1994 to May 2000)
Titles: Four Time WCW World Champion
Career Highlights: Main Evented Starrcade (1995), PWI Comeback of the Year (1995), PWI Feud of the Year (1997, with Diamond Dallas Page).
Lowlights: Guest starred on Baywatch, had his credibility questioned when his flying elbow drop finisher revived Hulk Hogan when they teamed up, jobbed to Hulk Hogan approximately 6,478 times, had poop dumped in his limo by Kevin Nash, had to wrestle Dennis Rodman in a street fight.
Essential Match: Vs Diamond Dallas Page (Halloween Havoc ’97)
When Randy Savage left WWF at the end of 1994, many thought that his in-ring career was over; his body too scarred by his battles inside the ring and his confidence shattered after a rash of personal problems. However, Savage showed the world that the old dog still had a few tricks left up his sleeve and still had what it took to put on first rate matches. Like his old tag team partner Hulk Hogan, Savage was able to adapt his cartoonish ’80s character into the edgy ’90s and get a few last World Title runs. In fact towards the end of his career, Savage’s character became too edgy but for almost the entire decade, Macho Madness was alive and well in the ’90s. Even though Savage might not have been physically the same wrestler he was in WWF, he was able to adapt and add a few more classics to the long list of them that he produced over his twenty five plus year career.
#16. Dustin Rhodes
(December 1988 to February 1989, February 1991 to March 1995, November 1999 to April 2000, January 2001 to March 2001)
Titles: Two Time WCW United States Champion, Two Times WCW World Tag Team Champion (once with Ricky Steamboat, once with Barry Windham), Former WCW World Six Man Tag Team Champion (with Big Josh and Tom Zenk)
Career Highlights: PWI Most Improved Wrestler (1991), Wrestling Observer Most Improved Wrestler (1991)
Lowlights: Frequent clashes with WCW management over the years, teamed up with Big Josh, participated in the King of the Road match which indirectly got him fired in March ’95, got (kayfabe) assaulted by Terry Funk while The Funkster was using chickens as boxing gloves, indefinitely suspended from WCW in April ’00 after calling then head writer Vince Russo “an asshole” (that could also be considered a highlight though)
Essential Match: With Ricky Steamboat Vs Arn Anderson and Larry Zbyszko (Clash of the Champions XVII)
In his current WWE run, announcers have often talked about how Dustin Rhodes is own worst enemy. Few performers have shot themselves in the foot more than Lil Dust. He had all of the tools to equal if not surpass his legendary WWE Hall of Famer father, Dusty Rhodes but never quite reached that status. However, Rhodes clearly surpassed the old man in in-ring ability and for all of the talk about his blown opportunities, it’s Rhodes’ skills that got him so many opportunities in the first place. Rhodes is still involved in pro wrestling and at the age of 44 is as good as he ever was. But enough about Rhodes’ current status, let’s talk about his run in WCW. I think Dustin Rhodes encapsulated everything the hardcore fans of World Championship Wrestling loved. No frills, no flash wrestling ability. His nickname “The Natural” encapsulated his style perfectly. He wasn’t as charismatic as Sting and didn’t have the technical ability of Ricky Steamboat but he was able to become popular with the fans because he wrestled a smart, simple meat and potatoes style and was immensely relatable despite his Hall of Fame pedigree.
Like so many on Part One of this list, he captured every major title he could compete for except the World Title. In a perfect world, Rhodes wouldn’t have battled injuries and office politics and would have been a WCW World Title contender for the rest of the ’90s. However, wrestling is a strange business and these days, Rhodes’ run as “The Natural” is something of a footnote in his storied career. But true fans of WCW will never forget his classic battles with The Dangerous Alliance and The Stud Stable.
Thus concludes Part One of the countdown. Join us next time for Part Two as we count down Numbers #15 through 6, a list that’s packed with World Champions, stars of film and television, cult icons, and murderous, hate filled monsters. And that’s just referring to Kevin Nash! alone! Thanks for reading and stay tuned to find out, Thanksgiving Week, who was the greatest WCW star of all time!