Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Hulk Hogan and a WWE/WCW Dream Card
The 1990s were a high point for professional wrestling—if not in artistry, certainly in audience interest. Every Monday night, millions of fans had their thumbs hovering over the remote control to switch back and forth between WWE's flagship RAW and the new kid on the block, WCW's gone-but-never-forgotten Nitro.
For 83 long weeks, powered by the influx of former WWE talent like Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, WCW got the best of Vince McMahon, winning the ratings war for TNT and creating legends and icons of their own in the process. McMahon fought back by completely reinventing his product, borrowing the ultra-violence and politically incorrect attitude of the raucous independent promotion Extreme Championship Wrestling to create compelling crash TV.
The two sides brought out the best in each other, with the head-to-head nature of the entire battle forcing each company to fight fiercely for every quarter-hour in the ratings. The result was so special that nostalgia for the era still informs the wrestling product we see weekly on television more than 20 years later.
Because WWE eventually won the war and bought both WCW and ECW from McMahon's rivals, many of the dream matches from the era eventually came to fruition. But this dream card of what might have been is set squarely in the hazy days of 1997 and 1999, when fans debated endlessly about which promotion was best. For the most part, these are bouts we've never seen before between the biggest stars of each brand.
Who was better, WCW or WWE? Let's ring the bell and find out!
Kai En Tai (Taka Michinoku/Funaki/Dick Togo/Men's Teioh) vs. Rey Mysterio/Juventud Guerrera/Psicosis/Chris Jericho
Analysis: WCW was great at getting their cards started right, featuring high flying action from a collection of great Mexican luchadors who ultimately reinvented what wrestling looks like in America.
WWE attempted something similar with imported Japanese talent but never fully invested in their light heavyweight division. Kai En Tai, however, could really go when given the opportunity, winning over crowds with the power of their work. Look no further than ECW's Barely Legal pay-per-view in 1997 for an example of them managing to convert a skeptical crowd into believers.
Result: Because this was company versus company, WCW decided to mix babyfaces and heels, attempting to put their best possible team forward. This nearly backfired when Chris Jericho spent most of the match feuding with his own teammates—but eventually, the future "Y2J" made Funaki tap out to his Lion Tamer submission.
Score: WCW 1, WWE 0
Team NWO (Syxx/Konnan/Giant/Buff Bagwell) vs. Team WWE (Rikishi/Too Cool/Godfather)
Analysis: In some ways, this looks like the "WrestleMania special," a match designed simply to get people on to the card and reward their hard work. And, in some ways, that's kind of true.
That said, every one of these acts was over like rover in those days, and the crowd would have gone crazy for the WWE babyface team's intro.
Result: I don't think it really matters who goes over. But, at this point, I think you go ahead and allow the crowd to smile.
Score: WCW 1, WWE 1
The Steiners v APA
Analysis: Before Scott Steiner turned to the dark side, the Steiner brothers were two of WCW's most stalwart heroes, among the only competitors capable of standing up to the dreaded NWO. Real-life amateur standouts, the two brothers were widely considered to be the biggest badasses in a sport filled to bursting with rough customers.
Up in New York with WWE, Bradshaw and Ron Simmons had cultivated similar tough-guy reputations. When Vince McMahon needed to send a message or the boys needed to police themselves, these were two of the guys the promotion could count on to keep the locker room in line.
Result: After a hard-hitting match that included some wild backstage brawling, Rick Steiner hit his always dangerous top rope bulldog to give WCW an early lead.
Score: WCW 2, WWE 1
Goldust vs. Eddie Guerrero
Analysis: Eddie Guerrero, one of the most gifted wrestlers of the era, spent much of the Monday Night Wars trying in vain to fight both his demons and his way out of the middle of the pack in WCW. It was only years later, once WWE had conquered all opposition, that he truly found his way as the iconic "Latino Heat" character and earned a spot as the world champion.
Dustin Rhodes, son of the immortal "American Dream" Dusty Rhodes, faced his own internal struggles attempting to fill shoes so large no one could hope to fit in them. As the deeply weird Goldust, he was able to break free from his father's shadow and become his own man—albeit one in a gold onesie who liked to touch his own nipples a lot.
Result: These were two of the most talented wrestlers in the world who never worked a singles match in their long careers. This is truly a match we can only see in our dreams. But, this being the Attitude Era, Guerrero was most definitely doing the honors here after 10 minutes of the smoothest wrestling you could possibly imagine.
Score: WCW 2, WWE 2
Harlem Heat vs. New Age Outlaws
Analysis: Booker T and his brother Stevie Ray won the WCW tag team titles 10 times, in the process becoming one of the most successful duos in wrestling history. Because Booker T was a solo act during his long WWE run after the war was over, Harlem Heat hasn't gotten the attention they probably deserve for their historic excellence. But, in the heat of the battle, they were one of the top teams in the sport.
The New Age Outlaws created such a stir on the WWE undercard that the promotion elevated them into Degeneration X and gave them six runs with their own tag straps. Big personalities, the two could also go in the ring under the right circumstances, making this a very interesting match.
Result: Oh, you didn't know? Well, how could you? This card exists only in my mind. Anyway, the Outlaws go over after Chyna wallops poor Booker T in the nethers. What, you were expecting clean finishes in the 1990s?
Score: WWE 3, WCW 2
Mankind vs. DDP (Hardcore Match)
Analysis: Mick Foley and Diamond Dallas Page, in their own ways, are two of the most underappreciated talents of the time period; wrestlers who carved out Hall of Fame careers despite institutional forces that seemed to make failure a certainty.
DDP was too old from the first day he stepped into a wrestling ring. Foley, despite a series of classic beatings in WCW as Cactus Jack, didn't have the aesthetics to make it big in a hyper-competitive business. Somehow they both left enduring legacies anyway—almost entirely through the power of will.
Result: Page and Foley lay out a carefully crafted match that grabs the crowd and never let us go. Tables are shattered, chairs are bent and bodies are broken—and, in the end, only DDP is left standing. Bang!
Score: WCW 3, WWE 3
The Four Horsemen vs. the Hart Foundation (War Games)
Four Horseman (Ric Flair, Chris Benoit, Steve McMichael, Dean Malenko, Arn Anderson) vs. The Hart Foundation (Bret Hart, Owen Hart, British Bulldog, Brian Pillman, Jim Neidhart)
Analysis: Two of the most iconic factions in modern wrestling history square off in a match with surprising heat, mostly thanks to the angry back-and-forth between Flair and Bret Hart over the years.
The War Games was WCW's signature match for settling blood feuds. You couldn't have a real supercard between the two organizations without it.
Result: WCW spent most of the 1990s seemingly attempting to bury Ric Flair, despite his enduring popularity with the fans. The behind-the-scenes battle over finishes would be fierce for a card like this—but there's no way that the WCW brass would spend political capital to put Flair over. Bret makes Benoit tap to the Sharpshooter after an epic match.
Score: WWE 4, WCW 3
Vince McMahon vs. Eric Bischoff
Analysis: At one point when the war between the two companies really heated up, Eric Bischoff challenged Vince McMahon to a fight. Careful what you wish for Easy E. You just might get it!
On the surface, this is a heel versus heel match. Both portrayed overbearing bosses on television foils to the top heroes on each show.
The difference is, while Vince McMahon was the biggest heel of the time period, fans secretly loved him despite all his dastardly deeds.
Eric Bischoff, by contrast, had the kind of smarmy grin you couldn't wait to see knocked off his face. He would have definitely been the bad guy here.
Result: I don't think Vince is doing this job under any circumstances. The only question here is whether it devolves into an ugly, old-man shoot fight. Here's hoping for some chaos to liven things up.
Score: WWE 5, WCW 3
Bill Goldberg vs. Ken Shamrock
Analysis: In Ken Shamrock, WWE had the real deal—a UFC superfight champion who had established himself as a pay-per-view drawing card while launching a brand new sport. To his credit, Shamrock was able to fit right in as a WWE Superstar—but in the process of conforming, he lost some of what made him unique and fell into the mid-card while former opponents like Triple H and the Rock soared.
Goldberg, meanwhile, had no legitimate fighting credentials. He wasn't a proven master of martial arts. But reality only means so much in the world of wrestling. WCW presented him as an unstoppable fighting machine, so that's what he became in the eyes of the fans.
Result: Fantasy goes over reality almost every time in the wacky world of wrestling. Shamrock's credentials buy some doubt and make it interesting. But the Spear and Jackhammer were undeniable forces in the 1990s. And, so, the streak continues.
Score: WWE 5, WCW 4
Undertaker/Kane vs. Sting/Ultimate Warrior
Analysis: Many of the biggest "what if" moments missing from the pro wrestling lexicon involve the man known only as Sting. A WCW loyalist, he didn't make the journey to WWE until his competitive career was running on fumes. By then, most of the other superstars from this era had long disappeared from the scene.
This match would offer fans an extra treat—a rare pairing of Ultimate Warrior and Sting, partners early in their careers as the Blade Runners. While the Warrior ran up a singles record of 57-0 against The Undertaker in the early 1990s, most of those matches were at house shows, making the matchup relatively fresh.
The main attraction, of course, would be the first lockup between Sting and the Deadman. I've got goosebumps just imagining it.
Result: This one would be hard-fought backstage, but the Ultimate Warrior simply didn't do jobs. After losing the WWE World Title to Sergeant Slaughter in 1991, he only fell short two more times the rest of his entire career. He pins Kane while Taker and the Stinger duke it out ringside.
Score: WCW 5, WWE 5
The Rock vs. "Macho Man" Randy Savage
Analysis: The most charismatic performer of the 1980s squares off with the most charismatic performer of the 1990s in a match for the ages. Both men were big-match players, equally adept on the microphone and inside the squared circle.
The Rock and the Macho Man never shared a ring in real life. It's a match that can only happen in our imaginations. And, let me tell you friends, it's amazing.
Result: Macho Man nails Rock with his top rope elbow drop, but the younger man is able to kick out. Savage isn't quite so fortunate when he subsequently crashes to the mat courtesy of the Rock Bottom. This is a passing of the torch match, one icon to the next.
Score: WWE 6, WCW 5
The Outsiders vs. Degeneration X
Analysis: The last time these four men shared a ring, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall were on their way out of WWE and en route to WCW to create the NWO revolution. They embraced Triple H and Shawn Michaels that night, putting kayfabe to the side and paying public tribute to their real-life friends.
To say that didn't go over well backstage was an understatement.
Luckily, the old-timers in McMahon's ear would have nothing to complain about here. There would be no hugs in this match, either before or after. The "Kliq," as they were known in WWE, loved working against each other and would have brought the heat in this bout—a surprise candidate for match of the night.
Result: Like many of the top stars in the business at this time, Michaels and Nash almost never laid down for anyone. But, with his first retirement looming, the Heartbreak Kid would agree that a Nash Power Bomb was enough to end his night.
Score: WCW 6, WWE 6
"Hollywood" Hulk Hogan vs. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin
Analysis: It all comes down to this—the ultimate babyface against the most reviled heel. This is how wrestling is supposed to work, and the arena would have been deafening, even after 12 hot matches to set the stage.
Compared to contemporary wrestling, the bulk of this match would seem simple. Hogan, even on his best days, didn't do much at all in the ring. By the time he was a megastar, Austin too had limited his moveset dramatically.
When you're as over as they were, however, punches, kicks and shenanigans will do. This match, like Hogan's later bout with the Rock at WrestleMania, would have felt perfect—right up until the finish.
Result: From the time he won the WWE title from Iron Sheik in 1984 right up through WCW's implosion in 2001, Hogan did only two clean jobs in singles matches.
This wasn't about to be the third.
In the end, there would be enough tomfoolery and balderdash to fill 100 normal matches. But whether it was the referee's evil twin brother, a collapsing ring or just a good, old-fashioned count out, Hogan wasn't about to get pinned here, not with creative control built into his contract.
"Hollywood" would exit stage right with a clean sheet, leaving Bischoff and other cronies to eat a Stunner or three so Austin could get his heat back.
Infuriating? You bet! But how else are you going to keep them interested in a rematch?
Score: WCW 6, WWE 6, Hogan 1