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Ask 411 Wrestling: The 3 Wrestlers WWE Lost to WCW That Hurt Them The Most

June 10, 2019 | Posted by Ryan Byers
Hulk Hogan Ric Flair Bash at the Beach

Welcome guys, gals, and gender non-binary pals, to Ask 411 Wrestling. I am your party host, Ryan Byers, and I am here to answer some of your burning inquiries about professional wrestling.

If you have one of those queries searing a hole in your brain, feel free to send it along to me at [email protected]. Don’t be shy about shooting those over – the more, the merrier.

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ACM wants to continue our theme from last week regarding wrestlers jumping ship:

Many wrestlers, as we know, left for WCW back in mid to late 90s, majority of those were the ones who Vince Mcmahon did not want, like Bret Hart, Randy Savage etc. Who do you think the three biggest names were who jumped ship that really hurt Vince back then. In other words, who were the guys who jumped that would have still had careers in WWF but left?

First off, I would disagree with the notion that Vince McMahon “didn’t want” Bret Hart at the time that he departed the WWF. Bret was in the middle of a very lucrative multi-year contract, and he had a negotiated release because the financially-strapped Fed couldn’t afford to pay him what had been promised not that long before. Vince would have kept him if he had been able to make the guaranteed payments.

However, the questioner is correct that Randy Savage wasn’t particularly “wanted” in the Fed at the time, as his transition to the position of broadcast journalist not long before his departure was meant to be an end to his full-time in-ring career, not unlike what Bruno Sammartino had done several years earlier.

None of that answers the key question, though: Who did the WWF lose during the mid-to-late 90s that hurt them the most in their war with WCW?

Here’s my list:

3. Lex Luger: The contemporary version of wrestling history that has been written by WWE doesn’t think too highly of Lex Luger, but the fact of the matter is that, even though he’d been cycled down the card by the WWF prior to his departure from the company, he could have been rehabed, as proven by the fact that Luger became one of WCW’s single biggest stars when he returned to the promotion, particularly around the time that he upset Hollywood Hogan for a brief World Title reign. Perhaps most importantly, Luger’s surprise appearance on the first episode of Monday Nitro, when McMahon though that he was working out a new WWF deal, was a total shocker and set the tone early for WCW’s new flagship show (or the “warship” as Dusty Rhodes called it) as well as the Monday Night War as a whole.

2. Randy Savage: Though WCW became the Hulk Hogan show once the Hulkster transferred over from the company, he could only do so much given the fact that he had a deal that only obligated him to work a fairly limited schedule. The Macho Man, though not a star equal to Hogan, had a great deal of mainstream recognition, as demonstrated by the major media coverage that his untimely death received just a few years ago. Having Savage in the fold allowed the company to have someone who could work a solid second-from-the-top match on cards that the Hulkster headlined as well as somebody who could credibly appear at the time of the card himself and satisfy Hogan’s fans when the big guy wasn’t around (though Savage himself also received a deal that allowed him to work a lower-than-average number of dates).

1. Hulk Hogan: You had to see this one coming, right? Many fingers have been pointed at Hogan as having a role in the demise of WCW, but the fact of the matter is that he is also the wrestler perhaps more responsible than any other for turning it into a force that could wrest dominance of the industry away from the WWF. All you have to do is look at his pay per view numbers. Even in the pre-Nitro portion of Hulk’s WCW stint, he significantly increased the number of eyeballs on their product and gave them the sort of international start that they needed in order for the Turner networks to even consider a move like the one that they made to airing wrestling live on Monday nights.

Mohamed is the boom king:

Will wrestling ever have another boom period again or is it all gone for good?
Of course, nobody knows the answer to that question. However, it is certainly within the realm of possibility.

Generally, boom periods in wrestling have been the result of one or two particularly strong personalities who can captivate the imaginations of both existing fans and either bring back more lapsed or “casual” fans and potentially make some new ones as well. The 1980s WWF boom period was based around Hulk Hogan, and the 1990s boom period was based around Steve Austin, with the Rock later showing up as well and buoying the boom during the time that Austin was out of action. In order for another boom period to occur, a performer of that magnitude needs to come along again.

There is one thing that will make the return to a boom period more difficult. If you look at how WWE currently promotes wrestling, they don’t do nearly as much as they used to in terms of building the promotion and its shows around one or two key talents. Shows like Wrestlemania aren’t as heavily sold on the prospect of seeing the next chapter in the Hulkster or Stone Cold’s stories. They’re based around seeing a major WWE show. The company has started selling its own brand more heavily than it has been selling its own stars, which can be a problem because it doesn’t give the talent as good of an opportunity to transcend wrestling and capture a more mainstream audience.

One other thing that has impacted or helped wrestling boom periods is a new media distribution model that brings wrestling to more eyeballs. In the 1980s when Hulkamania conquered the nation, it was built largely on the back of national syndication of wrestling television on local stations, something that had never really occurred before. When pro wrestling broke through in the 1990s, it was after a decade of cable television having expanded its prevalence and finally having reached a point when it was available on a nationwide basis in the United States, both in major cities and smaller bergs. Content was needed to fill the ever-expanding number of cable stations and make them stand out from their competition, and wrestling turned out to be a perfect genre to fill that need.

Who will that new, transcendent star be? What major technological breakthrough will bring wrestling to a new batch of fans? Your guess is as good as mine. They could all be known to us known but in their infancy. They could be things that nobody reading this has ever even thought of.

We’ll just have to wait and see.

Mike S. wants to talk about booking . . . wait, what? He wants to talk about books? Okay, then.

I absolutely love reading wrestlers memoirs. Do you read a lot of memoirs? if so, what is your favorite book written by someone from the biz, not necessarily a wrestler? I have heard from many fans and wrestlers that JJ Dillon’s book is hands down the best written ever, but it’s like $300 on eBay.

Honestly, I don’t read a lot of wrestlers’ books, and the main reason is that most of them are so horribly ghostwritten that I feel like they don’t truly capture the wrestler’s voice and as a result come off as an author telling the story that they want to tell as opposed to the wrestler actually telling his or her own story. I started being bothered by that when I read Hulk Hogan’s first autobiography several years ago, and it’s a trend that only continued as I started to dip into a few more of them, and it turned me off from the genre.

I should note that this isn’t meant as a criticism of ghostwriting overall. Some wrestlers and many outside of wrestling have managed to use it as an effective means of telling a story. However, many of the ghostwriters who have dipped into wrestling projects have, in my experience, not really put together much beyond a quick cash-grab book.

That being said, I will say that Chris Jericho’s first autobiography, A Lion’s Tale is an example of an excellent ghostwritten wrestling book, as it’s clear that Jericho had more of a personal hand in the book than the subject of many such bios. His sense of humor is there, and it’s great to have something that covers his pre-WWE life and career, which some might see as being less commercially viable material, in such great detail . . . especially since it came out not that long before we entered a world where young wrestlers didn’t go through the experience that Jericho did in beginning their careers.

If you can find a copy of it, I would also suggest checking out Jerry Jarrett’s book about the early days of TNA, which demonstrates what a terrible idea that its original PPV-only business model was.

Yoxall wants to go back to the well in regards to WWE’s PG product:

It’s been said that WWE wants a PG product, which is clear enough from the TV-PG rating Raw and Smackdown have.

However, when watching a recent PPV (in the UK so a replay the next day, not the late night live stream) they showed ads for the Road Stories program, and there was clear swearing in the ads.

I can see they might have a higher rating for shows like Road Stories, but I would have thought PPVs, particularly replays that aren’t shown late at night like the live show, would maintain a PG rating, given that they spend the PG rated Raw and Smackdown trying to convince kids to watch them. I’m fairly certain this ad was “part of the show”, rather than a random ad inserted during it.

Is this a case of WWE relaxing the PG rating on their own network and does it then give them the opportunity to give wrestlers potential to step over the line slightly on PPV? It might help some characters, but, as fans watching show, show, PPV, show, show, PPV, we’d probably not notice them dialing it down on Raw/Smackdown if they had occasional moments where they went a little bit over the line on PPV, and it would probably help the characters.

I’m rambling now. Any thoughts?

Could WWE take a harder edge on pay per views broadcast on the Network if they wanted to? Technically they could, as they have 100% control over the content on the over-the-top subscription service and aren’t directly beholden to any network or governmental standards. They do occasionally push the envelope on those shows, as you can catch blood from time-to-time in main events (most seemingly involving Brock Lesnar) and there are periodically more-violent-than-average spots such as Triple H ripping out Batista’s nose ring on the most recent Wrestlemania card.

However, I doubt that we will ever see WWE do too much more than they currently do in terms of stepping outside of the PG rating on the Network’s live specials.

Why?

Sponsors.

The company has done a ton of work over the last several years to regain conservative, mainstream sponsors for their events that they lost throughout the 1990s and early 2000s when their product was being viewed as quite risque, in league with properties like South Park and Eminem. If they go too far over the line on PPV, then they risk losing those sponsors that they have put so much effort into bringing back into the fold, particularly when some of those companies are directly sponsoring the pay per view event (e.g. “Stridex presents Summerslam,” an advertising tie-in that really happened in the mid-90s).

If you want an example of this sort of thing happening, look at what occurred when WWE attempted to name its Wrestlemania women’s battle royale after the Fabulous Moolah. Fans and wrestlers brought up some of the (alleged) less savory aspects of Moolah’s career, and sponsors didn’t want to be associated with a company that would venerate an individual who had that much baggage in our current social and political climate.

So, I wouldn’t expect WWE to change the general tone of their content anytime soon. If you want a harder-edged product, go watch old episodes of the Urban Wrestling Federation or something.

Davros is curious about the next steps:

How likely do you think it is that Trips will re-brand WWE as NXT if and when he takes over?

Anything is possible, but I think that the possibility of this happening is near zero.

WWE has been an established brand name for close to two decades now, and it builds on a history of the WWF and WWWF names that go back over fifty years.

From a marketing perspective, giving up on that name recognition makes zero sense unless, for some reason, the WWE name becomes so tarnished by a streak of bad product or a public relations nightmare that it becomes more of a liability than an asset. Even though WWE’s popularity (at least as evidenced by its television viewership) is plummeting year-over-year, we’re still a long way off from reaching that point.

Though it is true that the company has been through two name changes in the past (as referenced above), they were under completely different circumstances. The WWWF change to WWF was really just a shortening of the name and the two companies were obviously still connected. The WWF to WWE change was forced by an outside legal situation and was not a completely voluntary chose by those running the promotion.

In other words, I think that you’re going to keep hearing the WWE name for many years to come.

That will do it for this week’s installment of the column. We’ll return in seven days, and, as always, you can contribute your questions by emailing [email protected].