Welcome everyone to a bold new venture that I am embarking upon. I have decided that, on top of my PPV reviews, I’m going to do a blog that chronicles the Monday Night Wars on a week-by-week basis. In each entry, I will take the episodes of RAW and Nitro from that week and do a review of both. I will then compare and contrast the two, and give my take on which one I thought was better. I will start with the very first episode of WCW Monday Nitro and go from there. That means that this first entry will only focus on WCW, as WWF RAW was preempted that week. However, the next entry will cover the first head-to-head comparison. Once Thunder and Smackdown enter the picture, I will cover those as well. My aim is to give everyone a peek into one of the most historic and influential periods in wrestling history and to look back with 2018 eyes and see how the two programs have held up, over time. First, I’m going to give you a little background as to how this all got started.
Throughout the 80s, wrestling programs primarily aired on the weekends. The WWF had their Saturday and Sunday morning shows, Superstars and Wrestling Challenge. These were the flagship shows where all of the main storylines were conducted. They also had Prime Time Wrestling, which aired on the USA network. WCW had Saturday Night, as well as Pro and Worldwide. For the most part, you watched wrestling after watching Saturday morning cartoons. As the 90s rolled around, the WWF realized that a change was needed. In January of 1993, they launched Monday Night RAW, which aired on the USA network. It replaced Prime Time Wrestling. Prime Time had been mostly a clip show that aired pre-recorded matches and interviews inter-cut with studio segments, but RAW would either air live from an arena or would be entirely taped on the road and aired later. It was no longer primarily a studio show. This gave the show a unique feel to what people had become accustomed to. This set the WWF apart from WCW, which was still running a more traditional program. However, this came at a time when business was down. The boom of the Hogan era had worn off and a combination of fatigue and scandals had reduced business to a fraction of what it had once been. Hogan had left the WWF and signed with WCW, taking many of the stars from the 80s with him. The WWF had moved into their “New Generation” period, where they were pushing newer and younger talent, but neither company had quite figured out how to turn the corner and rejuvenate the business. Business was down, but the WWF was still the top company of the two. However, WCW was closing the gap and they were about to get a shot in the arm that would eventually turn their fortunes around.
In 1995, Eric Bischoff, who was the Executive Vice President of WCW, was preparing for a meeting with WCW owner, Ted Turner. He was planning on pitching an idea for airing WCW programming in China. However, the idea involved working with a network owned by Turner’s hated rival, Rupert Murdoch. Eric was worried about the meeting and prepared as best as he could to convince him. What he hadn’t prepared for was being blindsided with a question that would change everything. During the meeting, Turner unexpectedly asked Bischoff what they needed to do to compete with Vince McMahon and the WWF. Bischoff, thinking on his feet, answered that they needed prime time. Turner then turned to one of his assistants and told him to give Bischoff an hour on TNT every Monday night. This would put WCW in direct competition with the WWF, as they would be airing their show at the same exact time as Monday Night RAW. If you read my PPV reviews, then you will know that this isn’t the first time that the two wrestling promotions had run shows on the same night. They had run PPVs and TV specials on the same night before, much to the chagrin of the cable networks. It was a gamble to try this tactic again, but Bischoff decided to make that gamble. WCW Monday Nitro was born and the Monday Night Wars had begun. The decision was made to do a launch in September, as the WWF always had to take a two-week break due to other programming that ran on the USA Network. There was no better time for WCW to debut their new show than a Monday when there was no episode of RAW. That brings us to the very first edition of Nitro, which I will be covering today.
(All screen captures are the property of World Wrestling Entertainment)
WCW Monday Nitro #1
September 4, 1995
The Mall of America
WCW in 1995 was a strange place. Much like the WWF, they were still utilizing campy cartoonish gimmicks. One of their main storylines at the time involved a faction of cartoon villains that seemed straight out of the 60s Batman TV show. They were known as the Dungeon of Doom and as silly as it was, it was also kind of entertaining in a so bad it’s good fashion. The faction consisted of The Master, played by King Curtis Iaukea, Taskmaster Kevin Sullivan, The Shark, who used to be Earthquake, Zodiac, who used to be Brutus Beefcake, Kamala, Meng, who used to be Haku, and The Giant, who would later become Big Show. Kevin Sullivan, who was the booker at the time, created the faction to be a group of monster heels for Hogan to vanquish. He has claimed in interviews that the whole storyline was to appease Hogan and get on his good side so that Hogan would be more open to turning heel when he eventually asked him to do it. I’m still not sure if that’s true or if Sullivan is trying to make himself look better in hindsight. All I know is that I find the whole storyline amusing.
Despite the campiness in the main event scene, WCW’s midcard was becoming filled with an influx of young and international talent. They had started bringing in wrestlers from Japan and Mexico and they were doing a good job of giving the show a wide variety. One thing WCW always did well was providing a mix of everything. I personally believe that wrestling works best when it is a variety show. If you don’t like the cartoonish gimmicks, then maybe you will like the high flying luchadores. If you don’t like them, then maybe you will like the hard-hitting brawlers. This was a good way for WCW to set themselves apart from the WWF. They would put that uniqueness on display for the first episode of Nitro. For one, the event was held in the middle of a mall, which made for a great aesthetic. The other unique twist to WCW’s new show was that it promised to air live every week, unlike RAW. This would prevent spoilers and add to the mystique that anything could happen. Unfortunately, it would also open the door for WCW to use some rather underhanded tactics against the pre-taped RAW.
The show opens with lots of explosions. What appears to be a Hollywood back-lot burst into flames, as footage of WCW wrestlers is projected onto the walls of the buildings. A line of fire travels down the street and ignites a sign that says “WCW Monday Nitro”. It is already a stark contrast to the outdated intro that RAW was using when they were last on the air.
Next, they show aerial footage of downtown Minneapolis and shots of the Mall of America, before heading inside. Eric Bischoff and former NFL player Steve “Mongo” McMichael welcome everyone to the show. Mongo tells us that this night is very “apropos”, which he informs us isn’t digging around in the dirt with farm implements. What?? What does that even mean? They are only a few seconds into the show and I’m almost wishing for Rob Bartlett. Bobby Heenan arrives to save us from Mongo and he seems overly friendly towards McMichael. Bischoff tries to point out that Heenan was bad mouthing him before, but Heenan plays innocent. Heenan shakes Mongo’s hand, but he recoils in shock and we see that McMichael has one of those joke buzzers on his palm. Oh joy, this is the kind of humor we can expect from Mongo.
Brian Pillman vs. Jushin Thunder Liger
As Pillman makes his way to the ring, to his awesomely cheesy “Blondes have more fun” theme, we get a shot of WCW’s mascot, Wildcat Willie. I swear every entity that has a wildcat for a mascot has a Wildcat Willie. Pillman is facing one of the stars brought in from Japan, Jushin Thunder Liger. He is a legend in Japan, with a very unique look. He’s a masked wrestler that looks like he walked right out of an anime. It’s amazing to think that Liger still wrestles to this day and that’s after having beat cancer at one point in his career.
The match starts with some dueling arm wringers and Liger flips around to get out of the hold. He then takes Pillman into the corner and hits him with a rolling kick. Pillman catches him on a charge and hits a head scissor takeover, but then the two men badly botch a hurricanrana attempt. Heenan tries to cover by saying that Pillman didn’t get all of it. Pillman gets caught in a drop toe hold and Liger locks him in a surfboard stretch, which gets a great reaction from Heenan. Pillman fights free and gets another head scissors takeover, but he ends up getting dropped to the outside. Liger then hits a somersault plancha off the apron. He then tries to suplex Pillman back into the ring, but Brian reverses it and sends Liger to the floor. Pillman dives onto him and then rolls him back into the ring, but Pillman gets crotched when he goes for a move off the top. Liger hits a superplex and gets a 2 count. Liger goes for a move off the top, but Pillman dropkicks him out of the air. However, Liger fights back and powerbombs Pillman for another 2. He then hits Pillman with a top rope hurricanrana, but it’s still not enough. He goes for it again, but Pillman turns it into a tornado DDT for a 2 count of his own. Liger fights back and goes for a German suplex, but Pillman reverses it into a victory roll for a 3 count. The two men then shake hands after the match is over.
Other than the one botch, this was a really fun opening match. This did a great job of showcasing the athletic undercard that WCW had at the time. It also did a good job of showcasing the international talent that WCW was bringing into the company. There would be even more additions to the roster over the next year. This was just a taste.
Winner: Brian Pillman
After the match, they show a pre-taped promo from Sting. It is short and to the point. He says that nobody can walk the aisle and get in Flair’s face like he can. He also says that no one can lock in the Scorpion Deathlock like he does. Is that a shot at Bret Hart? He then finishes by yelling, “YEAH!”
The show goes to commercial and then comes back to a commercial of a different kind. Earlier in the day, Eric Bischoff was with Hulk Hogan in front of Hogan’s new restaurant chain, “Pastamania”. There was a Hulk Hogan-themed pasta restaurant?? How did that never take off? I guess it was no WWF New York. Eric talks about how Michael Jordan and Don Shula have their own restaurants and says that now Hogan does as well. He then asks Hulk about his upcoming match with Big Bubba Rogers. Hogan asks the crowd who is the greatest wrestler ever and they say, “Hogan!” He tells everyone that he’s eaten so many “Hulk-a-roos” and “Hulky-oos” that he feels sorry for Bubba. Why? Did the pasta give him bad gas or something? He talks about putting the WCW title on the line for the first time on TNT and says he has Pastamania running through his brain. He then asks the fans who is going to win tonight and they say, “Hogan!” Jimmy Hart must be slipping them money while he runs around holding up the belt. Hogan says that, after he drags Bubba around the mall, he’s basically going to force feed him some “Hulk-a-roos” and body slam him. He talks about his “Pastamaniacs” tearing their WCW t-shirts. Ah, good idea. Then they will have to buy more merchandise! Then, he tells Bubba to tighten up his waistline because the Hulkster is slim and trim from all the Pastamania. Okay, now that’s just bad nutritional advice.
U.S. Title Match: Sting (c) vs. Ric Flair
As Flair and Sting make their way to the ring, Bischoff tells us that this could be a main event anywhere. Of course, it’s not tonight because Hogan is on top, brother! The two men get into the ring and…wait a second. Who is that walking down the aisle??
Lex Luger becomes the first person to defect to WCW during the Monday Night Wars. It is only 30 minutes into the first episode and WCW are already going for shock factor. Luger’s WWF contract had run out and he had wrestled a house show only a day or two before this. No one in the WWF knew that he was jumping ship. Bruce Prichard, on his podcast, tells an amusing story of Pat Patterson calling him to tell him about Luger’s defection. Apparently, he told Bruce, “He’s their problem now!” Bischoff, on commentary, freaks out and tells the production truck to get the camera off of Luger. Mongo seems confused as to who it even is, despite the fact that he had made an appearance in WWF on a show with that included Luger. A “Luger” chant breaks out in the crowd, as Sting looks confused. However, Flair doesn’t seem like he could care any less. Luger finally leaves, so the match begins.
The match starts with a lock-up that ends in a stalemate, so the two men take turns saying, “WOO!” They do a quick criss-cross and Flair gets caught in a couple of press slams. Flair is in trouble and bails outside. When he gets back into the ring, he takes advantage with a good ol’ eye poke and some chops. Sting starts no-selling the offense and hits another press slam. Flair ends up hitting a cross body that sends both men over the ropes. Flair charges him but gets press slammed into the ring. Sting catches himself on a missed Stinger Splash, but runs into an elbow from Flair, before they go to commercial. They come back, just in time to see Flair going up to the top. It’s naturally reversed and Sting hits another press slam for a 2 count. Arn Anderson then arrives at ringside. He and Flair were feuding at the time, as they had a falling out recently. He stalks around the ring, as Sting misses a splash off the top. Flair hits a suplex, but Sting pops right back to his feet and sends Flair into the corner for his trademark bump. Sting does some 10 punches but ends up being shoved away afterward. Sting hits a superplex but gets distracted when he notices Arn. This allows Flair to get the Figure Four, but he gets caught using the ropes and has to let go of it. Arn Anderson then gets into the ring and fights with Flair, so the ref throws out the match. Officials have to separate them as they brawl down the aisle.
This was decent enough, but it felt like your usual Flair/Sting match that was sped up for lack of time. It didn’t help that there was a non-finish. This match existed to give a backdrop for Luger’s arrival and to further the Flair/Arn feud.
Winner: No Contest
The commentators don’t even have time to recover from the last match before Scott Norton storms over to them. He says that he’s signed a WCW contract, but he’s mad that he’s not on the show. He stuffs his contract into Bischoff’s coat pocket and then gets in Mongo’s face. Randy Savage appears and tells Norton that if he wants to make a reputation then he should try him. Savage then tells him they don’t have to wait and rolls into the ring. Bischoff tells Norton that if he gets in that ring then he won’t wrestle for WCW anymore.
Next, we get a vignette for Sabu. WCW had managed to sign him away from ECW. It looks like he’s already debuted, as all of the footage is from WCW. It is mostly shots of him performing moves and the footage is edited with quick cuts and motion blurring. It was a bit disorienting.
They go to another commercial break and then come back to Mean Gene standing in the ring. Gene laments that he didn’t buy the land the mall was built on back in 1953, but he also informs us that he was only 8 at the time. He then announces the winner of the Harley Davidson sweepstakes, which is Mike Hill from Cullman, Alabama. He tells him that a Harley Softail is on its way to him.
Bischoff tells us that he will try to get more info on the Scott Norton situation and then hypes the upcoming WCW Saturday Night. He tells everyone that they will see Johnny B. Badd vs. Dirty Dick Slater and Sting will team with Savage to face The Blue Bloods. They will also give us updates on Fall Brawl. Wow, that sounds like a thrilling show.
Next, we get a pre-taped promo from Michael Wallstreet, who is the former Irwin R. Schyster from the WWF. He mocks the WWF’s new generation and calls it the “few generation”. He says that he came to WCW for power and money. He name drops Hogan, Savage, Sting, and Vader and then adds his name to that list. He then jokes that the IRS will be watching him closely. Nice touch. He finishes by telling everyone that Michael Wallstreet is a real player. The most amusing part is that the promo isn’t centered on the screen properly, so you can see the crowd peeking through on the right.
WCW Title Match: Hulk Hogan (c) vs. Big Bubba Rogers
Bubba makes his way to the ring and Mongo asks where he’s from, despite the ring announcer having just said it. They then cut to a commercial. They come back, but Hogan just now starts his entrance. “I’m getting my full entrance, brother! Bubba can wait during the break!” The commentators talk about how Hogan has declared war on the Dungeon of Doom. They also talk about how these two men have history, but they don’t mention that it was in the WWF. Apparently, Hogan loved working with Bossman, so it’s not surprising that they’re working here. Bischoff then announces that we will be getting Savage vs. Norton next week.
The two men lock-up and Hogan shoves him away, before flexing for a moment. Bubba then grabs a side headlock and exaggeratedly grinds it, while stomping around. Hogan pushes him away, drops down, and then hits a shoulder block, so Bubba stalls for a moment. He then punches Hogan into a corner and splashes him, but Hogan blocks an attempt to slam his head into the turnbuckles. He slams Bubba’s head instead and punches him, but Bubba gets an eye poke when the ref tries to get a clean break. Bubba hits a backbreaker and palms Hogan in the face, but Hogan gets a boot up on a charge. Bubba hilariously stays frozen in mid-fall, so Hogan pushes him over and starts punching him. However, the ref pulls Hogan off him by the hair, much to the confusion of the commentators. Bubba uses the opening to clock Hogan. He drapes Hogan on the ropes and hits the running attack, before baseball sliding out for a punch. Bubba sees Jimmy Hart and gets distracted, so Hogan attacks and sends him back inside. Jimmy distracts the ref, while Hogan uses Jimmy’s jacket to choke Bubba. There’s Hogan acting like a heel again. The two of them fight back and forth until Bubba hits the Bubba Slam, but he only gets a 2 count. Hogan begins to hulk up and hits his big boot and leg drop for a 3 count. Hogan celebrates in the ring, as Bubba leaves. Hulk even mimes for him to kiss his butt and gives him a little dance.
This was a very formulaic Hogan match. Bubba looked alright, but it was very paint by the numbers. I don’t think anyone ever thought Bubba had a chance, so it was uninteresting.
Winner: Hulk Hogan
After the match, the Dungeon of Doom rushes the ring to attack. Hogan fights them off and Luger appears to help. Hogan and Luger come face to face and Hogan looks shocked to see him. I guess he wasn’t watching earlier. They get in each other’s faces, as Sting and Savage arrive to keep the peace. Hogan tells Luger to go back where he came from, as we go to commercial.
When they come back, Mean Gene has joined everyone in the ring. Luger and Hogan are face to face. Luger tells him that he’s there for one reason and that’s the WCW Title. He says that the title makes Hogan the only real world heavyweight champion. Hogan tries to talk, but Luger cuts him off and tells him to let him finish. He says that he’s been down the same roads as Hogan and beaten the same people. He says that he’s tired of playing with kids and wants a shot at Hogan’s title. Hogan tells him that he will be champion forever and a day, which is not inaccurate, especially during the nWo run. He says that he knows where Luger came from, but he’s got thousands of Hulkamaniacs behind him. He then says that if Luger wants a title shot he just has to stick out his stinky hand and shake. What’s Hogan’s obsession with everything being “stinky”? The two men shake hands and then shove each other. Mean Gene announces that Luger will face Hogan next week.
Eric Bischoff talks about next week’s show, as we get a shot of the commentators. Mongo is holding a small dog, named Pepe, that is wearing a little devil costume. He tells the dog that it’s not allowed to be a Dungeon of Doom fan anymore after their attack. I’m starting to think Mongo might not be all there in the head. The show then comes to a close.
This was an excellent way to start off a show. They did a good job of showcasing what made WCW unique and they did an amazing job of setting the stage for the next week. The best way to get people to keep tuning in is to hype what is coming next. They also did a good job of playing on the unpredictability factor, with Luger’s appearance. I remember watching this live when it first aired and I could already tell that it was a much different show from RAW.
In each entry, I will give the rating that both Nitro and RAW received. Obviously, I only covered WCW this week, but in future installments, there will be a comparison. I will also give a scoreboard so that we can keep track of how the two sides are doing. Then, I will give my own thoughts on which show I thought was better for each given week because the ratings don’t always reflect quality.
The first episode of Nitro drew a 2.5 in the ratings, which is around what RAW was making at the time. This means that WCW was already on the same level as the WWF. It was a good sign for them.
Thank you for reading. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more entries. Be sure to check out my PPV review blog at culturecrossfire.com. (Click here). Also, follow me on Twitter @PaulDMatthews78.