Whilst this week is all about celebrating the anniversary of the launch of WCW Monday Nitro, it would be churlish to gloss over the fact that while a lot that went down on Nitro was pretty awesome, there was also an awful, awful lot of nonsense that took place on the show.
Some of it was silly, some of it was illogical and some of it was just downright awful. Let’s have a look at the absolute worst moments of Nitro.
Less of a moment, and more of a sorry attempt at an ongoing character, it was hard to fathom what WCW ‘creative’ were hoping to achieve even back in 1999. Looking back 21 years later, the whole thing is unfathomable.
Portrayed by Vince Russo’s right-hand man Ed Ferrara, Oklahoma was a blunt, cruel, unfunny parody of beloved WWF announcer, Jim Ross. Why they would parody someone so liked and respected is one thing. Quite another is to use Ross’ Bells Palsy as his defining characteristic.
In an industry with a history of bad taste, this stands out as one of the worst. That he won the Cruiserweight title from Madusa adds insult to injury in the one angle on this list where those involved in creating it should be legitimately ashamed.
Fingerpoke Of Doom
Most fans who were old enough to watch at the time, or with an interest in wrestling history will be well aware of the so called ‘Fingerpoke Of Doom’ but it is most certainly worth recapping just to illustrate how utterly crazy it all was. Here we go….
Heading into Starrcade 1998, the NWO had split into two warring factions. The black-and-white ‘Hollywood’ group led by Hollywood Hogan where at loggerheads with the red-and-black babyface NWO Wolfpac faction.
The Wolfpac leader Kevin Nash was due to face the still undefeated WCW World champion Goldberg at the PPV in the most anticipated main event of the year. The conclusion of the match saw Goldberg’s undefeated streak brought to a shocking end when Nash took the title following (supposedly unsolicited) help from Hollywood member Scott Hall and his cattle prod.
Fast forward two weeks to Nitro and a rematch was set to take place. Here’s where the real lunacy starts.
Early in the show, Goldberg was arrested as a result of allegations of assault from Miss Elizabeth. This arrest removed him from the World title match, leaving the show without a main event. Who graciously offered to step in? Hollywood Hogan himself. What a gent!
As the show wore on, it was revealed that Elizabeth’s allegations were totally fabricated and Goldberg charged back to the arena, too late to witness the ‘match’ in the main event.
Sadly, many of us did witness it. As the two feuding faction heads circled one another until Hogan extended a single finger and poked Nash in the chest. Big Sexy hit the mat with possibly the fiercest bump of his career before Hogan eagerly covered him for the 1-2-3 and the new title. Glory be, the natural order was restored and the nWo’s warring factions were reunited. Why would Nash agree to this? Because WCW, of course!
Meanwhile, on the other channel, Raw saw one of the most epic main events in its history as beloved babyface Mankind dethroned The Rock as their World champion, with tons of interference from Steve Austin, The Corporation and D-Generation X. It was a riot and fans exploded with joy at the result.
Famously, Tony Schiavone had given away the result of the taped WWF title change on Nitro commentary, which prompted literally hundreds of thousands of people to change the channel to Raw… and likely never return.
Whilst the tide turning from WCW towards the WWF as the ratings leaders had started well before this and was gradual rather than immediate, this was the moment that cemented that change. From this moment, there was no going back. The war was lost. WCW had carpet bombed their own battalions and there was no going back.
Ric Flair’s Heart Attack
Another one to file under horrific bad taste was this 1998 angle that saw Ric Flair feign a heart attack after one of his typical impassioned promos. The angle was realistic enough that media outlets reported on it the next day and certain members of Flair’s family, who weren’t informed of what was happening, were distraught. Credit where credit is due…the execution was pretty spot on.
Of course, Flair was back on TV the following week, right as rain. Not only was the angle appalling, it was absolutely pointless.
San Francisco 49ers Match
Deep into the recesses of Vince Russo’s period of creative lunacy, a match was set between Booker T and Jeff Jarrett to determine who would lay claim to the vacant WCW World Heavyweight title. Oh, and it was vacant because Russo had declared himself the champion at the end of a confusing cage ‘match’ with Booker, before immediately vacating it anyway. Yep.
Naturally, Russo being Russo, a pole was involved. Four of them, actually. And the match that would decide the new champion was dubbed a ‘San Francisco 49ers match’. Fans have long wondered why this match was named after an NFL team that had absolutely no role to play in the match. The truth was, it wasn’t.
The match saw four boxes on top of four poles. Each would contain an item and one of those items would be the title belt. As it happens, the NFL team that shared this matches name actually took their name from the prospectors who flocked to San Francisco during the gold rush in 1949. So a 49er is actually a nickname of someone searching for gold amongst the dirt.
So the match name DID in fact make sense. Or at least it would if more than 3% of the audience knew that.
As an aside ‘digging for tiny amounts of gold amongst mountains of dirt’ is a great description for watching WCW in this era…. But I digress.
This being wrestling, I don’t need to tell you that the title was of course in the last box. Before that, the competitors opened boxes to reveal a blow-up doll (ask your parents, kids), a coal miner’s glove (ask your grandparents, kids) and…a picture of Scott Hall. OK then…
With the final box sure to contain the title, both competitors tussled over the chance to open it. But before either could, the box opened of its own accord and the title flopped to the ground only to be picked up by ring announcer Dave Penzer, who promptly hands it to Booker T.
But hang on, if Penzer grabbed it first, doesn’t that make him champion? At least that would have been a fitting ending to this most absurd of matches.
‘It’s The Wall, Brother’
One of those moments that probably sounded like it worked on paper, without anyone noticing the massive clanger.
On an outdoor Nitro in 2000, Hulk Hogan stood in the ring hyping a future match with Sid Vicious when suddenly the camera and announcers picked up the pinprick of a figure stood atop a building at least a mile away from the ring.
When the camera zoomed in on him, you could at least see he was gesturing menacingly in the direction of the show. But somehow, without the benefit of an in-built zoom lens, Hogan immediately identified this far away man as ‘The Wall, brother’.
It really was completely inconsequential as it was simply a different way of having the usual ‘heel of the month’ challenge Hogan. But the fact it was allowed to play out without anyone questioning the logic speaks volumes about WCW’s standards at the time.
Chucky vs Rick Steiner
WCW throughout the years were not averse to blending film characters into their storylines. Who can forget Robocop coming to Sting’s aid at Capital Combat 1992?
Fast forward six years and the latest instalment in the Child’s Play franchise ‘Bride Of Chucky’ is on the verge of release. Rick Steiner is in the ring with Gene Okerlund and a demonic chuckle fills the arena. Yes kids, Chucky The Doll is here to promote his new movie, I mean, intimidate Rick Steiner.
Steiner and Gene of course sell the situation as if the doll was as real as any of the wrestlers on the show. Meanwhile, the fans absolutely destroy the segment and voice their displeasure not with boos but with audible groans. It was truly a shameful plug that turned off a huge portion of their audience.
All that being said, this was far from the worse thing on that particular episode of Nitro. That accolade went to…
The Man In The Mirror
When The Warrior came to WCW with his sights set on his old enemy ‘Hollywood’ Hogan, excitement levels were high. For about 27 minutes. Which, coincidentally, was the length of the promo Warrior cut on Hogan his first night in. He was due to talk for about eight minutes tops.
Remarkably, the whole angle went downhill from there with a series of nonsensical interviews and angles that showcased everything that was awful about the Warrior character.
The nadir was not their dreadful match at Halloween Havoc 1998. Somehow, there was a moment that was worse.
The moment in question came in the build up to that match with Hogan in his dressing room with his ally Eric Bischoff, stressed out and ranting about the actions of the Warrior.
As Hogan stared into the dressing room mirror, the spirit-like form of Warrior appeared beating his chest and intimidated Hogan. The Hulkster saw it and was enormously spooked, practically in the midst of a panic attack. We saw it at home, clear as day. In fact, the only person that didn’t was Eric Bischoff who couldn’t work out what had Hogan freaking out.
This supernatural nonsense was designed to showcase the ‘power’ of Warrior to play spooky mind games with his opponents. Instead it made Hogan look like a small child and Bischoff look a bit simple.
Vince Russo Wins WCW Title
If you ask many people what the worst moment in WCW history was, they will say it was David Arquette winning the World title without a second of hesitation.
As eye-rolling as that was, at least there was some justification. Arquette was a big Hollywood star and the win did garner a ton of publicity. It also led to a main event angle that will have sold at least a few hundred PPVs.
As disrespectful as it might have been to real wrestlers, Arquette wasn’t that bad. He at least respected the profession and donated all his WCW earnings to the fans of the recently deceased Owen Hart and paralysed Darren Drozdov. Some good came of it.
Not only was it not the worst WCW moment, it wasn’t even the worst World title change that year. No sir.
That ‘honour’ belongs to Vince Russo defeating Booker T in a steel cage match to win the Big Gold Belt, as touched upon in the very first item on this list.
This was nothing but an ego-trip from a desperately out-of-his-depth narcissist desperate for attention for himself and shock value within the audience.
There were no redeeming factors for this title change. None. It was done for all the wrong reasons, it alienated the audience, made the wrestlers look weak and put the final nail in the coffin of a once-prestigious title belt that had long been on life support.
But hey, at least Vince Russo got to call himself World champion, just like Vince McMahon did a year before. That will show them!
Viagra On A Pole
It was a running joke that Vince Russo had a wrestle-boner for pole matches. Whether it was a title belt, a pinata or even Judy Bagwell, there wasn’t anything Russo wouldn’t hoist up for wrestlers to fight over.
And from wrestle-boners to rescuing boners, by far the funniest/saddest of Russo’s pole creations was the match between Billy Kidman and Shane Douglas that saw a bottle of Viagra as the prize. That’s right, it’s a Viagra on a pole match!
It all came about because Douglas was apparently struggling to ‘perform to acceptable standards’ with the object of his affections and Kidman’s future wife, Torrie Wilson.
For what it’s worth, even though Kidman was the one to grab the bottle of pills, Wilson distracted the ref, Douglas swiped it from him and was declared the winner. As if anyone cares…
Ric Flair Is Committed
Does this section need any explanation whatsoever? OK, if I must…
In 1999, ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper had his rival Ric Flair committed to an insane asylum. Whilst on the surface a heel move, Flair’s actions in the hospital proved Piper entirely right in his assessment.
The skits we got were comedy in only the sense professional wrestling writers team to understand it. By that we mean we had every stereotype of mental illness running around, leering on attractive female ‘nurses’ covering themselves in food and generally acting like awful stereotypes.
Amidst all this madness, Flair actually seemed right at home doing his usual schtick. He strutted around in his full ring gear and robe, hitting on women, cutting promos and generally acting like someone who probably should have been in need of mental health care – so standard Flair behaviour, basically.
It’s the second time a moment revolving around all-time great Flair was cringe enough to make this list. And yet, both times, he somehow made the absolute most of a tasteless situation with his usual dialled-to-11 performance.