Unpopular Opinion: WCW was better off without Hulk Hogan
In 1994, WCW underwent a transformation. Hulk Hogan signed with the company and in his very first match under the WCW banner, pinned Ric Flair to win the WCW Championship. From there, his more cartoonish, 1980s WWE style would permeate the company as guys like Randy Savage, Jim Duggan, Brutus Beefcake, and John Tenta, usurped mainstay talents like Steve Austin, Dustin Rhodes, Cactus Jack, and Big Van Vader for featured spots.
While the era of WCW emulating the WWE of years past didn’t necessarily succeed on every level, it did draw new viewers to the company, and paved the way for another new direction when Hogan turned heel to front the New World Order faction that would define so much of what WCW was for the years to follow. This era saw WCW not only compete with but beat WWE in the ratings and in pop culture notoriety. Indeed, to hear Eric Bischoff discuss the matter on the 83 Weeks podcast, it’s clear that the Hogan revolution changed the game for WCW, saving it from a more quiet death at the hands of the Turner Corporation, and giving it a period of time on top of the wrestling world.
However, as a long time, hardcore fan, I’m not ashamed to admit that I liked WCW better before Hulk Hogan came along.
This isn’t an argument about making money, as it’s pretty clear Hogan was instrumental in WCW drawing advertisers, ratings, and PPV buy rates. However, before Hogan came along, WCW offered a more traditional, straightforward style of storytelling. Stars like Ric Flair, Sting, and Vader provided a foundation at the main event level, while guys like Rhodes and Austin were primed to rise up and become world champions. Considering the versatility and longevity Rhodes would go on to show in the Goldust gimmick and how explosively over Austin would become for WWE, there’s a reason to believe WCW could have enjoyed long-term, sustainable success if it had stayed the course. Hogan disrupted what WCW had in the works, and made a hard shift away from great matches and towards big swerves and crash TV booking. That was a fine model for drawing TV ratings, but as more of an old school wrestling fan, I can’t help thinking WCW was forever changed for the worse with his arrival.