Historically Speaking: Where the Big Boys Play

“Historians, it is said, fall into one of three categories:
Those who lie. Those who are mistaken. Those who do not know.” – Anonymous

The Opening Chapter
Thanks to an interview I read with Sandman, last time out I tackled out who were the definitive players in the history of the original Extreme Championship Wrestling. It was fun to look back at the near decade history of the “little promotion that could” to see who helped make the company what it was. This got me thinking about who has represented the bigger companies of the wrestling world as well. World Championship Wrestling can trace its origins back for decades with the old National Wrestling Alliance through the Florida, Georgia and Mid-Atlantic territories through the ‘70s and ‘80s and all the way up to the inevitable buy-out and name change thanks to Ted Turner in the late ‘80s. When Turner took over as owner, the company officially became a worldwide touring organization under a singular corporate umbrella. When WCW closed its doors in 2001 it was the end of a 13-year brand that was shaped by a plethora of colorful characters and talented athletes. Well who were those stars that helped build the foundation for WCW, and would be ultimately be on the company’s all-star fantasy team? I’m glad you asked.

The Main Players
Ric Flair – This is a no-brainer. You can’t talk NWA/WCW/Mid-Atlantic without mentioning probably the greatest of all time. He is officially billed as a fourteen time NWA/WCW Champion but the real number is probably closer to twenty. His Four Horsemen revolutionized what it meant a professional wrestling stable was all about. He was the face of WCW through its inception and up until its end, barring that year-and-a-half run in the WWF. From the first episode of Nitro to the very last one, Flair was THE man. If you don’t understand this inclusion then you’ve got no business reading this article.

Sting – He was called “The Franchise” of WCW for a reason. He was World Championship Wrestling’s hero for over a decade. He was World Champion for the organization nine times. He was WCW’s conscience and trusting ally. For every evil force that invaded WCW, whether it was the Four Horsemen, Black Scorpion, Vader or the nWo, Sting was there to defend his turf. Plus he is the most prolific and popular wrestler never to appear in World Wrestling Entertainment. That shows his level of commitment to the brand right there.

Hulk Hogan – While Hogan was and is the bastion of World Wrestling Federation, his involvement in WCW cannot be ignored. When he arrived in World Championship Wrestling in 1994, it changed the face of the organization immediately. Sting and Flair, the company’s top stars, took a backseat to Hogan and his entourage. When he reinvented himself with the heel turn and the new World order angle in 1996, it probably put another ten years of longevity to his career. While Hogan was created in the WWF, he was reinvented in WCW.

Randy Savage – A by-product of Hogan’s arrival to WCW in ’94, “Macho Man” Randy Savage was one of many from the old WWF that soon themselves down in Atlanta. Savage, like Hogan, went through a career reinvention thanks to his time in WCW. He was able to enjoy many more years on top of the card while helping creating new stars like Diamond Dallas Page. Savage’s introduction here also represents all of the other old WWF mainstays that found a new lease on life thanks to their arrivals in WCW. (Think Duggan, Tenta, Leslie, Hennig and others).

Lex Luger – While Randy Savage was often seen as Hogan’s number two guy, one could also make an argument that Luger was Sting’s number two. He had the look, size and charisma to be a top level star, but a lack of athletic wrestling ability and some unfortunate career breaks, Luger never reached the tippy-top upper echelons. However, he is one of those guys synonymous with World Championship Wrestling. He was a multi-time Champion, becoming the organization’s first triple crown and subsequently grand slam champion.

Goldberg – In WCW’s boom period in the late ‘90s the company’s popularity was based on essentially two things – the nWo and Goldberg. Goldberg was easily the biggest singles star that the company had ever made since Sting. With the simple black boots and tights and shaved head he wasn’t costumed like a superstar. In fact detractors passed him off as a Stone Cold Steve Austin clone. But somehow his undefeated streak took on a life of its own. What started out as the basic newcomers push turned into something phenomenal. When Mike Tenay came up with the idea of “counting” his victories, the company struck gold. He was WCW’s TV ratings winner thanks to his United States and World Championship victories being broadcast live on Nitro. The company knew his strengths and played to them immensely, something WWE couldn’t figure out.

Booker T – Back in the day a wrestler would start as a low-level tag wrestler, work his way though the tag ranks and into the mid-card before finally emerging a main event level superstar. It’s how Bret Hart did it. It’s how Shawn Michaels did it. And it’s how Booker T did it. He had slowly emerged as the breakout of the Harlem Heat tag team. Then on the random chance that Rick Martel forgot his gear before an episode of Nitro, Booker T was given the chance at singles stardom. He beat Disco Inferno for the first of his seven Television Championships. Then after Vince Russo screwed over Hulk Hogan live on PPV in 2000, Booker was given the chance to become the go-to-guy. Thanks to the company’s hyper active booking at the time, Booker ended up winning the World Championship four times before become the company’s standard bearer when it was absolved into WWE. Even to this day he is considered on of the last bastions of the WCW of old.

Sid – He had monster physique., height, power and strength and a weird charisma that drew fans to him. Even though he had a flaky reputation for leaving the company at various times, he could always pop the crowd when he returned. He had the “IT” factor that far more talented athletes like Lance Storm and Chris Benoit couldn’t dream of. His powerbomb finisher was considered lethal in the fans’ eyes. Even in WCW’s final days he was one of the company’s top stars, and it’s hard to fathom where the big man would be today if it weren’t for his absolutely hideous freak leg injury that happened back in January 2001.

Vader– Wrestling is built on fantastical characters. Men who seem larger than life. They are either superheroes of our fantasies or monsters of our nightmares. Vader was one of those monsters. Of all the super heavyweights who have been successful in professional wrestling, Vader was one of those who played that role to perfection. He was the heel who didn’t give the heroes an inch. He was the bad guy who seemed like he might actually win in the end. He moved like a monster should but could fly like a cruiserweight if needed. Vader was the type of villain that pro wrestling was built upon.

Ricky Steamboat – Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat was the type of athlete that the old NWA and early WCW was built upon. He was a no-frills athlete would was phenomenal inside the ropes of a wrestling ring and truly helped make WCW the alternate to WWE’s cartoon-ish landscape. He was the type of wrestler who brought prestige to every championship he held. Putting Steamboat on this list personifies all the highly talented, more traditional based athletes that made the WCW mid-card what it was for so many years.

Rick Rude – Rick Rude had the look, size, charisma and ability to be a star in the wrestling business. Unfortunately an ill-timed injury only allowed him a brief couple of years to show the wrestling world what a main event player he could be. Rude was the definition of a wrestling villain. WCW gave Rude the chance to be the star he was destined to be. Even in his injured state the company thought enough of him to offer him a high dollar deal to work in a non-wrestling capacity during the company’s late ‘90s heyday.

Diamond Dallas Page – Detractors say that he only got his push in WCW due to his close personal friendship with Eric Bischoff, but it says something about a man who didn’t get into wrestling until his 30s. He was a hard worker in a company worked his way through the ranks. He was a manager and commentator before involving into a low card job guy and then working his way up the ladder. In my eyes he became a legit main eventer in World Championship Wrestling thanks to his battles with Sting, Goldberg, Randy Savage, Hulk Hogan and others. It’s a shame that WWE didn’t see the same potential in Page, but his lack of success in other places just showed that he was a WCW guy tried-and-true.

The Tag Teams
Rick and Scott Steiner – The old NWA and southern wrestling in general was always based on good, old-fashioned tag team wrestling. Teams like The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express, The Midnight Express and The Andersons made tag team wrestling a main event attraction. Rick and Scott Steiner took tag team wrestling to another level in World Championship Wrestling. They were legit main event attractions together or separate. They evolved from the All-American good guys who could technical wrestle with the best of them to a pair of grizzled veterans with bad attitudes. Scott’s physical transformation in the late ‘90s made him a completely different person from the squeaky clean image he portrayed just years earlier. Much like Booker and Sting, the brothers are still seen as flag bearers for the WCW brand.

The Road Warriors – Their reputation proceeds them. Hawk and Animal were a tag team unlike none other when they first debuted. They are the definition of often imitated but never duplicated. Not only did they pave the way for power-and-paint monster figures, but also for unstoppable bad asses that followed after them. Every promotion they worked in they raised the level of their tag team division. Their time spent in WCW was no different.

Scott Hall & Kevin Nash – These two men turned World Championship Wrestling and professional wrestling in general on its ear. Scott Hall’s “invasion” on the Memorial Day ’96 Nitro kicked off the hottest period in WCW’s history. As the cornerstones of the nWo, Hall and Nash became iconic figures in the company’s history. While their careers were successful in WWE, they took themselves to a whole new level with WCW. Any talk of WCW’s history cannot be complete without a mention of these two and their contributions to the organization.

The Utility Players
Arn Anderson – He was the true definition of a utility player. He fit into any role that was needed of him. He was prolific tag team wrestler. He could fill any match slot, and he counted on to carry any mid-card championship. Plus he was one of wrestling’s most underrated promo men of all time. Most will think of Arn Anderson only as Ric Flair’s right hand man and the “Enforcer” of the Four Horsemen, but Anderson carved himself out a solid niche in World Championship Wrestling history on his own merits.

Bobby Eaton – Eaton was another of WCW most valued bit players. He, along with Anderson, is one of the most decorated tag team wrestlers in wrestling history. He personified the WCW middle and under card with his solid wrestling and lack of outlandish gimmickry. Eaton represents all of those guys who opened shows with fundamentally entertaining wrestling matches and who’s job it was to prepare the crowd for the rest of evening’s card.

Rey Mysterio, Jr. – Alongside the nWo and Goldberg, WCW in its hottest period was known for his amazing cruiserweight and lucha libre action. Rey Mysterio, Jr. personifies all of those men who literally busted themselves up to put on an entertaining show for the crowd. Mysterio and his contemporaries were called upon to rile up the crowds before the “main events.” His diminutive stature made him a long shot to be a success in an industry dominated by giants, but Mysterio’s talent and charisma showed that a small man can make it in a big man’s world.

Kevin Sullivan – “The Taskmaster” was one of those villains who was always constantly lurking around the WCW landscape. He was capable as an in-ring performer but was much more successful as a mouthpiece and manager for the company’s more occult and over-the-top characters. Any goofy gimmick that needed that extra something to get over was paired with Sullivan as a mouthpiece. He was a constant thorn in any top face’s side, and his guidance made even the hokiest of gimmicks like the Dungeon of Doom seems somewhat credible.

Brian Pillman – Pillman was one of those guys that was “little” before being little was cool. He was at the forefront of WCW’s initial run at a light heavyweight division, and played the perfect underdog babyface for any domineering heel. His neon colors, good-looking features and high-flying moves made him a big success in the early ‘90s. He represents the fellow contemporaries of his time, men like Johnny B. Badd, Z-Man, Ricky Morton and Tommy Rich, whose style made him a success with the southern crowds. His subsequent turn as “the Loose Cannon” saw him do a complete character overhaul and career reinvention. His bright colors and high-flying ways gave way to a maniacal edge and a wild, brawling style. He was one of the first to break wrestling’s ”fourth wall” and delve into “is that real?” shoot/work territory that was beaten down in subsequent years.

Brad Armstrong – This seems like an odd choice, but looking back, it’s easy to see that Brad is one of the cornerstones of World Championship Wrestling. He was solid, if unspectacular, in the ring but could put on some phenomenal matches with the right opponents. He could be called upon to make any untalented stiff look good in the ring and would put over any flash in the pan. Plus he was a team player. Whether it was under a mask as Badstreet, Arachnaman or Freedom Fighter or playing “The Candyman” or working as a “No Limit Soldier” or as a doppelganger to his own little brother, Brad would fill the role. It’s amazing to think that he was pretty much gainfully employed by the organization through the entire decade plus of its existence. He must’ve been doing something right.

The Perspective
Over the company’s storied legacy these are the man there the ones that foundation. They are the cornerstones and backbone of World Championship Wrestling. Some are still associated with the brand even to this day, even after its disappearance seven years ago. These are the bastions that made the organization a success and allowed all of us to forget some of WCW’s other “successes.”

Blood Runs Cold anyone?

For this week the vault is closed…

Linked to the Pulse
Buckledee talks about a “Breakout” in ROH.

SK finally reviews Tuesday in Texas.

Bambi has thoughts on this past week’s RAW.

This Day in History
I figured if we are talking history around here we should pay homage to what has happened on this very day in the years gone by. It will either make you long for the old days or be happy for what we have now.

1974 – Jimmy & Johnny Valiant defeated Dean Ho & Tony Garea for the WWWF Tag Team title
1988 – Tatsumi Fujinami defeated Big Van Vader in a tournament final for the IWGP Heavyweight title
1998 – Joey Matthews defeated Christian York for the SCW Light Heavyweight title
2000 – Chris Benoit defeated Chris Jericho for the WWF Intercontinental title
2002 – Johnny the Bull defeated Race Steele for the Heartland Wrestling Association Heavyweight Title
2002 – BJ Whitmer defeated Shannon Moore, Jamie Knoble & Matt Stryker for the Heartland Wrestling Association Cruiserweight Title

1950 – Kamala was born

The Assignment
It’s important to know your history to know where you have come from and where you are going. Back when Nova was in charge of the WWE developmental system he implemented mandatory history assignments for the students of the developmental territories so they would know pro wrestling’s history and they would learn just how many moves Nova created and apparently the best ways to get on-line prescriptions. I feel Nova had a great idea there and every week I will assign a book or DVD for you to check out and learn from. They are not only educational, but very entertaining.

I finally got around to reading “Dynamite Kid” Tom Billington’s book Pure Dynamite from back in 2001. I had heard a lot of things about it over the years, how it was dry and boring and that Dynamite was overly bitter and angry to the business. I personally didn’t find either claim to be true. The book clocks at just a little over 200 pages and found it to be an easy and enjoyable read. I didn’t feel like Dynamite came off as overly bitter, but rather just told it like he saw it. He gives his honest opinions on each member of the Hart family, but nothing that he says comes off as too surprising. His now infamous hallway fight with The Rougeau Brothers has been dissected so much over the years on the Internet that finally reading about from the horse’s mouth didn’t have quite the same effect as it probably would have years ago. It was great to hear about his legendary matches with the original Tiger Mask, whom Dynamite respects immensely to this day. He does have some surprising views on his first cousin and Bulldog parter Davey Boy Smith. I always thought they were more of equals but its apparent that Davey Boy was years younger and more naïve than DK. He followed in DK’s footsteps through his career, until their personal and professional split in 1990. From the sounds of it the two never did make up or even speak to each other again before Davey’s untimely death. As he wraps up his book he is visiting the WWF at a UK-only pay per view in 2000, which I found surprising and as I didn’t realize DK had ever gone back at a WWE event since he left in 1988. It sounded like he had an enjoyable time and the newer stars of the days he treated him with respect. He also has tremendous respect for both Haku and Harley Race, two men I’m noticing popping up in a lot of autobiographies as respected men throughout the industry worldwide. Overall the book is a fun little read that’s a breeze to go through, but it undoubtedly out of date in today’s climate, as I’d love to hear DK’s opinions on Davey’s death and the Chris Benoit situation, as he acknowledged that Benoit was emulating him and even got a chance to work with him a couple times before his retirement.