1997: The Birth of the nWo
Top Best/Worst WCW Story Arcs List...
Although, the WCW's nWo splinter gang was formed in 1996, they fully developed the following year as WCW producers and writers sought to differentiate their product from McMahon's WWF. The most effective ways that WCW ascended to top spot in professional wrestling was through winning the Monday night wars with Nitro, hiring tons of established and new talent, as well as, showing a willingness to develop story arcs that were more compelling than what had pleased the crowds in the earlier cartoonish era of wrestling personalities. Of course, the downside is that bringing out the worst in the fans also leads to a more fickle audience. Shock value can only go so far until things get either risky or stale. 1997 was the definitive year for the nWo and WCW from 95-97 worked some of their best and worst story arcs as they vied for dominance in the industry.
10. Marcus Bagwell Heel Turn VS Konnan Heel Turn
Marcus "Buff" Bagwell and Konnan were two of the first recruits to the nWo once Eric Bischoff started opening up the roster to mid-carders. Bagwell had been tied up in a lackluster tag team with Scotty Riggs. It was remarkable to see Bagwell come out of his shell. His chiseled physique was ideal for developing an obnoxious persona - and he milked it. Eventually, he created a natural-fit tag team with Scott Steiner and in the meantime had a great dynamic with Scott "Flash" Norton. Bagwell's performances were some of the most entertaining as he constantly posed in the ring during matches and had direct addresses through ringside cameras. Bagwell had his heel turn when Bischoff gave WCW wrestlers 30 days to sign new contracts with the nWo. Bagwell was the first recruit in that campaign and he was initiated to the gang when turning on his tag team partner, Riggs in front of the leaders of the nWo. Bagwell developed a strong finisher (The Blockbuster). Konnan on the other hand started in the WCW as a flamboyant, heavier-set luchador with ridiculous ornate, frilly boots and tights speckled in rainbow colors. There was nothing remarkable about him apart from his having greater size and girth than most of the other lucha libre wrestlers. He had a heroic persona and then overnight became a ludicrous caricature reminiscent of Hopper's Colors - a Los Angeles Latino gang banger. There was no clear motivation for the heel turn or for his affiliation with the nWo... it kind of just happened. One might conjecture that WCW was nervous about how far they could take the homogeneous ethnic profile of the nWo group who until then only had ethnic variety through the questionable "security expert" Vincent. In reality, Vincent was such a definitive jobber that he almost came off as a new age slave in a supremely white organization. I have to wonder whether at first this dynamic was considered favourable, however, it was going to catch up to them. In addition, the nWo had become so popular that it made no sense to have the group be elitist or even misconstrued as racist. Scott Hall's surveys underscored that point. Konnan being Latino was about the only thing that fit for his heel turn and on closer observation it didn't actually fit at all.
9. Nitro Girls VS Madusa and the Woman's Title
When Madusa showed up at the broadcaster's booth on one of the early episodes of Nitro, she announced that her stint with WWF was at an end. She proclaimed that "big girls" wrestled at WCW and that she was going to prove that by becoming the league's champion (ironic proclamation give Chyna's emergence back in WWF). Madusa ended up proving nothing because WCW never had an impressive roster of female wrestlers to make the woman's title a competitive bracket. In fact, almost all of the females were interchangeable Japanese wrestlers from the foreign sister league that was WCW-affiliated. Eventually, Madusa had to bow out through defeat at a win-or-retire match. It was a relief. Madusa's "made in the USA" character was about as lame as Jim Duggan in the late 90s, except Duggan could still rock the mat with a big slam. The Madusa story arc was filler at best and more just a total waste of time. On the other hand, the Nitro Girls were a troupe of dancers that had some precedent - In Living Color was popular and had its own troupe (which featured a young Jennifer Lopez). Having cheerleaders made sense for wrestling's claim of being a sport. The Nitro Girls also had a natural fit through Kimberly Page being part of the troupe. Kimberly had been a ringside accessory for several wrestlers, including Diamond Dallas Page who had become extremely popular in 1997. The broadcaster's infatuation with the Nitro Girls made the dancers' segments even more entertaining.
8. Raven and the Scrubs VS Bill Goldberg
Raven had built up his prestige in the less popular, ECW . He began making appearances in the front row at Nitro shows. His presence was unexplained and he became an enigmatic character. Eventually, Raven's "Flock" grew in numbers and became a gang. He recruited some loose ends like Billy Kidman and Scotty Riggs and used them extremely effectively. Raven established a bad-boy, anti-establishment persona reminiscent of John Bender and Buddy Revell. His gang exemplified the grubby aesthetics of grunge subculture. The look was unique to WCW and it meshed well with the shift away from incorruptible cartoonish heroes of yesteryear. Raven also established that he would fight dirty but that this was fair because he would only fight with the league sanctioning that there be no rules enforced for his matches. Everything about Raven was fresh and Perry Saturn being in the Flock helped fill out the ranks of his gang. On the other hand, Bill Goldberg was stale - an uninspiring mix of Ken Shamrock's UFC style with Steve Austin's attitude and look with the predictable infallibility of Luger or Undertaker. The infallibility marked itself through a prolific undefeated streak, however, most of those wins came at small events against career jobbers. In the end, Goldberg did get the big matches and marquee opponents but in 1997 his act was drab. In fact, Goldberg in 1997 wasn't a very skilled or competitive wrestler. He botched often and had a very hard time selling moves. Perhaps, this is why eventually most of his matches lasted under a minute - it provided him no opportunity to demonstrate what a truly shabby wrestler he was. His story arc in 1997 was contrived and confusing when he helped Debra in jumping Steve "Mongo" McMichael. In exchange, Goldberg received Mongo's Super Bowl ring from Debra. So, Goldberg became a mercenary and we learned that he was once a football player - that went nowhere as a story. Goldberg was just there to beat people up and overall that is pretty bunk for sports entertainment.
7. Alex Wright Heel Turn VS BabyFace Glacier
There was nothing more pathetic than watching an organization learn the trend and then willfully defy it. That is what happened with Glacier in WCW. The nWo was a clear recognition that cartoonish super-heroes were for a previous generation of wrestling fans. Hulkamania was dead and Hollywood Hogan was spitting venom at fans on a weekly basis, calling them pukes and idiots. Cheating was becoming cool. Gang beatings were deemed bad-ass. Glacier defied the promotion of all that vice. He was a rip-off of Mortal Kombat's Sub-Zero character but with none of the ruthlessness and moxie. Glacier was supposed to be an inspiring hero, but he was mostly a dud. He was fluff - Glacier had no personality translated through interviews, he was an unskilled wrestler and his opponents were fabricated especially for him. In fact, his Halloween-costumed opponents (Mortis and Wrath) had more legs than Glacier. His backstory about being trained in martial arts was a tough sell given that the wrestler was slow and lacked skillful acrobatic abilities. It is hard to say whether Glacier was an attempt to have lucha libre grow in the fans' imagination, but in his own right... he was just wrong. On the other hand, Alex Wright's heel turn was extremely entertaining. For a couple of years, WCW had attempted to make Wright popular with crowds - he had a great physique, a charming youthfulness and great skill and flair as a wrestler. Wrestling fans didn't want heroes anymore unless they were supreme like Luger and Sting (and DDP for his finisher). Wright being supreme would have been a real stretch. Eventually, the writers decided to make Wright a heel. Like Buff Bagwell and Chris Jericho, Wright became obnoxious and self-absorbed. His narcissism manifested through terrifically bad Euro-trash dance routines that defined douchebags a decade in advance. Wright struggled to hold championship titles and to find allies which worked well as effects for his degenerating personality. Eventually, Wright developed a working relationship with another dancing fool, Disco Inferno. Fun times.
6. Benoit/Woman vs Sullivan/Jacqueline VS Jarrett/Debra
A rather uncomfortable story line developed in 1997 when WCW Nitro began revealing details about a tryst between Chris Benoit and Woman. On the surface there was nothing strange about the romantic relationship because both of them were affiliated with the Four Horsemen. However, Kevin Sullivan and Woman had been married in real life and Benoit was stealing her away in real life. The real-life drama being mirrored through the wrestling showcase was awkward and unsettling. The writers and producers figured out a way to spin the strife into entertainment - Jacqueline. Jacqueline was petite and fit in well as a bodyguard/lover for the diminutive, Kevin Sullivan. Jacqueline was physically impressive and had the ability to pick up male wrestlers to suplex and slam them. Her fury to attack Benoit and Woman was exciting but short-lived. Sullivan retired from WCW and Woman disappeared from the shows. Jacqueline was attached awkwardly with Harlem Heat as a ringside manager, but this was mainly a waste of her talent. Benoit had a difficult time finding opponents and the Four Horsemen were disbanded once Arn Anderson retired. Benoit found some action against Raven and his Flock. It was easy to pine for the heated battles between the Four Horsemen and the Sullivan's Dungeon of Doom. On the other hand, Jeff Jarrett never registered in the mind of WCW fans. He showed up desperately trying to be accepted into the Four Horsemen. Ric Flair vouched for him without ever really betraying that trust (which he should have). Jarrett pretty much broke up the Horsemen when he failed to fit in properly and then stole Debra away from the Horseman, Steve "Mongo" McMichael. Jarrett is a talented wrestler but his personality was lame, there was nothing bad-ass about him so he neither fit into the Four Horsemen nor the WCW at that time. It wasn't long before the producers realized this and he was moved over to WWF... Debra soon followed as her act was tired and not as sensational as billed.
5. Dark Side of Sting VS Luchadors
This isn't a point about face paint versus face masks, but it is about anonymity and mystery. In 1997, WCW relied heavily on filling their card with luchador matches. Some of the lucha libre wrestlers hailed from the Far East while the others were Latinos primarily hailing from Mexico. Some of the luchadors were exciting to watch (Mysterio Jr) and occasionally large brawls with luchadors was an entertaining spectacle. Most of the time the luchadors blended together because they had no unique personalities and were never able to use the mic to appeal to, or goad, a crowd. The use of masks added mystery but it was a superficial. La Parka's use of chairs against his opponents as well as his 'danse macabre' routine were among the most novel gimmicks that luchadors exploited. On the other hand, Sting going to his dark side after his friends erroneously believed that he had joined the nWo was fresh, exciting and brought about genuine mystery for audiences. Sting began appearing in the rafters of stadiums like the Phantom of the Opera. His act for several months was to simply bear witness. Then he began approaching his old friends challenging them to attack him with his bat. At first, the nWo claimed Sting as an ally. Eventually, the nWo played on the mystery by presenting a variety of fraudulent Sting lookalikes either as wrestlers in their roster or as mannequins that they beat up and mocked in the ring. Crowds began demanding Sting through chant at the end of every televised show. The anonymity and mystery of Sting proliferated when Sting conjured a set of follower lookalikes that distracted his enemies and threatened them with numbers. By the end of 1997, Sting began openly attacking the nWo in and out of the ring and at Starrcade in late December, the denouement was when he wrestled Hollywood Hogan. The gimmick to turn Sting to his dark side was a brilliant story arc that never struggled to have legs while playing itself out across more than a year.
4. The Giant Joins nWo VS The Giant Defends WCW
The Giant was so easy to hate when he was a massive goon for Kevin Sullivan in his Dungeon of Doom. When the nWo recruited the Giant it made perfect sense. The Dungeon of Doom was the cartoonish characters of a previous generation. The Giant showed his potential by being part of the next big thing. Fans still got to hate The Giant and his one-trick-pony choke slam had greater meaning as a finisher for a whole gang on their beat downs against WCW near the end of every show. The Giant began using the mic and his cockiness and sly humour was refreshing when reminiscing on his brainless menace status with the DOD. Then his story developed where he sought to usurp the World Heavyweight title from Hollywood Hogan. The writers should have kept that tension growing where The Giant could become an overgrown cry baby or a whipping boy. However, the producers side-stepped believing that weakening The Giant's claim to power would cripple his status. That decision proved to be quite myopic. The Giant quickly left the nWo because of avarice but then was put forward immediately as a hero of the people defending the WCW against the nWo. That just didn't make sense and the fans responded. Most fans struggled to cheer for the Giant and most of his pro-WCW proclamations on the mic were met with indifference or open resistance - he wasn't selling it. Ironically, a supposed accident at Souled Out in early 1998 saw the Giant getting dropped on his head during a botched jack knife power bomb by Kevin Nash causing a severe neck injury. Nash sold it like he caused the injury intentionally and joked about how the Giant had it coming. The fans laughed and even cheered as much as they booed and condemned the actions. When the WCW "chairman" J.J. Dillon proclaimed that the league had banned power bombs, the announcement was met mainly with disdain from the crowd. No one seemed to miss the Giant and his mismanaged persona.
3. Bret Hart Betrayal VS Curt Hennig Betrayal
The most exciting part of following WCW in the late 90s was benefiting from how aggressive the company was in contracting marquee wrestlers that still had the better part of a decade remaining in their career. Curt Hennig was brought in to add some more technical prowess among heavyweights (so was Hart for that matter). Hennig's story line with Diamond Dallas Page made sense if you had been following WCW a decade earlier. It went over the heads of most of the fans. Hennig had such an arrogant persona that it made little sense that he would stoop to goad DDP. Hennig then presented himself to Ric Flair as an old protege that could now help rebuild the Four Horsemen after the retirement of Arn Anderson. That story line played out in a heavy handed way and Flair came off foolish. Four Horsemen fans didn't want a hermetic and prestigious group formed with a recruit who resisted membership. This odd courting by Flair simply telegraphed that Hennig would heel turn. After the heel turn, Hennig revealed that he was nWo, but his old school look and technical style didn't mesh well with a gang of brutes. The producers thought they had solved this by awarding Hennig the US Heavyweight title, however, it undermined the impact of Hogan and the Outsiders losing their gold - nWo never starved and an opportunity was missed to reveal nascent elements of the future nWo Wolf Pack. Hennig would have played a more important role as a solid tag partner for DDP, then turning heel for the Four Horsemen, maybe months later. If that happened, DDP could begin an exciting feud with the new Horsemen. Unfortunately, WCW became obsessed with investing every valuable asset into the nWo story arc and in effect this made anything non-nWo related pretty flat. On the other hand, Bret Hart was announced as a member of the nWo by Eric Bischoff. For weeks, Hart would not show up to confirm or deny the claim. The broadcasters built up the suspense by constantly referring to the announcement and questioning its validity. Finally, Hart agreed to play the role of special guest referee for Bischoff's match against Larry Zbyszko. Hart showed his true colors and condemned the nWo as "scum". The fans had been told that Hart left the WWF because he had been cheated of a title belt. This history added an important dimension to build suspense and then reveal motivation for Hart's actions against the systemic cheaters, the nWo. Hart was now free to represent himself as the wrestler fans already knew, unlike Hennig who had to assume a new role which simply confounded fans.
Macho Man/DDP VS Lex Luger/?
In 1997, Diamond Dallas Page and his ringside accompaniment and wife, Kimberly Page were jumped by Macho Man Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth. Macho Man had finally given up on being jumped himself by the nWo and in a profound show of cowardice decided to play second fiddle again under Hulk Hogan. It wasn't a bad move at all... in fact it made perfect sense. Savage embraced nWo bully tactics and had his sights set on DDP. Savage would begin showing up among the crowd during DDP matches and announce that he was going to continue tormenting Page and Kimberly. DDP would rush into the stands and chase after Savage. The feud went back and forth with some very creative bits by the WCW writers. Savage began a string of matches against jobbers which didn't raise too many eyebrows because it was a good way to establish a unique brand of bully tactics for Savage which none of the other nWo members had yet to exploit. However, one match was against the costumed and masked, La Parka. La Parka seemed no match for the superstar Savage, However, Bang! La Parka unleashed a diamond cutter finisher on an unsuspecting Macho Man. The mask comes off and it is the triumphant Page in disguise. The feud had virtually run its course, but had played out marvelously and was an adversarial match up that could be represented to crowds at any time and capture their imagination. On the other hand, Lex Luger in 1997 was extremely uninspiring. Crowds loved him, but it might be suggested that this was simply a hangover from Hulkamania. Luger had an interesting story arc in 1995-96 as a petulant and obnoxious toad chasing titles as tag partner with Sting. The following year it was extremely difficult to establish Luger's hatred for nWo - he just didn't emote anguish or anger. There was no classic feud involving Luger for the entire year - he was just an infallible hulk, which at the end of the day is pretty uninteresting.
1. nWo vs Mega Powers
This top selection is a no-brainer for explaining the surge of popularity for WCW in 1997. The producers and writers had to turn away from the cartoonish dichotomy of infallible heroes pitted against foolish villains. The Mega Powers battling through adversity and against numbers had run its course. The Hulk Hogan heel turn came in 1996 but it was still forming its parameters and defining its dimensions during 1997. Hogan was the key to interesting and exciting wrestling and that has been proven now that we have two decades of hindsight. Admittedly, it is a phenomenon that confounds critics - perhaps Hogan is just an idealized paternal figure for my generation holding the wrestling family together tenuously. Either way, the Mega Powers with Hogan against the team up of the Dungeon of Doom and the Four Horsemen was a tired gimmick in 1995 and early the following year. By 1997, the writers had committed to not repeating those kinds of story lines by adding the dark Sting into the mix. Only Luger remained pristine as heroes transformed into anti-heroes. Bad habits die hard and WCW continued to promote traditional portrayals of heroes and villains through mid-card wrestlers like Glacier and many of the luchadors. The story arcs that worked for WCW in 1997 provided steam that took them to the turn of the millennium.