WCW, or World Championship Wrestling, is a now-defunct Professional Wrestling promotion that operated under the corporate umbrella of Time Warner from 1988 until 2001. They're most notable for doing something that nobody else in the business had done before, or has since: namely, they beat the WWF at their own game for (as former WCW president Eric Bischoff famously put it) 84 weeks in a row. Naturally, this success didn't come right away.
WCW started as a regional promotion, Jim Crockett Promotions (which was affiliated with the National Wrestling Alliance, NWA). The "World Championship Wrestling" name was used in various forms by various promotions affiliated with the NWA. When Ted Turner purchased JCP, the company began using the WCW name full-time. Turner was bought out by Time Warner in 1996; WCW's association with the NWA was dissolved in 1991 (and fully ended in 1993), which resulted in the NWA's World Heavyweight Championship becoming a WCW belt, as WCW owned it (the "Big Gold Belt", as it came to be known - now WWE's World Heavyweight belt).
In the promotion's early years as WCW, it was horribly mismanaged and badly written by people who had no idea what wrestling fans wanted to see, and devised stunts and gimmicks intending, but failing, to capture the glamor and flash of the WWF - like a live appearance by RoboCop at a pay-per-view event, or the infamous Black Scorpion storyline. Jim Herd (a former TV station manager and Pizza Hut executive with no experience in the wrestling industry) ended up making the biggest mistake in the company's early years when he asked Ric Flair to drop the "Nature Boy" persona, shave his head, and take up a gladiator gimmick. On top of that, he wanted to move Flair, the company's biggest draw, away from the main event, and he wanted Flair to drop the WCW World Title to Lex Luger (Flair refused, because he wanted to drop the belt to Sting). This led to WCW officially firing Flair prior to the Great American Bash in summer 1991. Flair jumped to the WWF, taking the Big Gold Belt with him (since WCW didn't return the deposit he'd paid on it, he felt he didn't have to return it). Herd was fired not too long after this. Unfortunately, he was replaced by "Cowboy" Bill Watts, who - among other poor decisions - made top-rope moves illegal, severely restricting some wrestlers' movesets.
Watts would be replaced by Eric Bischoff in 1993 (whose promotion from announcer to Executive Vice President of the company led announcer Jim Ross to leave WCW and join the WWF, a decision that very few would question these days). Bischoff eagerly set about trying to build the promotion into a juggernaut, and he did so by poaching away the WWF's biggest names with lucrative contracts (all backed by the money of Turner Broadcasting) and pairing them with both old WCW/NWA mainstays and the hottest young talent that they could lure away from a fledgling upstart promotion by the name of Extreme Championship Wrestling. He also started populating the roster with international wrestlers through working arrangements with Mexico's AAA promotion and New Japan Pro Wrestling (mainly high-flying "cruiserweights" like Ultimo Dragon, Rey Mysterio, Jr., and Eddie Guerrero). Bischoff took the fight right to the WWF's front doorstep, asking Ted Turner (who owned WCW as well as the TBS and TNT networks, which aired WCW programming) to give them a timeslot right alongside the WWF's Monday Night Raw. Turner relented, and WCW debuted Monday Nitro in 1995; Bischoff decided to take advantage of the timeslot by airing the show live every week and - in several instances - giving away the results of WWF shows which were often taped weeks in advance.
WCW's fortunes didn't really pick up, however, until they came up with an idea that was as simple as it was brilliant. When Scott Hall and Kevin Nash (Razor Ramon and Diesel in the WWF) defected to WCW, people wondered if they were actually under contract to WCW or if they'd been sent by the WWF to "invade" the promotion. Bischoff ran with this and labeled Hall and Nash "The Outsiders", booking it as though they were looking to destroy WCW from the inside out. But they weren't alone: leading up to the 1996 Bash At The Beach pay-per-view, Hall and Nash teased a "third member" of their group and threatened to bring a "New World Order" to the WCW. At the event, The Outsiders (and their "third man") were booked to face Lex Luger, Randy Savage, and Sting, but the Outsiders chose not to reveal their third man just yet, leaving them in a 2-on-3 situation. During the match, Luger was incapacitated, leaving it as a 2-on-2 match; eventually, Hulk Hogan came out to the ring, looking as if he was going to aid Sting and Savage - and then he turned on them, helping the Outsiders beat down both men and revealing himself as the third member of the group. From this moment - and Hogan's now-famous post-match promo - was born the nWo.
Naturally, fans were shocked. Hulk Hogan (now calling himself "Hollywood" Hogan) had long been the Superman of pro wrestling for over a decade - he was the colorful, muscle-bound superhero who told kids they could do anything as long as they trained, said their prayers, took their vitamins, and believed in themselves. How on Earth could they play him as a villain? More and more fans tuned in to watch as the entire promotion went to war, the Soap Opera Wheel being abandoned as WCW's entire roster all found themselves in the sights of the ever-growing nWo. The fans must have liked what they saw, since the WWF began hemorrhaging viewers while WCW swept them up. WCW even temporarily displaced the WWF as the biggest wrestling promotion in the world (as partially stated above, Nitro defeated Raw in the ratings for 84 straight weeks, thanks mainly to the strength of the nWo angle). There was even a point where the WWF was seriously looking at bankruptcy. This period, known as the Monday Night Wars, resulted in the biggest success for the professional wrestling industry in years, as the nWo angle for WCW - and the WWF's answer in the Attitude Era - led to a huge surge in popularity (and financial success) for both promotions in the late 1990s.
Unfortunately for WCW, their success didn't last. As the WWF reinvented itself with a new Darker and Edgier image lifted in part from ECW, WCW kept beating the nWo horse for all it was worth. The group was originally planned to dissolve after Starrcade 1997, where WCW mainstay Sting defeated Hogan for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. Instead, the group split into two factions (the "original" nWo, led by Hogan, and the nWo Wolfpac, led by Kevin Nash), which feuded with each other throughout 1998. Things were looking up, though - WCW not only managed to secure a second major show in Thunder, but it was building up a new megastar in Bill Goldberg. Booked as a near-invincible human wrecking machine, Goldberg's undefeated streak became legendary. His biggest victory was during the Nitro on July 6, 1998, where he defeated "Hollywood" Hogan for the World Heavyweight Championship; while the match helped give WCW its last major ratings victory against the WWF, it cost them potentially millions in pay-per-view revenue. 1998 also saw several other bad moves by the company that led into its decline, such several pay-per-view matches with non-wrestlers (including Jay Leno and Karl Malone) and Ultimate Warrior's short WCW tenure (which culminated in one of the worst matches ever as he faced "Hollywood" Hogan at Halloween Havoc 1998). Their biggest mistake, however, was yet to come.
At Starrcade 1998, Kevin Nash defeated Goldberg for the the World Title, which also ended Goldberg's undefeated streak; two weeks later on Monday Nitro, Nash and Hogan were scheduled to have a match for the World Title, but instead, Nash took a poke to the chest from Hogan and sold it like he'd been shot with a cannon, laying down for Hogan. After the pinfall, the two nWo factions reformed and ended up beating down an enraged Goldberg, who had been kept out of the arena for most of the show by nWo trickery. This incident came to be known as the Fingerpoke of Doom; in addition to the main event swerve, announcer Tony Schiavone (per Bischoff's orders) revealed prior to Nitro's main event that Mick "Mankind" Foley would be winning the WWF Championship on a pre-taped edition of Raw ("That'll put a lot of butts in the seats!"), which led to half a million viewers changing the channel, because fans wanted to see the well-liked Foley win the championship. The incident ended up turning many fans away from WCW and towards the WWF. (You can read all about the incident, and its impact on both WCW and the WWF, on That Other Wiki.)
Following the Fingerpoke of Doom, WCW tried desperately to reinvent itself. After several botched attempts to cross-promote musicians such as Kiss and rap group No Limit Soldiers in 1999, Time Warner took control of the company away from Bischoff and brought in former WWF writers Vince Russo and Ed Ferrara (who had built themselves up as the "brains" behind the Attitude Era). Russo and Ferrara tried to turn the image of the company around, but they were met with several setbacks, including Bret Hart suffering a career-ending injury at the hands (or, more accurately, foot) of Goldberg - who accidentally injured himself during a backstage segment on Nitro two weeks later. Less than three months after they'd come into the promotion, Russo and Ferrara were suspended, and Kevin Sullivan was placed in charge of the promotion's booking. This change led to several wrestlers wishing to leave the company. In an attempt to appease these wrestlers, Chris Benoit was booked to win the World Heavyweight Championship at Souled Out 2000. However, this didn't do enough to appease them, and Benoit gave the belt back, leaving WCW and signing with the WWF the very next day; Perry Saturn, Dean Malenko, and Eddie Guerrero followed Benoit, and all four debuted on Raw two weeks later as "The Radicalz".
WCW eventually reinstated both Russo and Bischoff, and the duo "reset" the company in April 2000, splitting the company into two factions: the "New Blood" (younger, newer stars) and the "Millionaires' Club" (older stars such as Nash and Hogan). Unfortunately, this was perceived as a rehash of the nWo vs. WCW feud, and many fans never got it. Unorthodox, illogical, and just plain stupid angles continued as WCW degenerated into So Bad It's Horrible territory, with the final straw for many fans being the crowning of actor David Arquette as the company's world champion. After Time Warner merged with AOL and discovered that WCW had become little more than a colossal money pit (and Ted Turner was no longer in a position to protect the promotion), they started immediately cutting budgets. Eventually, WCW found itself on the chopping block, and it was ultimately sold to the WWF in early 2001 (weeks before Wrestlemania X-Seven) at what amounted to fire-sale prices just days before the final Monday Nitro. With both WCW and ECW (which had gone out of business just a couple of months prior) in their back pockets, the WWF was left as the lone major professional wrestling promotion in the United States.
Following the company's sale, the WWF made tentative plans to revive it as an wholly separate "promotion" that was still covered by the WWF umbrella. Unfortunately, following the appearances of WCW midcarders on WWF programming, these plans were scrapped, and the "InVasion" angle was born. After the angle ended (you can read about the whole thing elsewhere), WCW stuck around in name only as the company's titles were all eventually unified with their WWF counterparts, ending with the unification of the WCW and WWF Championships at Vengeance 2001 into the WWF Undisputed Championship. Ironically, the man who unified the titles was the first major WCW-to-WWF defection during the Monday Night Wars: Chris Jericho (who defeated both The Rock and Steve Austin in the same night - in back-to-back matches, no less! - to unify the two titles).
While WCW is often talked about in a joking manner by marks and smart marks alike, many choose to remember the memorable moments and genuine superstars that the company produced right alongside the company's low points. In 2004, a book titled The Death of WCW, highlighted the failure of the company in its last years.
WCW: 1988 - 2001 - Where the Big Boys Played 
- Arc Fatigue: The nWo concept lasted at least a full year longer that it should have. By the time it was "Black & White" versus "nWo Wolfpac", it was already getting tired - the group ended up being revamped twice more before WCW's ultimate demise.
- B-Show: Thunder, WCW Saturday Night (which was originally WCW's flagship program before Nitro)
- Cardboard Boxes: There were always plenty of them backstage for someone to be knocked into. And Clangy Poles, which served no other purpose than to be knocked down and make noise. (At least the boxes could be Justified as emptied of equipment used during the show.)
- Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: The Four Horsemen, Lex Luger and the nWo were all subject to this. Especially when it involved Sting.
- Continuity Reboot: A rare in-company example of this took place in April 2000.
- Did Not Do the Research: When attempting to reconnect with youth and a "hip" new musical act, WCW brought in Master P and his No Limit Soldiers. The problem? WCW mainly held shows in Southern areas, where rap was despised (even by the youth). The West Texas Rednecks stable that was created to oppose them actually ended up getting way more cheers. It didn't help that the Rednecks were four guys, and the No Limit Soldiers were such a huge entourage that they looked like the heels every time they beat down the Rednecks.
- Ear Worm: "Rap is Crap"
- Ensemble Darkhorse/Just Here for Godzilla: The Puroresu and Luchadore stars who put on phenomenal matches every night, even to the very end, well, until they all realized they'd never get pushes and started leaving in droves.
- The entire Cruiserweight division which included both styles above but also guys like Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, and Billy Kidman were the wrestlers who opened up the night to pump up the crowd and were usually the best match of the night. Despite this, crusierweights were often disregarded in terms of getting a push. In fact, many mentioned that they would get punished for getting over.
- Expy: Glacier for Sub-Zero.
- Mortis also seemed to be a combination of Reptile and Scorpion, and Wrath's entrance attire was somewhat Shao Kahn inspired.
- Face Heel Turn: When Hulk Hogan joined the NWO - one of the most memorable and well done turns in wrestling.
- Fake Band: The West Texas Rednecks (which included Minnesota native, Curt Hennig). Despite being pushed as Heels against Master P's No Limit Soldiers, they were cheered anyways and actually received airtime on Southern radio stations.
- 3 Count, a parody of the Boy Band phenomenon.
- Finger-Poke of Doom: Trope Namer. Kevin Nash laid down for Hulk Hogan to pin him after receiving a gentle poke in the chest, effectively making Hogan World Heavyweight Champion again, as well as mocking the audience.
- Heel Face Revolving Door: Bret Hart for his entire WCW career; arguably a pretty good reason why he couldn't get over as well as he did in the WWF.
- Hilarious in Hindsight: For a period in late '96, Ultimo Dragon defended the J-Crown, a collection of cruiserweight/light heavyweight championships from various promotions unified into one collective (and cumbersome) title. At Starrcade '96, he defeated Dean Malenko and added the WCW Cruiserweight championship to the J-Crown in the only time the J-Crown collection was seen on American television. What makes this so hilarious? One of the titles that made up the J-Crown was the WWF Light Heavyweight championship , meaning that Ultimo Dragon was a legitimate WWF championship titleholder and was legitimately defending that title on a WCW pay-per-view, and neither organization realized it until months later.
- Hoist by His Own Petard:
Tony Schiavone: That's gonna put some butts in the seats!
- Incompetence, Inc.: This trope has always been present to some degree. But WCW from mid-1999 until the bitter end took this trope into new heights. For the year of 2000, WCW managed to lose $80 million. This is what lead to WCW getting sold to main rival the WWF for about $3 million.
- Previously, Ted Turner had been able to tell anyone who suggested closing or selling WCW to stuff it, but after the AOL Time Warner merger, he was put in a figurehead position where he had no real power, which lead to an exec who'd never been part of the wrestling business named Jamie Kellner cancelling all WCW related programming and Turner being unable to do anything about it. Kellner himself was a great example of incompetence, and was forced out of his AOL Time Warner job in 2003. For that matter, AOL Time Warner wasn't exactly not incompetent. As The Death of WCW phrased it, "Sure, WCW may have lost $62million in one year, but did they ever lose $54 billion in one quarter?
- The opening post of this thread highlights many of the fuck-ups that led to the company's demise.
- Insane Troll Logic: Used to explain Sting's Face Heel Turn in a truly amazing hype video.
- Insistent Terminology: Eric Bischoff insisted on the term "Cruiserweight" instead of "Light Heavyweight" because he felt the latter made the smaller wrestlers seem less important.
- There was also a period of time which Ted Turner handed down a mandate that banned the word "foreign" from being used on his network in favor of the word "international." As such, foreign objects became "international objects" on WCW television.
- It Will Never Catch On: Among the various people that WCW thought weren't worth a main event push were Stone Cold Steve Austin, Mick Foley, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Jericho, and Rey Mysterio, Jr.. All of these guys became celebrated world champions when they went to WWE. WCW also let Jim Ross go because they thought he wouldn't go over well with mainstream America. Whoops.
- Hell, they screwed up with the guy who would become The Fucking Undertaker. Uhm... how the hell do you do that? He was practically the image of everything people wanted in wrestling at the time!
- Triple H too. He debuted in WCW in 1994 as a generic blonde heel jobber named Terra Ryzin, then got repackaged as a snobby Evil Foreigner named Jean-Paul Levesque in a tagteam with Lord Steven Regal. In January 1995 he jumped ship to WWE after being turned down for a singles push and the rest as they say is history.
- Inverted with Bret Hart: He had caught on in the WWF--but WCW didn't have a clue what to do with him.
- Loads and Loads of Characters: At its height, WCW had over 240 wrestlers on its roster. Unlike most examples, though, only perhaps half of them were ever actually seen on television. This was both a deliberate plan and a grievous error on WCW's part. Part of their plan on competing with the WWF was to buy up competing talent for the sole purpose of keeping them from signing with the competition. While some were given spots on WCW programming, most others (mostly C-List Fodder) simply got to lay back and collect paychecks while "working" under a non-compete agreement. Unfortunately for WCW, even this plan got away from them, as the sheer number of wrestlers became unmanageable on a week to week basis. At the time, wrestlers were paid on a per-show basis, whether or not they actually worked on that show. Attendance was taken by signing your own name in on a clipboard. A fair number of Genre Savvy workers, knowing full well that WCW didn't have any intention of actually using them, simply stayed at home and had friends of theirs on the roster sign in their names in their place.
- There were also many who would still travel in a full-time schedule on the company's dime without working any matches. Only in 2000 did they start to only fly out any talent who were actually regularly being booked.
- Name's the Same: Australia's major wrestling promotion in the 60s and 70s was also called World Championship Wrestling. It was owned by American promoter Jim Barnett, who had a stake in the American WCW (the Georgia incarnation) before Black Saturday and was a consultant for the later Turner-owned promotion.
- Power Stable: Four Horsemen (the Ur Example), New World Order (and its various spinoffs), New Blood
- Protection From Editors: When Hogan signed with WCW in 1994, he was given creative control over his matches.
- Shocking Swerve: Arguably the Trope Namer, inarguably one of the reasons WCW went out of business.
- Spiritual Successor: TNA, both in some good ways, like the early focus on the X-Division / cruiserweights, and bad, like the heavy emphasis on kayfabe-breaking storylines and constant turns. It was also founded to replace WCW in the first place.
- Spotlight-Stealing Squad: The NWO, to the point that in the Nitro prior to Starrcade 1997, the NWO took over the show and renamed it NWO Monday Nitro.
- Springtime for Hitler: Nitro was originally supposed to be this, according to Matt Randazzo. The idea was, by going head-to-head, WCW would screw up so badly that Turner would be forced to pull the plug on it. It only took them seven years.
- Sure, Let's Go with That: Bischoff was put on the spot when asked what WCW needed to turn the tide by Ted Turner. After some nervous stammering, he blurted out the first thing that came to mind: a Monday night time slot to compete head-to-head with RAW.
- Take That: Especially during the Monday Night Wars.
- Unrelated Brothers: Subverted with the Steiner Brothers and Harlem Heat.
- Vince Russo
- What Could Have Been: Dear god, where to even begin...
- Starrcade 1997. Start there.
- What the Hell, Hero?: David Arquette fought the idea of his being WCW Champion as viciously as he could, believing that (as a wrestling fan himself) fans would hate a non-wrestler becoming champion. He was right. He then donated the money he made for the angle to the families of deceased wrestlers Brian Pillman and Owen Hart and to Darren Drozdov, a wrestler rendered quadriplegic in an in-ring accident, ensuring he was the only person involved in the angle to walk out with a good reputation.
- Look at the adjective - played!
- When first created, the Light Heavyweight title was defended almost exclusively in Mexico, making it a WWF title pretty much In Name Only. Over time, it made its way to Japan, where it eventually became part of the J-Crown. When the WWF got it in its head to start a dedicated cruiserweight division in late '97, they went through the books and found out they already had a perfectly good Light Heavyweight title belt they'd given out on loan for over a decade and had no idea where it was! After some searching, they tracked it to New Japan Pro Wrestling and finally got it back for their inaugural tournament.