I’ve been trying to decide what I should write my next article about, just a little bit ago the decision was made, thanks to a reminder from one Alex Barie. Eighteen years ago the landscape of pro wrestling changed completely, WWF had become the top dog and their Monday Night Raw program was really the only show of its kind in the business. September 4th of 1995 there was a change, the company that was essentially the red headed stepchild in the wrestling world debuted their own live program on Monday Nights, WCW Monday Nitro. That first night, from the Mall of America, boasted the first “shocking” moment in the Monday Night War, something that would become pretty regular for WCW over the years. While watching the first show, which kicked off with a matchup between Brian Pillman and Jushin Liger, we saw the re-debut of Lex Luger in World Championship Wrestling after having just worked a match with WWF the prior night. The first episode out the gate really set a standard for the “anything can happen” atmosphere that Nitro brought to the table.
WCW lured away Hulk Hogan in 1994, but having their limited television options at that time, they remained the “minor leagues” in the eyes of many in the WWF. They had interesting feuds, and I actually really enjoyed their product, although I would admit that it was still way behind what McMahon was doing at the time. The company plugged along and continued to grow, but without that Monday Night presence, it was pretty much just like ROH today, good product but not much flash and pizazz. The first episode of Nitro was a flat out game changer, concluding with a matchup between the two biggest names in the early days of WCW and possibly their greatest feud of all time, Sting versus Ric Flair. Anyone who tuned it knew something special was happening, and those of us watching both shows now had something to switch back and forth between the commercials without having to miss any wrestling excitement. Looking back on it first off, I feel old as all hell knowing it was 18 years ago; secondly, I miss it and wish that WCW had endured. TNA just doesn’t seem to have what it takes to make it to that level, hopeful as I may be that it could somehow happen, they tried the Monday Night War deal and it just didn’t work out. Having that competition made wrestling reach a height it had never been before, hopefully someday we’ll get to see it reach that level again, but it could be quite a while.
We all know the biggest moment in Nitro history, while there were a lot of the “wait, what?” moments in the company there was nothing bigger than the first night of the nWo with Scott Hall’s now infamous “You all know who I am, but you don’t know why I’m here” promo. Bringing in Hall and Nash was a monumental moment in not only WCW but also pro wrestling history. While the claim is that Nash was the worst WWF champion of all time, he was a big enough deal that his arrival with Hall in WCW made a massive impact and once again helped change the landscape of pro wrestling for years to come. Having now head some of the stories behind this gimmick, you guessed it, listening to The Steve Austin Show I’ve developed an even deeper respect for the gimmick and the men inside said group. Apparently, Kevin Sullivan was doing the booking and as Kevin Nash said to Austin, Sullivan knew how to book heat, not the “heat” we hear about now but REAL heat, blurring the lines between reality and fantasy, and making people HATE the worker. Another pivotal moment in this phase was the debut of the aluminum bats, when Nash first mentioned the bat idea he said Sullivan was saying “No, no, no” while shaking his head yes the entire time. Sure enough, the show goes off the air that night with the police ready to draw their guns on these “thugs” brandishing weapons in the middle of the ring.
I could go on forever about the nWo, and I probably will in another article sometime down the road, but this one is more about Nitro and not merely the nWo, although the two are pretty damn tightly entwined. As I’ve already pointed out, WCW had no problems pushing things to the “did that really happen” level, and they did it incredibly well. One of the big moments everyone remembers, and likely the catalyst for the Montreal Screw job (combined with the whole Flair/Herd deal in the early 90’s), would be the night Alundra Blaze showed up on Nitro. Now going by the name Medusa Micelli she brought over the WWF Women’s Championship and tossed the belt into the trash on live television, a slap to the face of the WWF and anyone in the company carrying a title at the time. Another major moment would be the one and only time (until that final episode simulcast deal) that a star appeared on both Nitro and Raw in the same night. Rick Rude had been going around as the “bodyguard” in DX for a bit when he suddenly signed up with WCW and joined the nWo debuting on a live Nitro while a previously recorded Raw aired the same night on the USA network. These surprise tactics kept fans on their toes because we finally had a company that gave you the impression that anything could happen and it kept you guessing from week to week. This is what got WCW to the top of the world for 84 consecutive weeks; a wrestling organization had done the improbable and drawn more fans than WWF, when thinking of what WCW was working with as a company (not talent, but business side) this is an absolute amazing feat.
Nitro was an amazing show that made a massive impact in the world of pro wrestling; if you’re a diehard fan, it’s really hard not to miss the show. Listening to the Nash and Austin third interview the other day, Nash mentioned a moment when it became clear that WCW was going to hit a wall at some point. Apparently the nWo guys (Hogan, Hall, Nash, Savage) were on a plane with Bischoff and Eric made the comment “I’m going to put him out of business,” which prompted Hogan to just sort of laugh and say “You don’t know that man, you’re not going to put him out of business.” That little greedy being that resides in all of us showed up, he got up top and just competing wasn’t enough, but there’s no way you’re going to take down McMahon. Eighteen years ago, today the business changed, one of the most poignant moments in the business, and I can’t stop watching the old videos on YouTube. I never really watched the later dates of Nitro, it just slowly started to go downhill and Russo really didn’t help things much. It’s a shame that things didn’t play out better for WCW and we don’t have the choice between that or Raw every Monday, but they just grew too much, too fast. Eighteen years, and I STILL see so many moments in my head, from the first night, to Benoit and Hart as a memorial to Owen, DDP finally getting the strap, Goldberg’s debut, the Ultimate Warrior catastrophe, the cruiserweights, and yes even Steve McMichael in all his bland, boring glory. Happy birthday, in remembrance, WCW Monday Nitro, you are sorely missed.