The year 2000 was the beginning of a new millennium and in my ways, it was also the beginning of the end of World Championship Wrestling. Vince Russo, the head writer for the WWF during the bulk of the Attitude Era that generated record TV ratings, had jumped ship to the Turner organization just a few months earlier in October of 1999. Some within the Ted Turner group thought they acquired the services of the mind behind the creation of Steve Austin, The Rock, and Mick Foley. Clearly, they didn’t and soon the Turner executives realized that Vince McMahon was the primary force behind his product, not Russo.
Without the McMahon filter, Russo booked some of the most infamous angles in the history of the business, and the laundry list of mistakes landed WCW $60 million in debt for the year 2000. David Arquette as WCW champion, Russo himself as a champion, Judy Bagwell on a pole matches, and the disgusting angle that mocked Jim Ross were more than enough of a reason for the majority of the viewing audience to change the channel to WWF programming.
That being said, while Russo definitely earned his fair share of the blame for the demise of WCW, there were also a number of other contributing factors, including outrageous contracts that would make it difficult for even a moderately successful company to turn a profit. Some of the less prominent luchadors that were used for secondary programming or the random six man tags on Nitro, where the participants could’ve been interchangeable because they were only there to work the lucha style, not a storyline, were given six figure contracts. Don’t get me wrong, if a performer can get a deal for that type of money, good for them, but the point being, it’s a prime example of the lack of cost management in WCW.
The loss of $60 million dollars after finally turning a profit the few years previously looms over the history of the organization, and most generally consider the year 2000 the downfall of WCW, especially since the promotion rode much of the momentum of 1998 through 1999 so some of the blunders, such as how Goldberg was misused, weren’t as apparent at the time. Just three months after the start of 2001, WCW was purchased for pennies on the dollar by the WWF. A major reason for this was the AOL/Time Warner merger, but the bottom line is, WCW wouldn’t have been sold if it made a profit.
As much as the year 2000 contributed to the demise of WCW, there were several aspects to the product that could’ve helped the company survive if it wasn’t sold. In fact, there were MANY underutilized talents that could’ve been major stars for WCW, but just didn’t get the push they deserved at the time. For the purposes of this list, we won’t include tag team since that could be another article for another time, and as talented as they were, the “Radicalz” won’t be used for this list because they left the company just weeks after the start of the year.
So, who were the top five underutilized talents in WCW in 2000?
5. The Great Muta
An absolute legend in Japan, The Great Muta has reached mythical status in his home country and amazingly still wrestles occasionally for his Wrestle-1 promotion, despite many serious injuries during his thirty year career. Although the majority of his career took place in the far east, Muta said in the past that he considers the United States his second home because of the critical role it played in the development in his career. Even before the mysterious Great Muta, guided by the underrated legendary manager Gary Hart, appeared on TBS in 1989 to begin a memorable feud with Sting as one of the last great moments in the NWA, he worked in Florida under a variety of names. His skills were immediately noticed, hence the reason he achieved semi main event status during the angle with Sting shortly after his TBS debut alongside Gary Hart. For the next several years, Muta alternated between WCW stints and working in front of major crowds in the Tokyo Dome. In fact, his involvement with the NWO Japan stable gave WCW an international aspect, and in the process allowed for a presentation that suggested that it wasn’t just a southern “rasslin” company.
By 2000, the nearly 15 years of wrestling full time had taken its toll on him (taking time off to heal from injuries after WCW closed and completely reinventing himself in All Japan gave Muta a career resurgence in 2001) and he wasn’t quite as dynamic as he had been previously, but the powers that be completely wasted the chance to use The Great Muta in a productive way. At one point, he and Vampiro were the tag champions, but they held the belts for one day, winning them at the New Blood Rising pay-per-view before the duo dropped the titles the following night on Nitro. Known as The Dark Carnival, Muta and Vampiro were paired with the Insane Clown Posse, a stable that generated a noticeable crowd reaction even though they didn’t get a substantial push on TV. In theory, Muta’s legendary status could’ve been used to help establish Vampiro, who was one of the more over WCW stars at the time, and also bring a unique element to the stable. If Russo or others in charge had given The Dark Carnival any meaningful angles, they could’ve added something edgy to the product without the raunchy gimmicks used in the WWF during the Attitude Era. Obviously, since Ted Turner owned the company, there were some restrictions as to what was allowed on their shows, but with ICP as a somewhat controversial group at the time, WCW programming could’ve seemed edgy without being distasteful. Granted, Russo made up for that with a variety of disgusting storylines, but the point being ICP could’ve provided something different for the company. Unfortunately, The Great Muta was regulated to secondary WCW programming and completely misused. In some ways, Muta is The Undertaker of Japan in terms of how well he portrayed the character and his longevity, which is why it was so disrespectful that he was booked for three minute matches on syndicated shows before the promotion closed.
4. Rey Mysterio Jr.
The only cruiser weight on the list, Rey Mysterio Jr. was another career that was terribly mismanaged in WCW, but the WWE proved several years later that Rey had all the talent to transition from a cruiser weight to a main event style. The charisma, mic skills, and crisp in ring work are what ultimately set him apart from other lightweight performers. Even though he did spectacular moves, Rey could sell and he knew how to connect with the audience, which is the key to drawing money. Plus, Rey could work with anyone and that was even more of a reason to give him a main event push because he can make his opponents look good in the ring. If you go back to 1999 when Rey was forced to unmask, he essentially floundered until he was added to the Filthy Animals, and even then he was there with others that the booking team had no plans for so nothing truly relevant was done with them.
A few of the many reasons that the WWE survived during the ups and downs of the industry are marketing and merchandising. Vince McMahon was smart enough to see the merchandising value of the Mysterio mask and it became more than just an aspect of his wrestling character, it generated revenue with t-shirts of the design, masks that the younger audience could wear during his matches, etc. For WCW, that opportunity for merchandise sales was traded for a segment on the show and it didn’t lead to a major angle either. Rey was unmasked and then worked the lower mid-card for much of the remainder of his career there. In 2000, when the company was trying to desperately reboot the product, an underdog Rey could’ve brought something fresh to the main event scene, especially after the older generation of competitors became stale.
This Canadian made his wrestling home and began his rise to fame in Mexico, becoming as accepted into the lucha libre culture as any of the native performers. The rock music inspired grappler became extremely popular in Mexico in the early 90s and worked in a variety of roles in entertainment since that time. A very unique individual, Vampiro is still somewhat misunderstood despite many interviews, and even a documentary about his career. His career was mishandled from the start in WCW, as he made his debut on Nitro in June of 1998 and didn’t resurface again until March of 1999, despite being under contract the entire time he wasn’t booked for events. The following year he was one of the most over performers on Turner programming and his feud with Sting is one of the few highlights for the organization in that era. It was rumored that at the time, Sting didn’t want to lose the conclusion of the feud so the angle was finished rather quickly, and Vampiro returned to mid card status. As mentioned earlier about Muta, the Vampiro/ICP stable could’ve been used to give the perception of an edgy group on the Turner network without the vulgarity of the attitude era.
Vampiro said many times himself that he wasn’t a polished technical wrestler, and if you watch his matches, they usually have a wild structure, but he was charismatic enough to work the main event for WCW. The bottom line is, Vampiro was over in 2000 and could’ve been used to bulk up the sluggish title picture at the time, especially after the momentum he generated during the Sting feud.
2. Lance Storm
This might seem like an odd addition, considering in that his six month run in the company, Lance Storm won multiple titles at once, but when you take in account the context of those angles, it really emphasizes how the booking team completely underutilized one of the most graceful athletes of that era. One of the last graduates of the legendary Hart Dungeon, Lance Storm gained national notoriety in ECW after a stint in Smokey Mountain Wrestling in the early 90s got him noticed among diehard fans. The extreme group provided Storm to stand out as a technical wrestler among all the usual mayhem, and Storm gave ECW variety, proving that their shows were more than just hardcore stunts.
Since Storm was pushed well, he probably would’ve stayed in ECW, but the financial struggles of the company led to him not getting paid on time on more than one occasion so he signed with WCW in June of 2000. When he arrived at the Turner organization, he worked a generic Canadian heel gimmick with a Team Canada stable that included Jim Duggan turning heel for a brief time to become Canadian. Somehow, the powers that be saw Storm being Canadian as more important than the fact that he was an extremely talented performer that didn’t need goofy angles to get over. Sure, Lance won three titles at once, but that was basically so that Russo could put another Canadian flag on the belt and use some ridiculous name for it.
In a company where the in ring action was highlighted, WCW should’ve been a place where Storm excelled, but the lame booking hindered his progress. Lance Storm could work with anyone and present quality matches, which is why he should’ve been used better when the promotion was stale. All things considered, Lance Storm could’ve been a main event heel in 2000.
1. Mike Awesome
Known as The Gladiator in Japan, Mike Awesome made his name in the United States after an insane series of matches with Masato Tanaka in ECW, where he won the heavyweight title. Even though he was a heavyweight competitior, Awesome was unbelievably agile for his size and was a very unique commodity during the prime of his career. Similar to Storm, Mike Awesome left ECW when he wasn’t paid on time, and while he was vilified at the time, in retrospect many fans understand why he jumped to WCW. If anyone on this list was a guaranteed star for WCW, it’s Mike Awesome. The guy looked like a monster and again, he brought something different to the table than what was seen on WWF shows at the time.
Despite the potential, not surprisingly, Vince Russo booked Awesome as a comedy act for “The 70s guy” gimmick and then as a random member of Team Canada. Ultimately, Mike Awesome wasn’t given the chance to do anything relevant in WCW, which is almost unbelievable until you consider Russo’s track record. Awesome had momentum starting there from his time as ECW champion and could’ve been booked as a credible WCW champion if lame comedy gimmicks didn’t hinder his career.
There might not have been a way to avoid the shut down of World Championship Wrestling because of the corporate merger, but there’s no doubt that the talent was there to boost the organization if it wasn’t sold.
Until next week
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