WCW Monday Nitro
Mall of America
Monday September 4th, 1995
This will be the first review in my series of rewatching the WCW Monday Nitro program in 1995. This will actually be all new to me, as I was not a Nitro viewer until June of 1996, after word spread that beloved good guy Hulk Hogan had turned into a bad guy. At that time, he had joined up with the recently named Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, The Outsiders, known to WWF fans as Razor Ramon and Diesel. Two of the WWF top stars, joining forces with THE top star, as bad guys, to tear apart WCW was intriguing programming at the time. With the influx of international and cruiserweight talent, WCW was making it clear that they were different than the WWF programming. Raw and Superstars, at the time, were full of cartoony characters, and WCW was trying, as Eric Bischoff put it, “reality based programming.” WCW was hot and would soon start a roll that saw 80 + weeks in which they would win the coveted Monday ratings battle.
But every story has to have a chapter one, and September 4, 1995 was the beginning of the “Monday Night War,” which would give wrestling fans quality wrestling, daring angles, wrestlers leaving and debuting on the other channel, PPV level main events, and ultimately, one winner and one loser. Wrestling fans all thought Eric Bischoff was crazy for going head to head against the WWF. Predictions that either WCW would fail miserably, or would split the audience in two were read in newsletters, and heard in conversations with “smart” fans all across the country. But Eric had a plan. Put the names fans knew on TV, and back that up with some of the best international talent he could find. The investment in worldwide, ECW and independent talent, would give WCW something the WWF could never do successfully themselves: the Cruiserweight division. As Nitro began, Bischoff had just made his first major raid of ECW, acquiring Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, and Dean Malenko. They would be seen on his programming soon enough, along with many other faces, both familiar at the time, and some who would make enormous impacts in the future.
So now I will put on the WWE Network (just 9.95 a month, folks!) and jump into the time machine back to 1995. Hulk Hogan had been in WCW more than a year, and despite less than warm receptions he had made a positive impact on both WCW PPV buy rates, and on WCW’s image among the casual fans. He was WCW World Heavyweight Champion, but more importantly, he was opening a restaurant, a fact we wouldn’t be allowed to forget during the first hour of Nitro ever. Let’s hit the play button, and see what they’ve got.
First off, it was great to hear the old Nitro opening music. Every Monday at 8pm, from 1996 to the start of 1999, that music signified great matches, surprises, cool and crazy NWO promos, and more. Back at this time, clips of Sting, Vader, and Randy Savage were noticeable in the intro video. I’m not sure if Vader ever made an appearance on the program, and if he did, he was gone very shortly thereafter thanks to a backstage fight with WCW Road Agent Paul Orndorff.
We are introduced to our broadcast team: Eric Bischoff and a newcomer to WCW, former NFL player Steve McMichael. He previously appeared on WWF Television, including WrestleMania XI to help promote the Lawrence Taylor vs. Bam Bam Bigelow match. McMichael had an, erm, interesting broadcasting style. His first comments involve Nitro being “apropos, and that doesn’t mean digging around in the dirt with farm implements, baby!” Yes, you are as perplexed as I am; same with Bischoff, who nervously chuckled. Bobby “The Brain” Heenan shows up, and the broadcast team immediately looks better to me. Heenan, of course, sells being a coward in the presence of McMichael, and we head to the ring for our first match.
“Flyin” Brian Pillman vs. Jushin “Thunder” Liger
These two grapplers had a great series of matches back in 1992. I believe Bischoff chose this match as the first Nitro match ever to showcase their athleticism and to set WCW apart as a real alternative to the WWF. As the match begins, Eric historically utters the “Where the Big Boys Play” line for the first time. Pillman’s theme song at this time is just atrocious, and he looks like he was a little heavier here than at other times in his career. The match starts out fast, with the first big spot being a Liger rolling kick in the corner. Liger then slowly gets up to the top rope and tries for a moonsault that is dangerously short, as well as it made Pillman look kind of stupid for just standing there waiting to catch him. The crowd seems to be on Pillman’s side, as he hits a headscissors and throws a few chops to a good reaction, while Liger’s offense so far has been greeted by mostly silence. Flyin Brian goes for a huricanrana that comes off as incredibly awkward. I am starting to think either these guys didn’t set the match up too well, or there was a lack of communication, but something is off, and so far they both look tremendously sloppy. In the meantime, McMichael continues to sound like an idiot on commentary, with such witticisms as “Bobby the Stain,” and “Bobby Hernia.”
A Liger surfboard does get a pop, and it leads to a sequence on the outside of the ring where Pillman hits a tope and McMichael awkwardly exclaims “Give it to him the way he wants it!” Back into the ring, a Liger superplex should give him the momentum, but the next top rope move he attempts it stopped by a Pillman dropkick. But Liger comes right back with a stiff powerbomb and a hurricanrana from the top rope. Again, the crowd is mute when Liger is briefly in control, but Pillman basically no sells again and hits a tornado DDT. Pillman wins with a rollup out of nowhere, and the two combatants show mutual respect with a handshake and a hug.
Result: Brian Pillman wins by pinfall. It was an awkward match that was a big letdown, due to their amazing matches in the past.
A generic Sting promo comes up as Sting credits Flair for his past accolades, but promises to put the Scorpion Deathlock on him. Sting, who is the United States Champion, does not have the belt for this segment.
PASTAMANIA is shilled, as Eric interviews the Hulkster among his screaming fans and Jimmy Hart. Hogan promises that due to his massive ingestion of Hulk-A-Roos he will defeat Big Bubba in the main event tonight!
United States Championship Match
Sting © vs. “Nature Boy” Ric Flair
As Eric Bischoff puts it, this is “a main event anywhere in the world.” The history between these two goes back to 1988, as Sting and Flair wrestled to a famous time limit draw at the first Clash of the Champions. Sting also defeated Flair for his first World Championship in 1990, only to lose it back at the beginning of 1991. No matter what, for the story of WCW to be told, the rivalry of Sting and Ric Flair will always be one of the main topics.
And now, the first ever big time SWERVE occurs, as after Flair and Sting are in the ring, LEX LUGER shows up in the aisle way. Bischoff yells several times, “Get the camera off of him! Get him outta here!” Luger had worked for the WWF the previous night at a house show. In Bischoff’s autobiography, he claims he had no interest in bringing Luger aboard, but Sting convinced him to do so, and Eric saw his opportunity to create a buzz. Flair and Sting do a good job looking confused and surprised at Lex’s appearance, and security escorts him away.
As the match begins, it turns into a usual Flair/Sting sequence that ends in a press slam. The commentary focuses on Flair’s “frustration” lately, which Heenan blames on Hulk Hogan. They continue the usual, which ends in Flair begging off, and hit with press slam number three. The match winds up on the outside, where Flair is…you guessed it, press slammed onto the floor. It’s getting kind of silly now, especially because any knowledgeable fan knows that while Flair has his signature spots, these two can clearly do more than they are. A commercial break ends the repetition. As we come back from commercial, Flair hits a back elbow in the corner, and ascends the top rope…to be press slammed off. Another sequence immediately after ends with Ric taking another press slam. I’ve lost all objectivity at this point. This match sucks! As Arn Anderson walks down to ringside, Sting misses a cross body. Flair hits a big suplex, and Sting no sells and sends Ric into the corner for a Flair flip, which leads into a clothesline on the apron.
Back in the ring, Sting bridges out of a Flair pin attempt, in the sole decent spot of the match. They wind up in the corner again, where Flair gets superplexed. Flair recovers (no sells) and chop blocks the Stinger, and applies the figure four. When he uses the ropes for assistance, the referee attempts to break it up, and Arn enters the ring to draw the DQ. Flair confronts Arn, and it leads to a brawl to the back, promoting their upcoming match at Fall Brawl ’95.
Result: Sting wins and retain his United States Championship, by disqualification due to Anderson entering the ring. Out of all their matches through the years, this one must be the worst. They went to the press slam well a half dozen times or more, and it just never clicked. It felt very unnatural, just as the opener did. If I had been a fan back in 1995, I wouldn’t be very impressed so far.
Post-match, Scott Norton shows up, and begins to yell at the commentary team, first Heenan, and then at Bischoff. I guess the idea was he wanted an opportunity to be on Nitro, and wasn’t given one, but he is difficult to understand. “Macho Man” Randy Savage comes out to save the day, and there is a pull apart between he and Norton. Savage challenges Norton to do the thing, “RIGHT NOW!” Bischoff hollers about how there is no contract signed, and we head to commercial.
The commercial is…a SABU vignette? Man that’s weird to see. At the time, Sabu was blackballed from ECW for pulling a no show at an important show earlier in the year to go work for New Japan. He was coming in to WCW to create a buzz for the new Nitro show, and as far as I know, aside from a few matches, it didn’t really work out and Sabu was back in ECW in November.
When we return from commercial, “Mean” Gene Okerlund is shilling some WCW contest to win a Harley Davidson motorcycle. They preview WCW Saturday Night matches, the main event of which would be Savage & Sting vs The Bluebloods. As they come back to the Mall, I notice Wildcat Willie in the aisle, trying to rev up the fans.
Following this, we get another promo showcasing a debuting/returning talent: it’s the returning Mike Rotundo/Mike Rotunda/Michael Wallstreet/Irwin R. Schyster. They call him Mr. Wallstreet here, and throughout the next couple of years, it would go from Mr. Wallstreet to M. Wallstreet to V.K. Wallstreet. Quite the example of WCW ineptitude, when you can’t just figure out a man’s name and stick to it! Wallstreet proceeds to bury the “New Generation” concept of the WWF, and slip in an IRS joke.
WCW World Heavyweight Championship Match
Hulk Hogan © w/ Jimmy Hart vs. Big Bubba Rogers
After going through several gimmick changes, and with more to come, the former Big Boss Man has reverted back to his original NWA name and gimmick of Big Bubba Rogers. This means he is basically just a big tough bastard who wears suspenders and a shirt that never stays buttoned. As the match begin the commentators talk about Hogan’s feud with the Dungeon of Doom, and I can’t help but reflect how far apart WCW September 1995 and WCW June 1996 are.
It is announced that Randy Savage and Scott Norton will wrestle next week, with Heenan doing his best to promote it, and doing a damn fine job. Bobby then gets in a quip about the “three day summer” Minneapolis gets. The match begins slowly, but Hogan dominates, and seems to have the support of the crowd. There are “Hogan” chants as Bischoff mentions Hulk’s Minnesota past, a reference to the early 80s when Hulkamania was running wild in Verne Gagne’s AWA. Bubba makes a little comeback with some good punches, and a splash in the corner. McMichael refers to Hogan’s “technical” ability, which is not an accurate assessment by any stretch of the imagination of Hulk Hogan in 1994. Rogers continues his momentum with a backbreaker that puts Hogan down and hurting. As Hogan makes a comeback digging into Bubba’s eyes, the referee pulls him off by his hair, and Hogan audibly sells it as hurting! Just another strange decision in a night full of them, as the WCW World Heavyweight Champion says “OW!” when the referee pulls his hair.
There are two visible “Hogan sucks!” and “Hogan is a wimp” signs in the audience, so apparently he is not as beloved in Minnesota as it seems. Bubba hits his trademark over the second rope splash, and goes to the outside to menace little Jimmy Hart. How anyone ever thought Jimmy could be an effective face manager is beyond me. Hogan makes the save, chokes Bubba with Hart’s jacket, and begins his comeback. A corner clothesline, some punches, a body slam, and a series of Hogan elbow drops seem to have the tempo of the match in the champ’s favor. However Bubba makes a comeback with a body slam of his own, and after reversing Hogan into the ropes, he hits a Bubba Slam/Bossman Slam/Sidewalk Slam/Traylor Trash. Heeeeeeere comes the Hulk Up! 1, 2, and the Immortal one now feels no pain! Big boot, Leg Drop of Doom, and Hogan wins with a super nonchalant cover, and no hook of the leg.
Result: Hulk Hogan wins by pinfall to retain the WCW World Heavyweight Championship.
The Dungeon of Doom comes out to attack Hogan, including, from what I see, Brutus Beefcake (who does a really hideous job selling Hulk’s punches,) Kamala, and Kevin Sullivan. LEX LUGER reappears, and helps Hogan fight them off, and the two men wind up back to back, then in each others faces. Sting and Savage come out to break the two up. It’s stunning how young Lex looks compared to the Hulkster. You wonder, if with the right push, if Lex really could have been that next generation Hogan that Pro Wrestling Illustrated predicted back in 1987.
A nice “Luger” chant begins, as Lex proclaims his intentions in WCW. First, he wants a shot at Hogan’s championship, which he calls the only “Real World Heavyweight Championship” in wrestling. Hogan tries to cut him off, but Lex has some obvious bullet points to get to, as he cracks about no longer wanting to “play around with kids,” and how he is in WCW to “get it on with the big boys!” Hogan promises to give Luger a shot, if he would just extend his “STINKY PALM, BROTHER!” The two men shake hands, but then a shoving match begins, with some really weak shoves from Lex. As we are about to go off the air, Bischoff promises a main event next week of Hogan vs. Luger for the WCW Championship. I can only imagine how huge this was at the time, because this was a real dream match that had been salivated over since 1987 and which had never taken place.
If I were a fan in 1995, I would’ve checked this out, and though I would’ve liked seeing something a little different, especially some PPV quality matchups on regular TV, the fact is, it was just a sloppy, awkward show overall. That includes the matches, Pastamania, Luger and Hogan tripping over each others words, McMichael’s strange commentary, and more. Would I have given the show another chance? Definitely. The 13 year old in me would be clamoring for that Lex vs. Hogan match, and would’ve been cheering Luger, as I had had my fill of Hulk the year before, when he cockblocked Bret Hart and stole the WWF title for himself at WrestleMania 9.
It appears that week two will have Hogan/Luger, Savage/Norton, and maybe a Sabu appearance? Looking forward to it, and looking forward in general to see WCW and Bischoff get their groove, and put together tighter shows in the future. Bring on the rest of 1995!