In early 2000, WCW unleashed their film Ready to Rumble onto the unsuspecting public, a comedy featuring David Arquette and Scott Caan as two lovable dummies who take it upon themselves to help a former world champion/alcoholic burnout return to his former wrestling glory. The movie didn’t necessarily take off in the manner that WCW expected nor did it really do any favors for wrestling fans in general as Arquette and Caan were portrayed as complete rubes in their twenties who truly believed wrestling was real. Despite all this, WCW brought in David Arquette onto their weekly television tapings and decided that making him the WCW World Heavyweight Champion was the ultimate way to put over the movie:
David Arquette: “I went to promote [Ready to Rumble] and [WCW] had me do something where I jumped into the ring and got slammed. It got a big pop and people were excited about it.”
“I went in [to Nitro] and they said, ‘If you stick around, you know, we’ll give you the strap…’
‘Are you fucking kidding me?'” – Sam Roberts Wrestling Podcast [December 10th, 2014]
On April 25th, 2000, David Arquette, star of Scream and Muppets from Space, won the WCW World Heavyweight Championship during a tag match on WCW Thunder. Arquette teamed up with Diamond Dallas Page to take on Eric Bischoff and Jeff Jarrett where the special stipulation was that whoever made the pin would become the world champion… in a tag-team match.
How this whole angle even came to be seems to be debated as well. Diamond Dallas Page went into the match as the WCW World Heavyweight Champion, winning the title the night before at Nitro against Jeff Jarrett. According to PW Torch, the whole reason Arquette was ever entered into the mix was supposedly due to DDP refusing to drop his belt back to Jeff Jarrett 24-hours later:
“The original plan was for Page to drop it to Jarrett at Thunder last week. Page has since vehemently denied that he protested doing the job, but several sources within WCW say he expressed ‘obvious concern’ over losing the belt so quickly back to Jarrett and that caused Russo and Bischoff to redraw their plans so that Page lost it under more of a fluke circumstance. Some believe Page protested hard behind closed doors only to Russo or Bischoff and thus feel confident that he can deny having protested. Says one WCW wrestler, ‘Those around him say it was obvious he was surprised when he found out Russo wanted him to drop the belt so soon.’ Either way, the Arquette decision was a last-second brainstorm made just hours before he won the title.”
WCW Newswire – Pro Wrestling Torch #601 [May 5th, 2000]
The finish of the match had Arquette spear Eric Bischoff moments before Jeff Jarrett took out Page using the Big Gold Belt, all while referee Kimberly was knocked unconscious due to a kiss from DDP (yup). Both Arquette and Jarrett would make pins at the same time, but whenever referee Mickie Jay ran in to make the count, he only acknowledged Arquette’s pinfall making the actor the new WCW World Heavyweight Champion. Weirdly enough, Diamond Dallas Page was seemingly alright with this title change and celebrated with the new champion. Bobby Heenan on commentary summarized the whole buffoonery with, “Never in my life has Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan been speechless. I don’t know WHAT the hell to say!!”
“What does this mean for the future of WCW!?”, screamed Mike Tenay.
“This is sports entertainment history that has never happened before!”, shouted out Tony Schiavone.
“What the hell just happened?!”, griped a fifteen-year-old me (probably).
Like it or not, WCW had made a Hollywood actor their world heavyweight champion. A title held by the likes of “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, Sting, Big Van Vader, Chris Benoit, Bret Hart, Randy Savage… and now David Arquette.
Over the years, sites like WrestleCrap have listed Arquette as the world champion being a reason for WCW’s eventual demise as a company, and I’ve even seen wrestling fans themselves point at this being the catalyst for never watching WCW again. Even though WCW had a booking committee during this time period, no one has been thrown to the slaughter more regarding this decision than Vince Russo. Truthfully, he deserved a lot of the scorn from WCW fans over his time with the company, but the man still receives online hatred over this decision made over fifteen years ago. Russo himself seemingly now laughs all the haters off as it apparently was never was his idea in the first place. Bro, you hafta understand, that the person the Internet SHOULD be upset with, the man who really came up with David Arquette becoming the WCW World Heavyweight Champion??
Vince Russo: “We had the production meeting and went over the show, I can’t even remember the sides of the tag match. I think it was Arquette and Page vs Bischoff and Jeff?
Regardless, we already went over that and the thought of David Arquette winning that match never even crossed my mind. So, now the production meeting is over, it’s finished, it’s done with — Tony Schiavone comes up to me, and he goes, ‘Vince, can I talk to you for a minute?’
I said ‘Sure, Tony. What?’
Tony looks at me and this is all that Tony said… he said, ‘What if David Arquette wins that match and becomes the WCW World Champion?’
My knee-jerk reaction was, that was far out of my realm of thinking that I didn’t even consider that. I didn’t even think of it. It was so out of my realm of thinking that immediately I said, ‘Holy crap, if I didn’t even think of that for a second, there nobody in the audience that will see that coming!’
The fact of the matter is that you had the perfect storm because Eric Bischoff was in the match, and he wasn’t a wrestler. So, if David Arquette pinned Eric Bischoff, he would technically become the WCW Champion. So, based on that, I got the production meeting back together again and said, ‘Guys, listen. I just want to throw something out there. Tony hit me with this after the production meeting. I gotta tell ya, I didn’t consider this. I never even thought about it. But what do you guys think??’
Every single person in that room put that idea over. Everybody. Everybody was on board. ‘Sounds great. Nobody will see it coming. He can beat Bischoff. Bischoff is not a wrestler. He wins the belt on a technicality. We’ll get great publicity. Yadda, yadda, yaddda…’
So, we went ahead and did it.” – MLW Radio #131 [June 8th, 2014]
Eric Bischoff: “[Tony Schiavone?] This is the first I’ve ever heard that.
Well, isn’t that interesting? [Vince Russo] doesn’t want to take responsibility for [David Arquette being the WCW champion], so he gives the heat to Schiavone. That’s just downright hilarious.” – Unknown Internet Wrestling Show, Via YouTube
I believe the truth to be somewhere within what Vince Russo said above, but I also just want to think that Schiavone mentioning Arquette winning the title was done in jest. The reports from around this time seem to suggest the same, so the idea of Russo putting all of the blame onto seemingly everyone else BUT him is so odd. Since the controversial decision, there have been people defending the storyline as it either “led to a bump in the ratings” or “got WCW a mention in USA Today“.
The truth is that the publicity stunt didn’t spark a jump in viewership at all. In fact, the ratings for David Arquette vs Tank Abbott the following week were below the usual average for Nitro giving evidence towards the argument that the angle actually drew away people from watching Nitro. Also, the USA Today piece that continues to get brought up anytime someone tries to defend Russo on this or believes that Arquette as champion was a good idea?? It was nothing more that a small blurb tucked within their Life section after a slightly longer blurb about Miss Saigon leaving Broadway:
“Arquette displays neat mat finish
David Arquette, star of the wrestling movie Ready to Rumble, captured the World Championship Wrestling heavyweight championship last week by pinning Eric Bischoff in a tag-team match. He defends the title tonight on TNT’s WCW Monday Nitro Live! (8 ET/PT).”
USA Today [May 1st, 2000]
I love going back into these controversial moments within WCW all these years later because I’ve lost that fervor that comes with being an overly opinionated dummy who truly believes, “wrestling is so important, you guys.”
I can listen today to a Vince Russo podcast and not get completely fired up into going on Twitter and correcting any of his factual errors, intentional or not. In fact, I actually think I understand why Russo (or Tony Schiavone) made Arquette the champion. The lone person out there who actually helped lay out this angle in a way that’s the most believable to me? Former head of WWF and WCW Creative, Ed Ferrara:
Ed Ferrara: “I was working as an agent. I was laying out one or two matches on a Nitro, that was it. I found out about it just like anybody else but at that point, I was not in the inner circle. That was Vince [Russo] and Eric [Bischoff], at that time. It’s not like I’m trying to distance myself from it, but that’s just the way it was, but the bottom line is this. As a fan, I was like, ‘Ugghhh, no. I didn’t want that.'”
“[A]t that point, the Titanic had struck the iceberg and was starting to go, tail-end up. It was starting to head under. I can’t blame [Russo] for [making Arquette champion] because anything at that point was worth trying. The ship was sinking in a huge way, so if he would do something like that, clearly the hardcore fans were not going to save WCW at that point. The only thing was to try and do some hailmary shit and try to generate some mainstream support to get non-fans watching the show, to increase the ratings and to get rid of the ‘sinking-ship’ mentality.”
“At that point, there was nothing happening. At that point, the product was in big trouble and the company was in big trouble, so it was worth a shot. Doing things the way we always had was not going to change anything. I totally give to [Russo] that it was worth trying, it was an experiment. It was worth trying.” – MLW Radio Extra [May 30th, 2014]
None of this, “It was Schiavone!! He’s the one that came up with it!!”
The real truth behind David Arquette becoming the WCW World Heavyweight Champion, straight from Ferrara’s mouth: WCW was a sinking ship, and it was a last-chance, desperate effort to get attention.
Sad to say, Arquette wasn’t the person that killed WCW but his 12-day reign on top might have legitimately put WCW at a point of no return. The only real good that came out of his championship reign is what David Arquette did with all of the money he earned while in WCW.
“Nature Boy” Ric Flair: “The strategy behind the Arquette victory was to promote Ready to Rumble and get WCW a burst of mainstream popularity – a goal that the company actually achieved. But the people who read about the win in USA Today still had no incentive to suddenly being watching our show. Wrestling fans were mortified, but not as much as you’d think. The title was so dead at this point, who gave a damn? I think even Arquette was embarrassed by the situation.
‘David,’ I told him after he’d won, ‘do something right with that championship belt. Wear it down to the bar, and buy everyone drinks.’
That’s what he did. He also, very quietly, donated his entire paycheck to the families of Owen Hart, Brian Pillman, and Bobby Duncum Jr. – wrestlers who recently passed away – and Darren “Droz” Drozdov, who’d been paralyzed during a World Wrestling Federation match. So how did I feel about David Arquette as a champion? Well, he had a hell of a lot more character than some other guys who’d worn the championship belt.“ – To Be The Man 
To this day, David Arquette is still an admitted fan of professional wrestling and can even be seen in the crowd of WWE shows whenever they hold live events in Los Angeles. In fact, he actually has his own Big Gold Belt that he carries with him to tapings every now and then:
Turns out David Arquette is the luckiest wrestling fan alive and doesn’t deserve your blood-lust. Nor does Vince Russo. Or even Tony Schiavone.
Maybe it’s just time we all collectively just let go and view this as nothing more than a terrible, terrible decision without having your brain explode with rage. Maybe it’s time we all pull out our Ready To Rumble DVDs and relive this controversial time period again…
Ehh… maybe not.
37-year-old World Championship Wrestling fanatic/collector/hoarder. Runs a soil analysis lab in Austin, TX by day and scans in old wrestling magazines by night.
He’s got posters on the wall, his favorite rock group’s KISS.