How much of a good thing is too much?
The answer to that question was the fate WCW found themselves condemned to in the year 1998, as not only did Monday Nitro receive a second increase in size, going from two hours to three after starting at just 60 minutes in duration, but higher-ups also mandated a second show called Thunder.
Eric Bischoff and others responsible for steering the ship at the time maintain to this day that this sharp increase in the workload was what ground their zeitgeist to a halt.
In reality, signs were already starting to show that the company didn’t know what to do once the New World Order reached its natural expiration.
After flubbing the finish to the Sting-Hollywood Hogan program at Starrcade 1997, their most successful ever night, Nitro focused on two months of tepid uncertainty over the status of the WCW World title until the two rematched at Superbrawl.
In the meantime, focus shifted to cracks appearing in the foundations of the Order. Truth be told, once Sting theoretically saved the day for WCW, it made sense for the main nWo guys to break up and feud with each other while the main event shifted onto, say, Sting vs Bret Hart.
Instead, everyone from the Stinger to the Hitman to anyone making waves from the midcard – the likes of Booker T, Raven, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Jericho and more – sat beneath the division of the nWo into ‘Hollywood’ and ‘Wolfpac’. Why? Because those involved were able to ensure it via their contracts.
As Nitro continued to pull in big crowds but felt increasingly samey, Raw had finally found their golden ticket as Stone Cold Steve Austin launched into supernova. The acts beneath Austin, such as DX, The Rock, Mankind and Ken Shamrock – shared far more screen time with the big guns like Stone Cold, Vince McMahon and The Undertaker than any of WCW’s fresh noisemakers got from Hogan, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash and company.
As Sting inexplicably joined one of the two warring Order offshoots and Bret Hart inexplicably ‘affiliated himself’ with the other, the snake began to eat its own tail and promptly suffocated on it.
Of course, one of the truly hot stories of Nitro in 1998 was the rise of undefeated beast Bill Goldberg. Audiences got more and more into this towering specimen of very few words decimating a new foe every week in a matter of seconds. When he famously wrecked Raven’s entire Flock stable before taking the leader’s United States title, the entire wrestling community clamoured to see him up against THE top guys.
On July 6 of that year, Nitro had one of its biggest shows in front of one of its biggest crowds and delivered a main event that is still discussed to this day when Goldberg dethroned Hogan for the World title (that’s right, it wound up back around his waist AGAIN… on Nitro, no less).
Many wonder if a fatal mistake made by Bischoff was running this title change on free TV. Truth be told, it probably wasn’t a direct blunder in itself. The episode shifted momentum back in WCW’s favour after losing their coveted 83-week streak, and there would absolutely have been a buyrate for a rematch on PPV.
But what Hogan-Goldberg should have been was the start of the new acts taking the torch from the guys who had been headlining since the 1980s. And that’s not to say the second half of 1998 should have been nothing but main events such as Dean Malenko vs Perry Saturn, but it was finally time for us to see high-profile hybrids of the two tiers, which is exactly what Hogan vs Goldberg was.
It had already worked a charm in 1997 when DDP and Randy Savage spent the entire year at war, and it was the next logical move following a thrilling 18 months of New World Order.
Instead, we got Hulk Hogan pretending to see Ultimate Warrior in the mirror so that he could avenge his loss from Wrestlemania 6, in 1990.
As for Goldberg, his first World title reign took place mostly in the midcard. His box-office unbeaten streak was ended by Kevin Nash, who had just happened to start attending booking meetings. And no matter how ridiculous the now-red-hot WWE got with some of their questionable soap opera storylines on Raw, they continued to seize back the lion’s share of the market by keeping things fresh and giving fans what they clamoured for.
Come 1999, it’d be all downhill for World Championship Wrestling.