Today I'm talkin' about the granddaddy of them all. The original holy grail of pro wrestling. The NWA/WCW World Heavyweight Championship. It's the one that supposedly dates back to 1905 when wrestling was on the level. In actuality it can only be traced back to 1948, and the WCW version ceased to be recognized by the National Wrestling Alliance as of 1991. The actual NWA World Title is still in existence today, after a five-year association with TNA. But since the NWA's current footprint is quite small nowadays I'll only be discussing the two versions that were truly considered World Titles - the original incarnation from 1948-1991, and the WCW World Title which covered 1991-2001. For many years this championship was THE most prestigious in wrestling. Before WWE became the juggernaut it is today, Vince Sr's northeast WWWF promotion was an upstart offshoot of the NWA, and thus their top championship wasn't considered quite as big a deal as the NWA's. Ditto for the AWA World Title (established in 1960). For a good twenty years the NWA World Title was the big one. And then in the mid-90s when WCW surged in popularity, their version of the World Title was viewed as the top belt in the game. For a little while anyway. But both versions of the championship had their share of stinker champs. Here are ten of them.....
1. Tommy Rich (1981)
For a long time Rich was the youngest-ever World Champion. A popular mainstay in Georgia Championship Wrestling, Rich upset the legendary Harley Race for the belt at the age of 24. And then he lost it back to Race four days later. What the hell was the point you ask? Apparently the switch was done to gain promoter Jim Barnett power within the NWA. But Jeezus Christ this was stupid, and given that Rich never attained world championship status again, this ensured his career peaked very early. If you're gonna give a young, unlikely babyface a run with your top belt, at least give him a chance to see how he does. Otherwise skip it.
2. Kerry Von Erich (1984)
Ugh, Kerry Von Erich stunk. Seriously, I never liked this guy, and it still bugs me that of all people he got to beat Ric Flair for the belt, less than six months removed from Flair's epic Starrcade '83 win. I know the original plan was for Kerry's brother David Von Erich to become the NWA's new top babyface before he died, but did we really need to put the belt on Kerry for 18 days just as a tribute? The match wasn't even that good, and they had to put the belt back on Flair anyway because he had a big match scheduled against Steamboat. If making Kerry the Champion is gonna get in the way of the match you're really serious about promoting, what's the point of doing it?
3. Ron Garvin (1987)
Speaking of unworthy dudes getting to defeat Flair, in 1987 the NWA was looking to set up a huge main event for Starrcade, particularly since the WWF had countered the flagship supercard with the inaugural Survivor Series. The idea was for someone to unseat Flair as the champion so Flair could win the title back in grand fashion at Starrcade. Problem was, no one wanted to be a transitional champion for two lousy months, but Garvin took the job (for which I don't blame him; he was 42 years old at the time). So Garvin was booked to win the belt in September, and then didn't defend it for two months. Don't ask me why - a handful of good title defenses would've at least made him look like he belonged in that spot. Flair of course regained the title at the big PPV, and on the bright side, the match was pretty great. But Ronnie Garvin was never really presented as World Champ material and his career never reached anywhere near that level again. They really should've just let Barry Windham beat Flair at the Crockett Cup in April, have a solid seven-month run, and then lose it back at Starrcade. That would've been something.
4. The Giant (1995-96)
Before he was We-e-e-ll, The Big Show, Paul Wight was Andre the Giant's fake son, simply called The Giant. And WCW brought him in at the tender age of 23 to feud with Hulk Hogan, hoping to recapture the magic of Hogan-Andre. It didn't work. The Giant won the WCW Title in his debut match (as I've said many times, NEVER a good idea) before having it stripped due to the controversial finish. But it wouldn't be Paul's only title run, as he regained it five months later by defeating Ric Flair on a tape delayed episode of Nitro. Huh?? Well that was a waste of a big moment. The Giant would keep the belt for four very uneventful months before losing it to a now villainous Hulk Hogan, who led the white-hot nWo stable that catapulted WCW into mainstream notoreity. Only three weeks later The Giant joined this faction that had screwed him out of the championship (Umm, okay I guess) and four months after that he was kicked out. Christ Paul, pick a side, will ya? Neither of these title runs ever felt earned to me, and the fact that he never won it again kinda solidified that. Paul Wight was never The Guy in WCW despite his considerable potential, and this was one of those cases where the company seemed to think the World Title would "make" someone. That almost never works.
5. Kevin Nash (1998)
1998 was The Year of Goldberg. WCW caught lightning in a bottle, stumbling onto a brand new, homegrown talent whose popularity almost equaled Steve Austin's. So they did the smart thing and ran with it. Then they did the stupid thing and had Goldberg beat Hulk Hogan for the WCW Title on free television with only a few days' buildup. This monumental title change should've been saved for Starrcade '98, after Goldie spent months running through the various nWo members to get to Hogan. Imagine the buyrate that would've done. But no, Goldberg was hotshotted to the belt despite having no one to really feud with, and after less than six months Kevin Nash got to dethrone him AND hand him his first loss. All because Scott Hall showed up and zapped Goldberg with a cattle prod. This booking was terrible and cut Bill's legs out from under him, but it was made worse when one week later Nash (leader of the nWo Wolfpac) was challenged by the returning Hulk Hogan (leader of the nWo Black & White) to a title match on Nitro. What followed was, of course, the infamous Fingerpoke of Doom. Hogan poked Nash in the shoulder, Nash laid down, and Hogan pinned him to become the WCW Champion and reunite the nWo. This is considered one of the worst angles of all time and it began WCW's death spiral; Nitro would never again beat RAW in the ratings. Nice work, fellas....
6. Bret Hart (1999)
Poor Bret. He never really wanted to go to WCW, knowing full well they wouldn't know how to use him properly, and his suspicions were totally confirmed. For about 18 months Bret just sorta meandered around the upper midcard, never having a noteworthy feud (or match) with anyone. Then Owen died and Bret took a few months off, and only when he came back did WCW get serious about using him. Bret had an excellent match against Chris Benoit as a tribute to Owen, and a few weeks later he wrestled him again for the vacant WCW Title (Sting had been stripped for attacking Charles Robinson after losing an unsanctioned match to Goldberg and then being told Goldberg was the new champion - uhh, okay). After two full years as allegedly the highest-paid guy in the company they finally put the belt on him. And two months later his in-ring career was over. Bret defended against Goldberg at Starrcade '99 in a nonsensical bout wherein Roddy Piper suddenly became the referee mid-match (after numerous other refs got knocked out), called for the bell on a Bret Sharpshooter despite Goldberg not submitting (Oh how clever, they referenced Montreal), and handed Bret the belt. The next night Bret willingly surrendered the title pending a rematch, which Bret won with the help of Hall, Nash and Jeff Jarrett, forming nWo 2000. So why bother with the pretense of being honorable if his friends were just gonna help him win it back? Oh right, this was the short-lived Russo Era in WCW. Logic did not apply. Anywho, Bret suffered a severe concussion during the first Goldberg match (Thanks a lot Bill!) and wrestled his final match on January 10, 2000 before vacating the belt again. Pretty shabby coupla title reigns.
7. Chris Benoit (2000)
The biggest beneficiary of Bret's sudden inactivity seemed to be fellow Dungeon alum Chris Benoit, who'd been underutilized in WCW for years. At the Souled Out PPV it was supposed to be Bret vs. Sid Vicious for the WCW Title, while Benoit challenged Jeff Jarrett for the US Title. But both Bret and Jarrett (the respective champions) were injured and instead Benoit was booked to face Sid for the vacant WCW Title. Problem was, Benoit (along with Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko and Perry Saturn) had made it pretty clear they wanted out of their WCW contracts, and Benoit was awarded the belt as a last-ditch effort to get him to stay. But he didn't, and so the company stripped him of the title the next night (even ignoring it in their title history for the remainder of their existence). But here's my question: if the company didn't know Benoit was leaving, why'd they book the match so Sid had his foot under the rope when he tapped out? Was it just to leave themselves a loophole in case Benoit did walk away? And in that case, why not just put the belt on Sid instead? Jeezus there were a lotta title vacancies around this time.
8. Sid Vicious (2000)
This guy won the belt twice, for a total of 76 days. The first time he defeated one of the Harris twins to face Kevin Nash for the belt, defeated Nash, and then Nash claimed Sid had pinned the wrong Harris twin (Soooo, why'd the Sid-Nash match even take place then?) and as Commissioner awarded the belt to himself (not unlike when he booked himself to beat Goldberg). But that title change wasn't recognized by WCW apparently, and Sid won the belt again in a three-way with Nash and Ron Harris. He'd only keep the title for 75 days before Vince Russo and Eric Bischoff rebooted the entire company and vacated all the belts. I don't even like Sid, but for fuck's sake....
9. David Arquette (2000)
So yeah, this happened. In early 2000 WCW and Warner Brothers released a wrestling movie called Ready to Rumble, starring D-list actor David Arquette. So what did Vince Russo do? Obviously he brought Arquette in as an in-ring competitor and put the company's top championship on him. Why, what would YOU do? Duh. Not only that, but Arquette won the belt in a tag team match where his partner was WCW Champion Diamond Dallas Page. They faced Jeff Jarrett and Eric Bischoff, and Arquette won the belt by pinning Bischoff. This was so brain-injuringly stupid I dunno what else can be said about it. Arquette lost the belt to Jarrett 12 days later in a Ready to Rumble-inspired Triple Cage match, in which DDP was also a participant. Arquette turned on Page and helped Jarrett win the strap, and was basically gone after that. Ready to Rumble went on to be a box office bomb, so nothing good even came of this fiasco except the following: Arquette donated his WCW pay to the families of Owen Hart, Brian Pillman and Darren Drozdov. Also Arquette, to his credit, was against being made WCW Champion but somehow let Russo convince him it would be good for business. It wasn't. Guess David shoulda listened to his gut.
10. Vince Russo (2000)
Finally in September 2000 Russo found the consummate WCW Champion he'd been looking for all along: himself. Yes, on an episode of Nitro, Russo booked himself to defeat Booker T in a steel cage match, with the help of a poorly placed Goldberg spear. Booker incidentally had only been Champion 8 days, and would win it back after Russo vacated it (a week into his own reign). You talk about fuckin' pointless. I guess he saw Vince McMahon book himself as WWF Champion a year earlier and said "Hey, I can do it too!" So this is in the record books forever: WCW Champion Vince Russo. Crap like this is why the mainstream public will never accept pro wrestling as a legitimate art form. Thanks, bro.
Well that's my stroll down Bad Memory Lane. Hope you enjoyed it. Comment below with your thoughts! Join us on Facebook, MeWe and Twitter!