Though wrestlers like Sting, Goldberg and Hulk Hogan are most often associated with WCW’s meteoric rise in the late 90s, I feel that Diamond Dallas Page should have been the new franchise of WCW.
For what it’s worth, I’ve always been a huge fan of the guy. I loved his work dating way back to 1992, when he had some interesting variations on classic wrestling moves (Pancakes over Piledrivers, the original version of the Diamond Cutter which was a modified Running Bulldog) and an easy-to-hate cocky villain gimmick. I think he did a great job taking the confident heel trope and adding some texture to it by being a specific kind of Jersey Shore jerk.
When he rejected The Outsiders attempts to recruit him into the nWo, he evolved from “Jersey Shore jerk” to “cool guy who believes in WCW’s mission”. It was easy to connect with him because he fit well into the mid to late 90s culture that celebrated smooth charismatic heroes not unlike Full House’s Uncle Jesse, Sega’s Sonic, and what would later become WWF’s The Rock. He represented WCW out of passionate loyalty, not obligation to his employer.
As WCW gained traction in television ratings, they took a strategic marketing approach. WWF’s Attitude Era was aimed primarily at teenagers and young adults, placing the bulk of their eggs in that basket and hoping for the best. WCW, on the other hand, took a multifaceted approach and targeted multiple demographics, from the Latino market with their international stars, comic book and video game geeks with the Blood Runs Cold group, young fans with the Cruiserweight division, and long-time wrestling fans with the seemingly endless roster of legendary names at the top: Roddy Piper, Ric Flair, Randy Savage, and of course Hulk Hogan. Needless to say, both approaches had their merits and varying levels of success.
In actively recruiting legendary names, WCW also intentionally targeted an older audience: folks who might have even seen these same wrestlers back in the territory days. Eric Bischoff often cites bringing wrestlers in under their real names, and some youthful characters like Chris Jericho and Konnan were often heels.
Though it might seem odd now, an older audience in the late 90s likely saw DDP’s New Jersey meets Las Vegas “BANG!!” shtick as the epitome of cool, a perfect combination of 1950s cool with 1990s sensibilities. “Self High Five!” could’ve been uttered by The Fonz on Happy Days, but in late 90’s WCW, it was the war cry that preceded a pretty rad “Smells Like Teen Spirit” ripoff: again, throwback cool with contemporary appeal. Plus, it was catchy! How can you not market that?
At the same time, other aspects of Diamond Dallas Page appealed directly to younger crowds as well, including the aforementioned variations on classic wrestling moves and passionate defense of WCW. More than anything, of course, was perhaps the most over finishing move in the history of professional wrestling: the Diamond Cutter, which evolved from a modified Running Bulldog to a surprise finisher that was known for being hit from anywhere at any time and in any position. The move was so popular with fans that its revival as Randy Orton’s RKO has connected with audiences long after DDP retired from active competition.
Finally, DDP was a homegrown WCW star, similar to Sting in terms of dedication and tenure in WCW. He wrestled for the company for all but one year of their ten-year existence.
I share all these examples to argue that Diamond Dallas Page should have been (and could have been, if the company survived past 2001), the franchise of WCW, or as many would call it: “the guy”. I’m referring to places on the card occupied by the likes of Hulk Hogan in 1980’s WWF, John Cena in modern day WWE, or Steve Austin in late 1990’s WWF. I feel that everything from the evolution of DDP’s character, his in-ring style, his age, his mic skills, and his finisher resonated with audiences of various demographics, and had the potential to develop an even closer connection to the crowd.
However, others filled that role for WCW instead, and of course, DDP had a massively successful career with multiple United States, Tag Team, and World Heavyweight Championship wins. However, he was often a bit lower on the proverbial totem pole, with wrestlers like Goldberg and Jeff Jarrett elevated to spots that represented WCW globally.
What we got from DDP’s career was good, and was more than most ever expected; Dusty Rhodes famously claimed that DDP couldn’t work a lick and never would. Still, I feel what we could’ve got would’ve been better and wonder how WCW would have turned out with Diamond Dallas Page at the top rather than in the mix.