WCW Nitro Revisited
Top 10 Champs/Contenders List...
Monday Nitro marked a new beginning for WCW and put the promotion on par with the hegemon, WWF. The episodes from 1996-98 played like pay-per-view events, the showcase was star-studded, and the card was deep with talent. Titles changed hands in dramatic fashion and champions were granted opportunities to successfully defend their belts. The full run of Nitro was from 1995-2001 and the following is a list of the most entertaining champions during that time as well as their top contenders for the titles. Unlike most professional wrestling critics, I consider myself a dilettante to the entertainment form and I am most interested in the narrative elements of the form. The writing, directing, and character development and story arcs is what I privilege when watching professional wrestling. In that respect, I will find Disco Inferno more entertaining for his antics on the mic and backstage than I will consider Juventud Guerrera entertaining for his technical proficiency and high-flying acrobatics in the ring. So, for this list, the champs and contenders are the most entertaining with respect to their characters more than their wrestling performances.
World Heavyweight Champion - Hollywood Hulk Hogan
Hogan is the father of the professional wrestling family. Wherever he went, mass interest in wrestling followed. Once he heel-turned by joining and founding the nWo, his character added an incredible dimension of depth. Hogan became a hilarious goon, while spray painting fallen foes and whipping them with his belt. He disavowed his heroic status and was liberated to become a lot more human. During Nitro, Hogan held the world heavyweight title several times. Most of his defenses ended in disqualifications as his gang ran to his aid, but later he was able to defend the title on his own merits. When Hogan held the title it automatically made contenders important and it was no small feat to wrest the belt from the epic titan of wrestling.
World Heavyweight Contender - Nature Boy Ric Flair
Flair is the most prolific world heavyweight champion in the history of the WCW, having won it eight times since 1991. Flair had great charisma in the ring and even when he oversold his opponent's moves it was hilarious and was a signature of his flamboyant performance style. Flair didn't hold his titles for long during the Nitro era, but he defended them well using cheap shots at opportune times in order to prevail. His resonant "woo" was met with crowd approval every time and the sound of his knife-edge chops echo through the imagination of all his fans, young and old. Even when Flair was a contender, he was never an underdog because of his history as a great WCW champion.
US Heavyweight Champion - Sid Vicious
The reason that Sid makes the most entertaining WCW US Heavyweight champ during the Nitro era is that his retention of the title was so precarious. He deserved to hold the title for longer than 42 days because he was a dominant force in the ring when he returned to WCW in the late 90s. Sid on the mic was a unique form of expressionist poetry and it was hard not to laugh when you considered him to be an overgrown bimbo. Sid oversold almost always, but arguably there was something endearing about it because it was hard to believe that any blow would actually harm the psychotic behemoth. Maybe Sid wasn't a great US Heavyweight champ, but he certainly was the most entertaining one.
US Heavyweight Champion - Diamond Dallas Page
Diamond Dallas Page held the US Heavyweight title only on a couple of occasions, but he was an entertaining champ. The rhetoric was that he was the people's champ and had worked his way up from the gutter to become a title holder. When he won the US title, it was part of his rise through adversity, unlike when he won the World title as a quasi-heel. DDP was always the underdog, which makes for great title matches, especially when the long shot can rise to the occasion and grab the belt. DDP's physical presence among the fans was always an exciting part of Nitro episodes, but it became a classic moment in WCW history when he was able to join the fans and hold up a champion's belt.
World Television Champion - Scott Hall
Scott Hall is on record as the third shortest reign for the TV title, defended for just over one week. That being said, the story behind the World Television title at WCW was that it was for ambassadors of professional wrestling. The title was to be promoted abroad as a method of exporting the entertainment form to new cultures and opening up new markets internationally. As a result, Scott Hall surely can be claimed as one of the most entertaining ambassadors for professional wrestling. His size and strength inspired, his work on the mic motivated and excited the crowd, and his moves in the ring dominated the competition. He was a great champion regardless of the title.
World Television Contender - Sting
Sting actually won the TV title back in 1989 well before the launch of Monday Nitro, however, it seemed like I needed to fit in the definitive WCW wrestler onto this list somewhere. It is appropriate to have Sting as a contender for the TV title because he has been a great ambassador for professional wrestling and the WCW brand in particular. Sting is one of the most entertaining wrestlers of all time and his work on the mic inspired a generation of viewers to a degree that was only surpassed by Hulk Hogan with the Hulkamania movement. Sting made a successful transition through the attitude era and provided balance in the force of professional wrestling. This made him an enigmatic figure, but also a highly entertaining one.
World Tag Team Champions - Buff Bagwell & Scott Norton
The nWo was a serious deal and there was nothing funny about massive gang beatings even if it was extremely entertaining. While Hogan and the top brass in the nWo were a grizzly bunch to contend with, "Vicious and Delicious" was the lighter side of the nWo for a midcard tag team bout. Bagwell and Norton (delicious and vicious, respectively) had an incredible dynamic as a tag team, where Bagwell was boisterous and vain, and Norton was a stoic juggernaut. They bowled over their competition in the midcard slot, but were never granted their rightful opportunity to challenge as number one contenders for the title. The belts basically passed between the Steiners, Harlem Heat and the Outsiders, but none had the dynamic of Vicious and Delicious. Later, WCW tried to push Bagwell as a singles sensation but it didn't take, meanwhile the tag team title was now passed around to every random pairing you could imagine on what felt like a weekly basis. The tag team title started to not matter at all, but the entertaining pairing of Bagwell and Norton might have changed that had they received a better push.
World Tag Team Contenders - Curt Hennig & Bret Hart
As far as I know, Hart and Hennig never formed a proper tag team. They certainly never paired for a tag team title run while in WCW together. This is a shame because both were dominant stars who could vie for any title at any given time and could then successfully defend those titles for weeks or months. Hart and Hennig were two of the most supremely gifted wrestlers and famous for their technical proficiency in the ring. They would have made a truly fearsome tag team. Critics often gripe about the mismanagement of Hart and Hennig when they entered the WCW in the late 90s. Perhaps the producers should have put them together as a tag team. They likely would have rose up as number one contenders very quickly, then won the title in their first attempt, and successfully defended the title for a lengthy term. That would have been entertaining.
Cruiserweight Champion - Chris Jericho
Jericho was the most entertaining cruiserweight wrestler in the WCW. His antics in the ring and backstage were memorable, while his work on the mic was second to none. Additionally, he was a very talented wrestler who deserved his title shots, reigns and defenses. Jericho had a hilarious take on everything that was going on in the world of wrestling and it is a shame that he wasn't given more time in WCW while it was still on top of the ratings. Jericho and The Giant were among the first WCW stars to be brought to the WWF, never to return to WCW. Jericho claims that he requested a squash match against the squash king, Goldberg, but was refused by the producers. That would have been an entertaining bout.
Cruiserweight Contender - Disco Inferno
Disco Inferno did indeed hold the cruiserweight title for a time. It was a controversial reign as the Inferno had cheated the weight class restrictions. There were several segments tracking Disco Inferno's attempts to get leaner in order to enter the cruiserweight class. Disco's antics were always amusing and he successfully shifted away from his disco shtick to give his character more dimensions and greater depth. Disco Inferno hustled to get into the cruiserweight class and then became a pledge for the nWo Wolfpac. He then bossed around the Mamalukes and after that, he played third fiddle to Konnan and Rey Mysterio in the Filthy Animals. Although his time in WCW was diverse, the most entertaining highlight of his career was definitely his bid for the Cruiserweight title.