It has been a lot of fun going back through the ridiculous and the sublime that was WCW Monday Nitro over the course of this special Nitro Week on Hooked On Wrestling.
And today is the exact date it all began. On September 4, 1995, the first of over 280 editions of Nitro aired live from the Mall of America in Minnesota.
Of course, 25 years on, there are a lot of wrestling fans who weren’t even born when the Monday Night Wars raged on between WWE and WCW. Some were too young to grasp just how crazy those years were to be a wrestling fan, or simply didn’t have the access to much WCW programming.
We’ve asked our team to recommend one episode each to form a ‘Cliffs Notes’ guide to navigating the very best, the very worst and the very essence of Nitro’s run from 1995 to 2001, now that we can all go back in time courtesy of the WWE Network.
Even those of us who haven’t watched a ton of WCW had some suggestions, which was really cool. So without further ado, here is your guide to getting the most out of what Monday Nitro meant for professional wrestling in just a selected bunch of episodes, complete with Network links.
Dean Ayass: It’s far from obscure, but the very first episode is ideal. Familiar match ups, all feature matches, no squashes, a totally new location and a huge surprise appearance at the end. Talk about shots being fired. This episode of Nitro changed the face of American TV wrestling forever. Literally – it was never the same again. The old formula was out and the new formula – the Nitro formula – was in.
Lewis Brown: The ‘Nitro Watchalong’ episodes of Because WCW have opened my eyes to how interesting the early episodes were. Hulk Hogan really was having a bit of a midlife crisis before he joined the nWo, wasn’t he!? But when he experimented with all black and acting like an anti-hero (badly), it did give us Hulk vs Sting on free TV on November 20, 1995.
Wearing clothes that eerily resembled what would later become the Hollywood Hogan ensemble, Hulk played the sort-of-heel similar to how John Cena did at One Night Stand 2006. Of course, there wasn’t a proper finish but it’s really interesting stuff that a lot of people have forgotten all about.
Marc Hemingway: Everyone is aware of how cool the nWo were, whether they were around for the Monday Night Wars or not. And one of the historic moments came on July 29 1996 when they invaded Nitro and infamously laid waste to everybody. Yep, the Kevin Nash lawn-darting Rey Mysterio episode! As Justin C mentioned in his retro reviews, there was a lot of downtime and the live crowd were left clueless to much of it, but I gotta admit it is still must-see stuff.
Jake Keenan: November 18th, 1996 was the night that the New World Order’s hostile takeover of WCW was essentially completed. Roddy Piper had arrived at Halloween Havoc to confront Hollywood Hogan, but confirmation of a Piper-Hogan clash was stalling. Eric Bischoff began an in-ring apology for the delays, only to be confronted by a very displeased Piper.
Roddy proceeded to grill Bischoff on a number of little details such as how Piper’s house looks, since Eric was claiming to have visited there to get the match signed. As The Rowdy One caught Bischoff out over and over again, the Order rushed the ring to attack… before Hogan embraced Bischoff! The then-World champion then confirmed on-air that Bischoff signed the cheques around here, and that he had joined the nWo.
It’s such a pivotal moment during a great year at the end of what was a very good episode of the show.
Ash Rose: I love the 1990s, as you may have heard through the grapevine! And one of the all-time great 90s WCW moments for me was on the July 7 1997 Nitro when the Macho Man looked set to make short work of La Parka in a routine Nitro squash. Suddenly, Parka countered the flying elbow off the top. Rather well, in fact. He then followed up with… a Diamond Cutter.
The live crowd realised what was happening and so did we at home. The pop was HUGE. And it was even bigger when he unmasked as Diamond Dallas Page before pinning his rival for the 1-2-3. What a moment!
Justin Czerwonka: The August 4 1997 episode of Nitro. This is the 100th episode of the show. The reaction when Lex Luger wins the WCW championship is insane. Long term it didn’t mean much, but it was one of those moments that showed anything can happen on Monday night. That kind of defines the Monday Night War era and WCW. It was always about the anything can happen factor and this shows it.
James Dee: On March 30, 1998, Chris Jericho’s hilarious heel character while cruiserweight champion continued with maybe his best funny skit from that time. Jericho held up the show by proclaiming himself the ‘Master Of 1004 Holds’ because rival Dean Malenko was known as the ‘Master of 1000 Holds’. He then produced an actual long list of these 1004 holds! After going on for ages listing all these holds – most of them were “armbar or armdrag”, Chris gained a LOT of Jerichoholics that night alone and has gained more ever since just from that segment alone.
Chris Napier: July 6th, 1998. Goldberg wins the Big Gold Belt. WCW was still winning the Monday Night War and their homegrown star goes over Scott Hall AND Hulk Hogan clean as a whistle to a huge rating in front of a massive crowd. Surely WCW had learned the lesson from flubbing Sting’s win at Starrcade? Everything would be rosy from here on in… right?
Jason Auld: I’d recommend Nitro virgins stick within the 97/98 bracket if you’re looking for quality across the whole show. I’ll go with Oct 26 1998. Infamous due to an error (oh, WCW, what are you like). The PPV main event the night before was cut short by broadcasters and so it was shown in its entirety on Nitro.
It’s a double dose of DDP, with the aforementioned heavyweight title match against Goldberg, concluding with a win for Dallas against Bret Hart, for the US title. Although this is close to the era where WCW dropped the ball, they were still getting higher ratings than Raw and with a babyface like DDP, it’s not hard to see why.
Paul Benson: No episode of Monday Nitro encapsulated the best and the worst of WCW than January 4th 1999. A convoluted show long story saw Goldberg arrested for seemingly assaulting Miss Elizabeth. He was soon released when the charges proved false but not before Nash had challenged Hulk Hogan to take his place leading to a blockbuster Starrcade rematch for the title between the face leader of the NWO Wolfpac in Nash and the heel totem of NWO Hollywood, Hogan himself.
WCW actually did a masterful job of hyping the match throughout the show and when it came they did not disap… Oh hang on, they DID disappoint.
We got the famous ‘Fingerpoke Of Doom’ that saw Nash lay down, gift the title to Hogan and reunite the NWO against Goldberg. Add to this a lower card choc full of brilliant performers but short, lacklustre bouts and the whole episode showcases so much of what Nitro did so right whilst playing into its major criticisms over the years. Of course, this was also the night of the famous ‘That’ll put butts in seats’ line from Tony Schiavone regarding Mankind winning the WWF Title that night. It was probably the very moment that WCW brass realised that the good times were well and truly over. A truly landmark episode but nowhere near as bad as history will have you remember.
Chris Pereira: By March 29, 1999, WCW was starting to lose track of what made them awesome. That said, there were still a few really cool moments. And when Bret Hart challenged Goldberg to a match while wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey that was hiding a steel plate, that for me was an all-time great moment. Goldberg immediately hit a Spear and BONG, he was out cold. It wasn’t a ‘proper’ match, but Bret counted his own pin on the KO’d Goldberg anyway and looked more of a heel than he did at any other stage during his WCW run.
Liam Happe: The spring of 1999 was when Monday Nitro really began to fall off a cliff. Two years later, there would be no WCW. And yet, the May 24, 1999 episode was full of subtle clues as to what could have given the company the creative kiss of life.
Amidst a throwaway broadcast, midcarders were one-by-one expressing their dissatisfaction about how heels like Randy Savage and Ric Flair were scared of the younger talent and holding them back. Dean Malenko upped the ante by angrily remarking that one had to be over the age of 45 to get the spotlight shone on them.
Younger prospects vs older stars had a shot at making WCW interesting again, at a time when that really was the undercurrent of the company’s staleness. But of course, all of the big guns sans Flair didn’t actually want to work with the up-and-comers as if they were equals. By the time Russo and Bischoff went for it a year later, their version had missed the boat and lacked any sort of storyline logic to boot.
Emmet Gates: In 2000, the game was up for WCW. But that didn’t stop them from trying to save face while plummeting at a great speed with regular ‘reboots’ and ‘new eras’. One of the biggest came on April 10 when they actually cancelled the show the previous week to lead into the ‘new era’ that would supposedly make them the best company in wrestling again.
Eric Bischoff and Vince Russo worked together to start the New Blood vs Millionaires Club war, and while they made an absolute mess of it within a week or two, admittedly this very first episode is action-packed and really interesting. Sorta like how Alan Pardew would always win a few games at the start of a new gig before completely shitting the bed soonafter.
Leanne Culverhouse: I didn’t get into wrestling until around 1999, and our house was a WWF household. Towards the end, of course WCW did not offer much that was very good, but the final episode is must-watch stuff.
Of course, the big story of WWF buying the promotion was major news to every wrestling fan, and watching Vince McMahon and others show up on the rival’s TV was surreal. But there was also a lot of stuff that ensured a slightly happy ending for WCW. Booker T regained the World title, Sting and Ric Flair battled one last time before making up once and for all, and since I’ve always loved the cruiserweights it was great to see some great cruiser action from the likes of Mysterio, Kidman and Helms.