1998: Coming Into Their Own With WCW
Top 10 Rising Stars List...
Many of the superstars from the WWF and WCW were getting on in years by 1998. Wrestlers like Hulk Hogan, Macho Man Randy Savage, Curt Hennig, DDP, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, Ric Flair and Sting were either well into their forties or had just turned forty. Injuries are much more common once wrestlers hit forty and that age group is certainly considered senior for the industry. In addition, the nWo had virtually run its course and factions such as the Four Horsemen couldn't manage to reinvent themselves. As a result, the WCW had to begin the push on new stars and this involved some creative management of in-ring personas. The following is a list of the more creative and successful pushes on rising stars for WCW in the last years of the millennium.
10. Billy Kidman
WCW pushed Billy Kidman harder than most and for the most part it was very successful and his character underwent numerous transformations. His addition to Raven's Flock worked well and his grimy, flea-infested character was believable. As a heel, it was easier to enjoy Kidman's high-flying acrobatics and daring moves. Eventually, the Flock was disbanded and the crowd encouraged Billy Kidman to act independently to excel. When he assumed the babyface role he became a popular Cruiserweight champion on and off for the following years. Kidman started to work the mic well and helped forge his persona. Eventually, he became associated with other popular wrestlers such as Konnan and Rey Mysterio Jr. Kidman also started a romantic story line with his valet, Torrie Wilson. When Wilson betrayed Kidman for Shane Douglas, Kidman played the role of the spurned lover well, defiantly exposing embarrassing moments for Wilson and Douglas. Kidman's character expanded into numerous dimensions from 1998 to 2000 making him a successful rising star for WCW.
9. Wrath (Bryan Clark)
When Wrath showed up at WCW he was part of an elite group that was affiliated with the much maligned, Glacier. Glacier never lived up to the hype mainly because no one could have lived up to that degree of hype and especially not a mediocre wrestler trying to play up a martial arts background that never delivered. However, Glacier's tag team partner, The Cat, and his two arch-nemeses, Wrath and Mortis all got pushed to great success by WCW in the coming years. After Goldberg's winning streak became predictable and somewhat tired, Wrath broke away from the tragic Glacier story line and began his own rampage through the singles circuit. Wrath had a great undefeated run where many matches featured his popular finisher, The Meltdown. Eventually, Wrath bailed out the woe-beleaguered nWo reject, Brian Adams to form the dominant tag team, Kronik. Kronik had a good run and Wrath remained a popular powerhouse with the crowds.
8. Eddie Guerrero
In all honesty, Eddie Guerrero had his talents wasted at WCW overall. As a singles wrestler in the Cruiserweight circuit, Eddie could never straighten out the fans on whether he was a heel to boo or a heel to cheer for (like Scott Hall). The ambiguity was compounded by his bizarre family relationship with nephew, Chavo. Chavo was a ham who didn't have the wrestling flair to back it up and the Eddie/Chavo story line was only interesting because it made absolutely no sense and fit in with nothing else going on with the promotion. Eventually, in 1998 Eddie found his stride when a new story line pitted him against Eric Bischoff and the surly Eddie formed the Latino World Order to secure a leadership position for himself. Unfortunately, a car accident (likely a contract dispute) put Eddie out of commission and when he reappeared it was over at the competing promotion. The lWo angle was a relief for fans because the luchadors finally had an opportunity for interesting developments for their characters and opportunities to move up the card. Eddie could have carried that story line far but the politics of the industry cut off the possibilities prematurely.
7. Norman Smiley
Norman Smiley seemed like a regular jobber although he was jobbing on prime time Monday Nitro. That was a clue. His persona at first was very low-key and almost comical in how plain his look was, however, Smiley was a great technical wrestler with power to back it up. Smiley had an endearing personality and his sexually-motivated antics in the ring were hilarious. WCW pushed Smiley and it was a success. He began a string of victories where he was granted the opportunity to humiliate his opponents with the Smiley Spank and Wiggle. Later, he was thrust reluctantly into the newly-formed hardcore circuit, where he surprisingly became champion. Later, he took on a new persona of "Screamin" Norman Smiley, where his performance in hardcore matches was frenetic yet amusing. Smiley began wearing sports equipment into the ring as protection against hardcore wrestlers, but also used the opportunity to connect with the audience by donning local sport's jerseys. It didn't seem like pandering for the likable Smiley. WCW had great success with Smiley and his popularity rose steadily for more than a year.
6. "The Cat" Ernest Miller
The Cat was another character who originated with the Glacier push that failed dismally. After the Glacier debacle, The Cat took Sonny Onoo as a manager and began with antics on the mic and in the ring. The Cat announced before each match that he was a three-time karate champion and challenged wrestlers in the ring to leave before getting whooped. He then began issuing challenges to wrestlers in the back, where Scott "Flash" Norton met the call on more than one occasion which led to much amusement for the crowd (you don't call out Norton idly). The Cat had a mix of success with his matches but his popularity steadily grew with fans, especially when he goaded individual fans in the crowd that seemed eager to take him on. The Cat began dubbing himself as "the greatest of all time" and ripping off other Cassius Clay quips such as "I shook up the world". The bravado was so absurd and The Cat's willful denial of its pretentious nature made booing him that much more fun. Later, The Cat was promoted to Commissioner of the WCW and kayfabe showed him as the primary booking agent for WCW events. He played the role perfectly, interjecting himself as guest referees in all the right spots. WCW made all the right moves with The Cat to push him to stardom.
5. Disco Inferno
The Disco Inferno always had a reliable shtick in that Disco is detestable to most blue-collar types, but also treated as a corny joke by them - it is unpopular in the most endearing way. Disco Inferno had the "disco fever" entrance music with the Travolta suits and abbreviated dance moves to match. On its own, that shtick was going to play itself out and WCW could have opted to beat the dead horse, however, they got very creative with Disco Inferno's character. First, he was paired up with Alex Wright in dance-offs, but the rivalry also had potential as a tag team partnership. That rivalry/partnership marked the shift away from the disco shtick for Inferno while also signalling the effective end of Alex Wright's wrestling career. Disco Inferno proceeded to become a stooge as he attempted to cheat the weight class restrictions in order to compete for the Cruiserweight title. The desperation was hilarious. Disco then became a nWo Wolfpac pledge, sucking up to the Wolfpac superstars to gain an opportunity for something greater. Thus, the new shtick was that a midcarder was trying to thrust himself into stardom by any means necessary. The push was successful, but in the end Disco was never able to compete at a high level on his own. He later joined the Filthy Animals and played second fiddle to Konnan. He had a lot of qualities of the wrestling superstar but was just too goofy for main events.
* the rest of the list is superstars who were successfully pushed into a new phase of their careers
4. Bill Goldberg
Goldberg was pushed as a superstar from the get go. The prolific undefeated streak was the pinnacle of pedestrian and mundane. The crowd lapped up the hype, but we all know about bread and circuses. The reality is that Goldberg was a neophyte wrestler who had been rushed through the powerplant process. His wrestling skills had to catch up to his hype. Most of his victories came within two minutes of the bell ringing and featured the identical routine of not selling, not selling, spear, jackhammer slam. It was moronic. However, once Goldberg lost the title to Nash, Goldberg's character started to get interesting. His matches were no longer infallible, and many began to drag on compared to what crowds had previously experienced with Goldberg. His wrestling skills were improving and he started to sell on his opponent's moves. He began some real rivalries with the Bam Bam Bigelow one being quite noteworthy. WCW could have milked the indestructible nature of Goldberg, but rightfully put a chink in his armour. It may have displeased some fans who enjoyed the bunk string of victories, but for many of us Goldberg sorely needed a third dimension to his character.
3. Bret Hart
Many wrestling critics have railed against WCW's management of Bret "Hitman" Hart citing that it prematurely ended Hart's career. I have to disagree for several reasons. Firstly, Hart suffered serious injuries once he was in his forties and secondly the shady death of his brother would have taken a psychological toll. In the end, Hart made a similar exit from wrestling to that of many of his superstar counterparts around the same time. That being said, I see WCW's management of Hart to have been quite intuitive. He came into the promotion as a dark horse, with lore regarding his suspicion of authority (Montreal Screw Job). This played well for his fence sitting with the nWo. He showed up on behalf of the nWo but refused to don their colors and this created mystery.
Intuitive fans had to wonder whether his machinations were that of a mastermind lining up his bid for the heavyweight championship. Unfortunately, aforementioned injuries and personal turmoil made Hart's status unreliable and with story arcs prepared a year in advance, it made little sense to push Hart further in the WCW when his future was so unclear. For the short time that he was active in WCW, he was used effectively as a wild card. Hart had always worn his heart on his sleeve in the WWF, but in the WCW he added a dimension to his legend status by allowing him opportunities to become a nefarious scoundrel.
2. Scott Steiner
What a transformation Scott Steiner underwent in a few, short years. He was once a partner in the most likable tag team in professional wrestling. Scott and Rick Steiner were good American boys known as varsity Greco-Roman wrestling stars in college. Scott was a decade into his professional wrestling career when he heel-turned... and what a turn. Steiner became one of the most despicable creeps in the industry, whether it was through his sexual harassment of Nitro girls or through his outlandish work on the mic. Where Rick Rude had charm and Macho Man deserved some sympathy, Steiner was simply monstrous. Steiner carried the heel persona to the end of his career. It was easy to hate Steiner because he was abrasive and clearly a juice pig of the highest order, however, his power, grace and technical proficiency in the ring allowed fans to laud his achievements and accept that he could easily gain and retain titles. He did begin dominating the singles circuit and held and defended titles. His loose cannon persona allowed him to exist independently, be a loyal member of the nWo and even for a short time lead the nWo Hollywood faction. Big Poppa Pump was an epic wrestling persona and the push for his legendary heel status was a great success where few mourned for the old Steiner Brothers.
If Hulk Hogan was the father and Sting was the big brother, then Scott Hall was definitely the uncle in the professional wrestling family. Scott Hall was one of the biggest names in the industry which he had effectively established in WWF as Razor Ramon. He almost single-handedly ushered in the "attitude era" through his popularity as the "bad guy". Scott Hall was cool, composed and in control. When Hall invaded WCW as an "Outsider" he dropped the corny Cuban accent and began melding the man and the persona into something sensible and unique. Hall was dominant for a few years in WCW as a founding member of the nWo, but soon experienced a fall from grace. Hall started showing up to events drunk. Perhaps, the first few occasions were legitimate, but the shoot soon became a work. The Hall persona was additionally complex for the resistance to separating the real man from the kayfabe character. Hall played traitor to his long-time partner and real life friend, Kevin Nash. He was now an Outsider to the Outsiders and a true outcast within WCW. Hall claimed that his treachery was necessary because he had mismanaged his life so badly that he needed Hogan's financial support. Hall became a sort of lone wolf but eventually reunited with Nash. Hall proved to be the most enigmatic professional wrestler of all time through the profound conflation of reality and confabulation in his persona. When Hall was in the ring in 1998 it was totally unclear as to what was legitimate and what was acting - and that made for the greatest drama the sports entertainment industry has ever known.