Since it launched with Double or Nothing earlier this year (and truth be told since All In last September), All Elite Wrestling has invited comparisons with the long-defunct World Championship Wrestling organisation, or WCW as it’s more commonly known. This is, of course, in part due to their status as the first legitimate potential competitor for WWE since WCW closed its doors, but also the visual presentation. AEW looks very different WWE, it’s shot and edited with a very contrasting aesthetic which evokes memories of a more “Southern”, sports-type presentation which is very much in keeping with the legacy of WCW. Keith Mitchell’s role as producer of the show, given his previous history with WCW certainly plays a part in creating that visual, but could AEW borrow more from WCW? Let’s take a slightly irreverent look at some of WCW’s, ahem, “best” ideas that AEW could borrow from.
Spin the Wheel, Make the Deal
In 1992, WCW introduced a gimmick that, on paper at least, provided an extra element of intrigue to a very heated feud between Jack “The Snake” Roberts and perennial babyface, Sting. The garishly designed wheel was adorned with a variety of gory stipulation matches including a Russian chain match, Texas death match, Lumberjacks with belts, or even the intriguingly named “Prince of Darkness” match. However, in typical WCW fashion, the devil was in the details and the execution led to the wheel not being gimmicked. As such, the legitimately random selection of a “Coal Miner’s Glove” bout led to a suitably drab main event on that show.
Although the gimmick was brought back the following year and has been adopted by MLW (as well as in being used in a modified concept by WWE with RAW Roulette) AEW could make great use of the Spin the Wheel, Make the Deal premise. Imagine introducing your audience to a plethora of new, barbaric match types as an end to a particularly violent feud. It’s a great way to capture the imagination of the audience and get their minds racing at the prospect of what these outlandish stipulations might entail. In terms of the current product, Jon Moxley vs Kenny Omega fits the bill as a programme that would benefit from something like this premise as a way to blow-off their feud when the time comes, and AEW could take a sound idea that was poorly managed in its original incarnation and give it new life.
David Arquette – World Champion
Ok, hear me out. David Arquette winning the WCW World Championship is perhaps one of the most famous missteps in wrestling history. A quick publicity grab by a company haemorrhaging money and being booked into infamy by Vince Russo. Arquette had starred in the horrendously bad WCW-themed movie Ready to Rumble and was appearing on TV to promote the film when he was given the championship. To some, it’s the day WCW went beyond the point of no return. Perhaps there is some merit to that viewpoint. However, Arquette has actually spent a number of years training and sporadically working as a wrestler in the two decades since that infamous run, and perhaps there is a way AEW could make use of him. I’m not for a single, solitary second suggesting that Arquette win the AEW Championship, but imagine him coming in for a one-shot match against Chris Jericho, and the tease that he could win the title all these years after holding WCW’s top prize. Or at least involving him in a mid-card angle. Or maybe that’s an idea best left in the mists of time and we should all try and forget that nearly twenty years ago Vince Russo put the same belt held by Ric Flair, Sting, Hulk Hogan et al on a non-worker who didn’t even pin the world champion to obtain the belt.
Chamber of Horrors
As you may have ascertained from my suggestion about Spin the Wheel, Make the Deal, I love a good gimmick match. So did Dusty Rhodes when he was booking WCW and although he had form with creating War Games, the Chamber of Horrors might not have been his finest hour. Placing the majority of your top heels and babyfaces in a Halloween themed match is not the worst idea and I always enjoyed that WCW leaned into the campy nature of the holiday with the Halloween Havoc event. That said, the Chamber of Horrors was an apt name for this match, but for all the wrong reasons. Having to electrocute one of your opponents to win the match is beyond stupid, and having ghouls appear randomly during the match with no explanation is even worse. This ludicrous visual was compounded by seeing the referee wearing a helmet-mounted camera for, sigh, a “refer-eye” perspective. It’s one of the most infamous moments in WCW history.
AEW should categorically not adopt the Chamber of Horrors gimmick. No-one wants that. However, what they could do, is have some fun with Halloween. WWE’s attempts to make use of big holidays is normally a fairly sanitised, predictable themed street fight and a couple of vignettes. I would like to see AEW go one further and really integrate the theme into that week’s show. Have the announcers in Halloween costumes, have some Halloween matches that feature a gimmick match specific to the season. Make it campy and fun in a way that WWE seems incapable of doing. Take the spirit of the Chamber of Horrors, but with better ideas and execution.
WCW’s Capital Combat was largely uneventful, and outside of the main event, it was an unremarkable card. However, one thing that sticks out from this show was the involvement of Robocop. Yes, the same Robocop. As the successful film character marched very slowly to the ringside area and saved Sting from the big bad Four Horsemen (who ran away, terrified of Robocop, as you do), you could hear the air escaping from the balloon almost immediately. Robocop was a hot film franchise and WCW were eager to capitalise on that by doing some co-promotion which would benefit both sides. Yet, as was so often the case the way that co-promotion was implemented made WCW a laughing stock. If you want further evidence of their inability to make that work look at their deal with Kiss for the “Demon” character, or having Chucky from Child’s Play taunting Rick Steiner live on Nitro. It wasn’t an isolated incident.
Despite the recent news that Robocop will again be rebooted in the next couple of years, but with an adaptation more true to the original than the 2014 remake, AEW should probably steer clear of that particular franchise. However, co-promotion for a movie or a TV show could be invaluable for the company, especially as they are on TNT. Staying culturally relevant in something WWE doesn’t always manage to do particularly well and sharing the promotion with a hot movie property could be a great way to exploit that flaw in the WWE game plan.
White Castle of Fear
Big Van Vader lives in a cave on a mountain. That was the take-home from the build-up to Sting vs Vader at Superbrawl III in February 1993. For a period in 1992/1993, WCW opted to hype their biggest feuds with mini-movies with major production values, and presumably a budget to match. Sting had entered a villainous-bar-come-lair of Jake Roberts prior to Spin the Wheel, Make the Deal. Big Van Vader and Sid Vicious would attempt to blow up the boat that was carrying Sting and British Bulldog in the run-up to Beach Blast 1993. However, the most famous of these “movies” was the White Castle of Fear featuring Sting accepting a challenge to come to Vader’s fortress/dwelling for a tug of war, with helicopters and the like to transport him to a remote location. If you’ve not seen it, you really should. In fact, come back and read this once you have. It is ridiculous. Nothing epitomises WCW in the early 90s throwing everything against the wall, as the bizarre nature of these vignettes. The kicker is, as you’d imagine, this had zero impact on the buy rate of the show.
Like most of the items on this list, it’s not about literally using these ideas, but disregarding what WCW did in favour of taking the nucleus of that concept and doing something worthwhile with it. Lucha Underground proved that there is a place for doing over-the-top, cinematic segments that veer away sharply from the traditional wrestling product, and with great success. Wrestling should be flamboyant and ridiculous at points because when you think about it logically it fits snugly in both those categories. Imagine doing mad pre-recorded segments with the likes of Joey Janela, in the style of the film Drive. Or making use of The Dark Order and filming something utterly bonkers with them to actually give a sense of who they are? There is plenty of room for the serious and the sensational in AEW and they have the cast of characters to make it happen.
WCW was in many ways a victim of the old adage of “too many cooks”. With wildly varying creative approaches, servants to multiple masters and a lack of a check on mad ideas or how they might be realised, they ended up with some of the unbelievably dumb moments that have come to characterise the company’s existence to many. I firmly believe that only tells half the story, and many of these ideas could have been brilliant in the right hands and with a little more thought put into them. Maybe AEW could pick up a few tricks yet from the last big threat to total WWE dominance, especially if they dig a bit deeper and avoid WCW’s mistakes.
All images courtesy of WWE