For over half a decade, two wrestling promotions waged a ‘war.’ This battle was about television ratings, mainstream media attention, off-the-wall antics, and controversial segments. These two wrestling powers were World Wrestling Entertainment, and the now defunct, World Championship Wrestling. There were some memorable moments from the ‘war’ that made Monday Night known as “wrestling night.” I will also shed some light on a new “challenger,” ready to reignite the “Monday Night Wars.”
In 1994, Eric Bischoff, who was promoted to the position of Executive Vice President of WCW, began a talent raid of the WWE. WCW saw the return of Ric Flair, and the company debut of Hulk Hogan. As the years progressed, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, and others, who were made famous by Vince McMahon, entered into the company. With those veteran wrestlers, the emergence of the high-flying, awe-inspiring, cruiserweight division, and the monetary support of media mogul Ted Turner, Eric Bischoff decided to do his own thing, and commence a show called “WCW Monday Nitro,” to go head-to-head with “WWE Monday Night Raw.” This resulted in wrestling fans referring to Monday Night as ‘wrestling night.’
WCW Monday Nitro debuted on September 4, 1995, from “The Mall of America,” in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It premiered as an hour long show on the Ted Turner run TNT Network. Its time slot purposely clashed with WWE Monday Night Raw. So, American wrestling fans had to flip channels to keep abreast with the action on both shows. Canadian fans, unfortunately, did not have that luxury. Canadians were able to watch Raw live on TSN, but had to wait until midnight eastern time, or a later day in the week to view Nitro. But aside from going head-to-head with Raw, the first Nitro broadcast saw the return of a WCW original.
After working for the WWE for a couple of years in the early nineties, Lex Luger returned to WCW that night. The audience went crazy, and the superstars were very surprised. Nobody in the company, except Eric Bischoff, and Luger’s long-time friend, Sting, knew of the return. With this surprise, fans continued to tune in on a weekly basis to see who would be the next superstar to “jump ship.”
For weeks, Raw and Nitro were sharing ratings victories. Each promotion attempted to outdo the other, and the rivalry intensified. WWE aired segments parodying several WCW figures, including “Nacho Man” (imitation of Randy Savage), “The Huckster”Â (imitation of Hulk Hogan), and “Scheme Gene” (imitation of Gene Okerlund). The series of parodies concluded at Wrestlemania 12, in a “match” between “The Huckster” and “Nacho Man.” But, WCW countered with segments of their own.
They aired footage of wrestlers in WCW during the late 1980′s early 1990′s, like Triple H, The Undertaker, and Steve Austin, losing matches while in the company. Also, there were some weeks in which Raw was pre-taped, and Eric Bischoff had his play-by-play analyst for Nitro disclose the results of the WWE program. This was done to draw viewers away from Raw, and sometimes it worked. But, in 1996, WCW began to really dominate the Monday Night Wars.
Beginning on Memorial Day, 1996, WCW developed a storyline that helped skyrocket Monday Nitro’s popularity. Scott Hall (formerly Razor Ramon in the WWE), interrupted a Nitro broadcast to declare ‘war’ on WCW. A week later, Hall’s best friend, Kevin Nash (formerly known as Diesel in the WWE) debuted. Hall and Nash were dubbed “The Outsiders” and ran ‘roughshod’ over WCW. They regularly attacked unsuspecting wrestlers from behind and ‘injured’ the opposition. Within a couple of weeks, they announced an upcoming appearance of a surprise third member. This individual would help change the balance of power towards Monday Nitro in the ratings war.
At WCW’s Bash at the Beach, in July, 1996, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash battled Sting, Randy Savage and Lex Luger. The Outsiders stated that their partner was in the building, but was not needed yet. Luger was taken away on a stretcher during the match, because he was crushed by Kevin Nash. This incident teased the possibility of Luger being the mystery man. The match was now a tag-team battle.
The Outsiders had controlled the battle, until Hulk Hogan arrived. Fans erupted as they thought he was out to help Savage and Sting. After staring down Hall and Nash, “The Hulkster” attacked “The Macho Man”, revealing himself to be the mystery man. This angered the audience, and during a post-match interview, the crowd littered the ring with paper cups, plastic bottles and other objects. Hogan ended the interview by labeling the new faction “the new world order of professional wrestling,” which began the intense, hostile, volatile and bloody storyline rivalry between WCW loyalists and the New World Order (NWO). This storyline became the reason that World Championship Wrestling held a stranglehold on the ratings for a little over a year and a half.
Vince McMahon and the WWE had to find a way to counter the opposition. They did so, with some very controversial and mind blowing segments. One of the most memorable nights on Raw, in my mind, occurred on February 17, 1997. It was their third show of the new two hour format. Knowing that Nitro was gaining a lot of momentum, McMahon had to do something drastic. On that episode, Jerry Lawler challenged members of the original ECW to show up. Lawler felt ECW wasn’t really about wrestling, but more about blood, weapons, and heavy swearing. ECW answered the challenge. From that company, came Taz, Sabu, Tommy Dreamer, and The Sandman. Fans were raucous that night in New York City’s Manhattan Center. One of the highlights featured Sabu diving off the “RAW” sign, near the entrance way, onto one of the WWE competitors, much to the audience’s amazement.
But, the WWE really took command of the ratings when they made “Stone Cold” Steve Austin the WWE Champion in 1998. They did a storyline immediately after, which captured the interest of its audience. The night after Wrestlemania 14, Austin became embroiled in a rivalry with “Mr. McMahon” (Vince’s bad guy, alter ego character.)
On April 13, 1998, Raw defeated Nitro in the ratings for the first time in almost two years. That episode was headlined by McMahon vs. Austin. Sadly, the match never happened because “Dude Love,” (one of Mick Foley’s three personas,) attacked “Stone Cold.” It was also a time where several major characters emerged on Raw. One of the really popular ones was “The Rock.” He was great on a microphone. He was charismatic, had a great look to him, and a good wrestler. He became popular for three reasons: He would always arch his eyebrow upwards – it would be dubbed “The People’s eyebrow.” During his matches, he would drop an elbow on his fallen opponent – that would be called “The People’s elbow.” Lastly, during his interviews, he would spew out all these catchphrases like, “You smell what The Rock is cookin’,” which the audience just loved.
WCW had to do something in hopes of countering the Austin/McMahon rivalry. Enter Bill Goldberg. This monster was a former NFL player. He amassed a record 174 straight victories. He was a very popular wrestler because of his size and undefeated streak. On July 6, 1998, Monday Nitro aired from Goldberg’s hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. That night, Goldberg defeated Hulk Hogan to win the WCW championship, much to the crowd’s delight. But, despite Goldberg’s rising popularity, WCW, as a promotion, was on a downward spiral.
They needed something new. On April 10, 2000, the company developed a storyline which pitted the experienced wrestlers, dubbed “The Billionaire’s Club” (Hogan, Nash, Flair, and others) against “The New Blood” (Billy Kidman, Buff Bagwell, Booker T, and others.) The veterans felt that the younger stars were inexperienced, and lacked the charisma to become popular with the audience. The storyline sparked interest in the beginning, but it didn’t influence ratings.
As the year wore on, WCW arenas were not selling out, the company was losing money, storylines were nonsensical, and wrestlers were leaving. So, on March 23, 2001, Vince McMahon purchased WCW, and everything associated with it.
With WCW out of business, the WWE was the lone wrestling organization – and had no competition. As a result, I feel their product has become somewhat predictable. Triple H was almost always in the Championship main event picture. John Cena and Randy Orton feuded for a long time over the Championship, and while the matches were competitive, their moves didnâ€™t change during the rivalry – so, in other words, the matches were predictable. The only time the company really attempts to do something different and unique, is between the time of the Royal Rumble in January, and Wrestlemania (traditionally known to WWE fans as “Wrestlemania Season”.) But, hopefully this year, that may change.
Total Non-Stop Action (TNA) wrestling is a promotion founded by former WWE wrestler, Jeff Jarrett. They stage most of their shows at Universal Studios, in Orlando, Florida. Some of their stars include: A.J. Styles, Christopher Daniels, Samoa Joe, Abyss, just to name a few. In the last few months of 2009, they acquired a wrestling legend – Hulk Hogan. With his star power and support, TNA took a major step in their seven-and-a-half year history. On January 4, 2010, for one night only, they moved their Thursday Night Impact telecast to Monday Night. That night, the company debuted Hogan, along with former WWE stars like Ric Flair, The Nasty Boys, Scott Hall, among others.
Raw featured the return of Bret Hart. Bret “made peace” with Shawn Michaels, for the first time since the infamous “Montreal Screwjob” in 1997. Unfortunately, Bret’s peace offering to Vince to move on from that incident, resulted in the WWE owner kicking Hart in the gut. That night, Raw still defeated TNA in the ratings, but Impact saw an increase in their own ratings. Spike TV, which carries TNA Impact, was happy with the numbers, so they gave TNA their blessing to move to Monday Nights permanently.
Starting on March 8, 2010, the Monday Night Wars return, -WWE vs. TNA. For the first time in nine years, Raw will again get some wrestling competition. Both companies will try to outdo the other. Hogan has repeatedly mentioned that he will take TNA to the top, and make them the number one wrestling promotion in the world. He will try, but I think that TNA now, is like what WCW was, as it was going under. There are a lot of veterans in TNA, most of whom, are friends of Hogan’s. I truly believe that regardless of what TNA does, Vince will make sure Raw is better.
Monday night, March 8, 2010, should be an interesting night. Fans, sit back and prepare yourself for another feud between two companies fighting to attract more viewers, and better matches to entertain its viewers. Let’s see who will emerge the overall better company!