WCW had many exceptional world heavyweight champions during its time, including the likes of Ric Flair, Sting, Vader, Randy Savage, Bret Hart and Booker T, and some unexceptional too, with some surprising names failing to live up to their talent (Lex Luger’s 1991-1992 title run was drab; DDP’s runs were short and poorly booked).
But there were many WCW talents who were company stalwarts and were over as hell and yet, the promotion never capitalised on their popularity by making them WCW World Heavyweight Champion, if even for a small run. There are certain names, in fact, where it seems criminal that they didn’t get some sort of run with the company’s top strap.
Here are my top 5 WCW stars who should have been WCW World Heavyweight Champion and never got the opportunity.
1. Arn Anderson
When you think of WCW, who are the first wrestlers who spring to mind? Ric Flair and Sting, no doubt, and understandably too. Maybe, if you’re a fan of the later WCW period, you might think of the NWO and the cruiserweights. But there’s one man for me who screams, in the best possible way, ‘WCW’.
‘The Enforcer’ Arn Anderson.
Apart from a brief WWF run with Tully Blanchard as ‘The Brain Busters’ in 1988/1989, Arn Anderson was an NWA/WCW stalwart, having been wrestling for Mid-Atlantic and then WCW from 1985 up until 1997 when injury forced him to retire. And even then, he continued with the promotion as a manager until the company folded in 2001.
That loyalty alone should have been enough to give Arn a run with the title, but then, when you factor in how good a wrestler ‘The Enforcer’ actually was, the fact he never got a Heavyweight title run seems preposterous. One of the best talkers of his time (and of all time, if you rate his infamous AEW ‘glock’ promo—I do), Anderson could back it up between the ropes, being able to brawl and technical wrestle with the best of them. It was for these higher-tier skills that Arn was rewarded with NWA/WCW TV title runs, one run with the NWA National Tag Team titles and an extremely impressive six runs with the NWA/WCW Tag Team Championships.
Still, the big one always eluded him. But imagine if the Flair-Anderson feud had occurred in 1994 instead of 1995, and Flair & Anderson traded the title for a quick back and forth before Flair dropped the belt to Hogan.
One can dream…
2. Barry Windham
Yes, Barry Windham had a run with the NWA World Championship in 1993, but that title had lost some of its former importance at that point in time and was secondary to the WCW title. And besides, Barry appeared demotivated at the time, making for a disappointing run.
It was the WCW title Barry ultimately never claimed, although there were plans to—Windham was meant to defeat Flair in 1991 for the belt, at least until Flair was released by Jim Herd in one of wrestling’s more ridiculous political moments, and Lex Luger defeated Windham to win the vacant WCW title.
While Luger made more sense from a fan engagement and physical look point of view, Windham really should have had his run here. It had been the plan anyway—why change? Windham had been one of the brightest young talents of the 80s, having numerous stellar matches with Ric Flair and others. He’d arguably reached his prime in the early 90s, and while his tag team partnership with Dustin Rhodes in 1992 was fire, imagine how much more fire Barry would have been as the figurehead in 1991. He could take it to the mat, he could outpower whoever you cared to name, and he could throw a damn mean fist!
I still believe Barry Windham would have been a damn fine WCW World Heavyweight Champion.
3. ‘Ravishing’ Rick Rude
The case of Rick Rude is a strange one when it comes to the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. He was a wrestler very much over with the audience, who could draw genuine heel heat and on his best days was a genuinely compelling storyteller in the ring.
Notice the use of the phrase ‘on his best days’.
WCW knew that Rude was heavyweight championship material and tried to build him up accordingly, but unfortunately for WCW and Rude, he could have moments when he didn’t necessarily bring his A game to the ring. Case in point: Rude and Masahiro Chono had an absolute belter in Japan at 1992’s G1 Climax to crown Chono as the winner of the vacant NWA World Heavyweight Champion. All Rude had to do was replicate the quality on American soil. And yet, Rude and Chono’s Halloween Havoc 1992 rematch is often reviewed as being an appalling snore-fest heavily built on a procession of tiresome rest holds. The same thing happened at Fall Brawl ’93 when Rude was given the opportunity of wrestling Ric Flair—a massive opportunity for Rude to elevate himself from the upper midcard into the main event scene. Again, the rest hold prevailed to bring us another dull, disappointing encounter.
It’s a damn shame, because when he was motivated and ‘on’, Rude was one of the best to ever do it. Hilarious and infuriating on the mic in equal measure, he possessed verbal ‘heel’ skills most modern bad guys can only dream of. And, indeed, ‘on his day’, with the right opponent, Rude was astonishingly good at telling stories in the squared circle. His feud with Ricky Steamboat in 1992 will go down as one of WCW’s best.
If he could have maintained that quality more consistently, he would have been a great WCW World Heavyweight Champion.
4. Cactus Jack
Despite what Ric Flair might have wanted you to believe in his autobiography, Cactus Jack was very much over with the WCW audience and could very well have made it as a main eventer if WCW had shown that level of faith in him. WWE proved it, and their gain was WCW’s loss.
I’m sure most wrestling fans don’t need me to extol the virtues of Mick Foley to them, but I will say that what made Cactus Jack such an attraction in WCW, as indeed it did elsewhere, was his willingness to abuse his body in ways others wouldn’t have dreamed of, and his completely compelling yet terrifying charisma. If Flair couldn’t see it, he had a short memory: in Jack could be seen elements of Bruiser Brody, Abdullah the Butcher, Terry Funk, Kevin Sullivan, and Dick ‘The Bulldog’ Brower, all men who were certainly draws at their peaks.
The perfect time to have crowned Cactus Jack as WCW World Heavyweight Champion would have been during his absolutely brutal—and wonderful—1993 feud with Big Van Vader. The injuries Jack sustained at the hands of ‘The Mastadon’—included a broken nose and, well, a torn freakin’ ear! What these injuries did for Jack is give him something he never had before: audience sympathy. If WCW had been clever, they wouldn’t have run with the amnesia angle, or at least they would have paid it off by having Jack come back and resolve their feud by taking the championship from Vader. It needn’t have been a long title run—they could have had Jack win at Halloween Havoc ’93 and drop it again at Starrcade—but it would have been a logical and deserved payoff to the Jack-Vader feud.
Instead, Mick Foley would go to the WWF to win Heavyweight gold instead, where he definitely put ‘butts in seats’.
5. ‘The Loose Cannon’ Brian Pillman
This one might seem a little more difficult to justify, but it really isn’t. Pillman, pre-car crash, was well know for being an ace talent in the ring. The man could go. But with the ‘Loose Cannon’ gimmick, he finally hit on something that felt like a winning presentation for the first time since The Hollywood Blondes three years prior.
Pillman’s unpredictable, riotous character was creating shockwaves through both fans and critics and, simply put, he was the talk of the wrestling business at the time. At this point, with the right push, Pillman would have been perfect for a heel run with the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. The unpredictability mixed with his undoubted wrestling skills would have had everyone watching and talking about his title run.
No, I can’t see Hogan putting Pillman over, but imagine an alternative universe where the NWO didn’t happen and Bischoff could sell Hogan on the idea of Pillman cheating to win, so that Hogan could sell an injury and disappear to Hollywood while Pillman had his run, only for him to come back and save the day at a later date. No, I wouldn’t have wanted another face Hogan run then either, but imagine the chaos Pillman could cause in Hogan’s absence! That would have made for one hell of a WCW World Heavyweight Championship run.