Earlier this week we listed the 10 most influential figures in the history of WCW Monday Nitro. However, whilst those huge names shaped the headlines, there were so many people in and out of the ring that were almost as integral to the Nitro brand over the years without grabbing the attention of that they deserved.
This column shines the spotlight on a few names that for one reason or another, didn’t quite get the credit they deserved during the Nitro years.
It is hard to believe that Lance Storm was part of WCW for less than a year. Joining in June 2000, he was with the company until the very last Nitro in the following March. In fact he was also the first WCW star to strike a blow during the InVasion angle when he jumped the ring to attack Perry Saturn.
Back to Nitro, though, and Storm was immediately positioned as a strong upper-midcarder and superb wrestler in the mould of a number of Canadians before him. He quickly became the first (and only) wrestler in WCW history to hold three titles simultaneously. That he then renamed the US, Hardcore and Cruiserweight titles with Canadian-themed names only added to his heel heat.
Overall, he was a rare beacon of light in the later years of WCW. Even in and amongst silly angles he could still be relied upon to bring the goods in the ring with the likes of Booker T, Hugh Morrus and Mike Awesome.
We have lost count of the number of times we have heard the late Chris Kanyon prasied by his peers for his crisp, smart, innovative in-ring work. Who better than Kanyon? Not many, it seems.
Getting his start in the company under a mask as Mortis, he was by far the most competent worker in the ‘Blood Runs Cold’ storyline. He then went under his real name for the rest of his in-ring stay, fulfilling all manner of gimmicks and roles with the one constant being the quality of his work.
He spent time in Raven’s Flock, formed the New Jersey Triad with Diamond Dallas Page and Bam Bam Bigelow, took a huge bump from the infamous triple cage and even acted as the wrestling co-ordinator on WCW’s ‘Ready 2 Rumble’ movie starring David Arquette. Kanyon did it all.
Every company needs a Kanyon and he never, ever got the credit he deserved during his life. RIP.
‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage
An odd choice for an unsung hero list, I’m sure you’ll agree.
No question, Savage got his fair share of the spotlight in WCW, featuring in dozens of main events and enjoying his fair share of title reigns. So why unsung?
Savage always felt like the spare man in the main event. The man to move aside when the main stars needed to be spotlighted. The man who you could drop down to a middle-of-the-hour match against Big Bubba Rogers and he was all that. But he was also the man who glued together that main event scene.
When many of the top stars lacked in in-ring talent, he brought the goods in those marquee matches. When a feud required that little extra intensity or personality, Savage had it to give.
And when a new star needed bringing up to the main event level (rare in WCW I know, but Diamond Dallas Page is the obvious name), Savage was tasked with getting them over.
Overall, his presence was utterly vital at the top of the Nitro card but when it came time to hand out share of the spotlight, Savage invariably came out with the scrapings at the bottom of the bowl.
What about Raven? Well, quite a lot actually. Whilst the New World Order was doing its thing, for better or worse by that point, Raven was one of the key figures in the midcard from 1997-1999.
Raven and his flock really, laid the foundations for Nitro at that time on a weekly basis. He, his group and their rivals provided great matches, constantly churning angles and a platform for rising stars to gain credibility.
Just in the Flock alone, association and then feuds with Raven birthed key figures such as Perry Saturn and Billy Kidman who went on to success in WCW and beyond. Matches with Raven were also crucial milestones in the growth of Diamond Dallas Page and Goldberg on their rises to the main event.
More than that, he added a special flavour to the midcard scene, offering a totally different style that drew in viewers’ attention. Whilst never reaching the main event scene or garnering the critical acclaim of the ECW version of the gimmick, Raven played a crucial role in keeping people watching Nitro whilst the NWO began to eat itself as we marched towards the new millennium.
Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan
The greatest announcer of all time is unsung? Well, for his WCW work, most certainly. Constantly praised, and rightly so, for his WWF work, Heenan’s WCW resume is often overlooked or downplayed because of the perception that he phoned it in towards the end.
In truth, The Brain’s presence alone lent Nitro massive credibility in those early years when they desperately needed it. His work behind the microphone added bundles to the presentation values of the programme and just as in his Stamford role, he helped get the talent in the ring more over than any other commentator he worked with in WCW, with the possible exception of Tony Schiavone.
Bobby Heenan was a crucial figure in Nitro history and it is high time that was more widely recognised.
Konnan. K-Dawg. The almost Max Moon and a mainstay of WCW Monday Nitro for almost its entire existence.
There are a few layers to why we have included Konnan on this list. One being that it is easy for US and UK based fans to underestimate just how big a star Konnan was in Mexico back then. He has often been called the Mexican Hulk Hogan and it’s true – his star power was enormous and it would no doubt have brought in huge interest from the Hispanic audience.
Secondly, he was a vastly underrated part of the NWO and the Wolfpac. Whilst the NWO positioned themselves as a cool, youthful street gang, many of the members were nothing of the sort. Konnan pulled it off. Big time. His colleagues may have played cool, some even pulled it off. Konnan WAS cool. His street thug persona really resonated at a time when image mattered more than anything.
Away from the screen, Konnan was instrumental in bringing in many of the Mexican Luchadors that brought such variety and sense of wonder to the midcard of Nitro. Without Konnan as a trusted and well connected go-between, that influx may never have happened at all. Speaking of which…
When talking about the Luchadors that lit up WCW Monday Nitro, talk inevitably turns to the likes of Rey Mysterio Jr., Juventud Guerrera and Psicosis. And rightly so. One man who’s skill level was overlooked was ‘The Chairman of WCW’, La Parka.
Often pigeon-holed as a comedy character due to his outlandish costume, brash personality and penchant for (ch)air-guitar, it is easy to overlook La Parka’s importance in the ring. Every great dancer needs a great dance partner and LP was among the very best.
His slightly bigger stature and upper body strength afforded his smaller colleagues a base from which they could execute their daring, unique offense with completely confidence they would be supported. He also offered a huge injection of personality in a division that really, really needed it. We will always be on Team La Parka.
No, we are not just including him because we interviewed him this week! Onoo was a wonderful 90s style heel manager. Sure, his schtick seems somewhat (OK, very) dated and stereotypical by today’s standards but it worked a treat back then added significant colour to a number of Japanese stars who would otherwise be relying on their in-ring skills alone to get over. Not something that was easy to do on Nitro!
Similar to Konnan, Sonny Onoo was also a key part of the relationships WCW forged with New Japan Pro Wrestling around that time that proved fruitful commercially as well as in terms of bringing in their talent in a smooth and mutually beneficial way. As Eric Bischoff’s right-hand man in Far Eastern markets, Onoo did a huge amount for the brand.
Let’s just be clear, whilst he was their ‘boss’ on-screen, we do NOT hold Kevin Sullivan responsible for either The Yeti or Zodiac. Not much, anyway…
Sullivan’s influence on Nitro was two fold. In the early years, he was a hugely effective foil for pre-Hollywood Hulk Hogan. The Hogan character has always worked best when facing a revolving cast of henchman in the charge of a particular manager or individual and Sullivan was that guy for Hogan in 1995-96. It worked too. It kept Hogan’s character in the spotlight and smoothed the transition when it was needed.
Beyond his in-ring work, Sullivan was a massively-needed steady hand on the creative tiller. As all manner of wrestlers, magazine writers and executives tried their hand in creative to various degrees of awful after the NWO began to fade, Sullivan was a calming presence that tempered the worst excesses of his colleagues whenever he was given the power.
Was his creative direction perfect? FAR from it. But we can’t bear to imagine what the last four years of Nitro would have looked like without his presence and ability to fix the mess that the various flavours-of-the-month created.
Three Count & The Jung Dragons
Shane Helms, Shannon Moore, Evan Karagias, Jimmy Yang, Kaz Hayashi, Jamie Knoble. Whether as two teams of three or three teams of two, these six individuals shone in the last year or so of WCW to a degree that at times kept Nitro’s in-ring output afloat by themselves.
By any measure, Nitro was way past its peak in terms of wrestling action by the time these six came along but you could be sure if they were put together in any combination (as they were, 99% of the time), on a given episode of Nitro, the results would be electric.
Six young guys, all with incredible levels of skill and the desire to steal the show from the main event colleagues? These guys were the SmackDown Six before fans had even contemplated coining that phrase.