Sting’s debut at WWE Survivor Series has understandably created a ton of buzz. It’s the icon’s WWE debut after over 25 years of being a big name away from the Stamford giant. Once ‘the one that got away’, Sting’s save of Dolph Ziggler, and attack of Triple H, capped off one hell of a main event. It was the perfect introduction to the WWE world.
But what happens next? Numerous other WCW icons tripped up in WWE, either having a benign tenure or petering out after a promising start. WWE hasn’t always been kind to the Atlanta legends, and here are ten examples of something getting lost in translation.
You could argue that Windham had everything a wrestler needed: the look of a taller Jax Teller, the subtle mean-streak a heel needs, the sympathetic eyes a babyface needs, and ability to wrestle lengthy, credible matches, whether they were scientific or a wild brawl. His sixty-minute battles with Ric Flair remain legendary. WWE scooped up Windham in June 1989, shortly after he departed NWA.
Windham’s four month tenure was mostly uneventful, save for the gain of a new nickname (“The Widowmaker”), and a collection of wins over preliminary bums. Windham would depart suddenly in the fall, and was replaced at the Survivor Series by a debuting Earthquake. Windham unfortunately had barely made a dent in 1989, the prime of his career, although good days back in WCW were ahead.
9. Dusty Rhodes (1989)
Rhodes was already 43 years old when the former Crockett-era main eventer and booker was brought into the WWE fold, after being fired shortly into Ted Turner’s ownership. The signing seemed to make sense for WWE; without booking power (read: the capacity to put himself over at the expense of others), Rhodes would play ball, and still probably make an impact with the young WWE crowd.
Truth is, Rhodes did remain a crowd favorite for Vince McMahon, but with a caveat: he entertained in polka dots (or in Dusty’s lisp, ‘doth’). While Rhodes could still engage crowds with his exuberance and cult-like connectability, in spite of increasing age and girth alike, “The Dream” was ‘humbled’ as some dot-wearing fool who never sniffed the main event before vanishing in early 1991.
8. Diamond Dallas Page (2001)
Page is more lauded today for his life-altering yoga program than he is for his remarkable wrestling career. That’s kind of a shame; Page whipped himself into shape as a world-class performer by 1997, already in his forties, through hard-work and meticulous pre-match planning. That was in WCW. In WWE, Page sadly stumbled out of the gate, thanks to a particularly stupid idea.
Despite being married to Kimberly Page, the former Nitro Girl with the taut figure and virtuous smile, Page entered WWE under the guise of a creepy stalker, filming Undertaker’s then-wife Sara in vulnerable moments. Though Page would explain after his reveal that he did so to rile up Undertaker, nobody bought DDP as some perverted voyeur. Undertaker basically mauled him into midcard oblivion.
7. Scott Steiner (2002)
Although the Steiner Brothers 1992-94 tenure with WWE limped to a finish, you can’t really argue with the content. Like Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard’s year with McMahon, the Steiners were used in a championship capacity, and were given plenty of time to stand out. Things went south, reportedly after the Steiners wanted to work in Japan and McMahon balked at sharing his stars.
By 2002, Scott Steiner had changed. The mullet was gone and impossible muscles were the calling card. With his misogynistic speeches, “The Big Bad Booty Daddy” oozed personality. Upon his 2002 return, the hype was immense, but the fuse was snuffed quick. A pair of disastrous matches with Triple H (notably at the 2003 Royal Rumble) exposed Steiner as easily winded and virtually broken down.
6. Lex Luger (1993)
Forgetting for a moment that Luger was brought in to compete in the WBF just five weeks after losing the WCW Title to Sting, we’ll say Luger’s real debut for McMahon was in 1993. Generally, Luger was only as big as the people he worked with, but an impressive physique and arrogant smirk made him a capable villain. Bret Hart, Mr. Perfect, and Randy Savage were to make natural foils.
Luger would limp through two gimmicks that were, decidedly, not “Total Package”-like. The first, “The Narcissist” was more based in mythology than up Luger’s Gold’s Gym-dwelling alley. With Hulk Hogan fading away, Luger was colored in with red, white, and blue as an All-American hero, a spectacular flop given Luger’s lack of conviction when preaching blue-collar American ideals.
5. Vader (1996)
A loss through Paul Orndorff’s right-cross was McMahon’s gain. After littering his roster with repackaged oldies and haven’t-beens in 1995, WWE needed someone with credibility they could shove up the card (especially since Luger had enough and departed in September). Vader’s WCW exodus led to McMahon signing the Rocky Mountain monster, and set to debut the angry beast at the Royal Rumble.
To McMahon’s credit, Vader’s persona wasn’t tinkered with; he was still the red-mask wearing bully that cut opponents like sugar cane with his unpulled punches. The problem was that Vader receded into the midcard after a lukewarm feud with champion Shawn Michaels and was rarely seen as a threat after that. By 1998, Vader was putting over a young Edge, Kane, and JBL before his exit.
4. Ric Flair (1991)
This one is sure to draw some negative words. Yes, Flair was made to be a big deal when he jumped with the WCW Title in the summer of 1991. Yes, Flair immediately feuded with icons like Roddy Piper and Hulk Hogan. Yes, Flair won the 1992 Royal Rumble, the best match in the event’s annals, to become WWE Champion following an awe-inspiring, unparalleled one-hour performance.
After that? Flair didn’t feel like Flair. Sure, he tormented Randy Savage with promises to show lurid photos of Miss Elizabeth, but once he lost the belt, the magic was gone. Flair became ordinary, unbefitting of his grandeur. Slowly, Flair seemed like he was being phased out, his main event appearances diminishing. And he never did have that mega-showdown with Hogan on PPV.
3. The New World Order (2002)
WWE had parroted for several years the idea that wrestling had become a young man’s game, and those decrepit fools on the other channel aren’t worthy of your time. In hindsight, that’s laughable, given how many 40-50 year olds get main event paydays in WWE these days, but the youth movement was worth pushing. And push it they did until when one promotion remained, and free agents loomed.
With WWE’s ratings stagnating, McMahon brough back Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, and Scott Hall to reform the nWo’s holy trinity. Once ground-breaking, all three were blown off by The Rock in 30 seconds at No Way Out. The cool factor was gone, and the threat of a hostile takeover was merely just three guys doing the same run-in that anybody else would do. This nWo died in five months.
2. Goldberg (2003)
Should have been a slam-dunk. Two hours after Eric Bischoff had a physically-distressed Steve Austin removed from the building, Goldberg arrived to fill in as the new hero. Right away, Goldberg speared The Rock, and a new battle of the icons was set for Backlash. Goldberg won, but not before taking part in an irksome backstage bit where Goldust had “The Man” wear his blonde wig.
There lies the problem with Goldberg, V2: he was humanized. The Goldberg in WCW kept his head down and his mouth shut before dispatching victims with cold-blooded brutality. People wanted *that* Goldberg, not a talkative gentleman who stays placid and gregarious until provoked. If WWE writers remade Friday the 13th, Jason Voorhees would be given 15 minute soliloquies. No one wants that.
1. The Invasion (2001)
All of the names above that would have been reasonable entrants, sans DDP, were absent. No Hogan, no Hall, no Nash, no Goldberg, no Flair, no Steiner. Oh, and no Sting, of course. Booker T and midcarders such as Shane Helms, Lance Storm, and Chuck Palumbo provided no match for WWE while the big names sat home on big-money Time Warner deals. Among other reasons, the Invasion flopped hard.