It’s 25 years since the birth of WCW Monday Nitro. A weekly show that indelibly changed pro wrestling’s presentation, characters and storylines forever.
But just how timeless is Nitro? Have their top storylines stood the test of time?
Come with me, as we take a trip down a misshapen memory lane. Fantasy booking with a twist.
An alternate universe where I take a modern superstar and transplant them into a classic Nitro moment. Seven “what if?” scenarios designed to showcase the best of Nitro to a contemporary audience.
When finding my seven moments to mess with, I scoured lists of top 20, top 50, top 100 Nitro moments, picking a mixture of personal favourites, irrefutable landmarks or consistant entries that appear in everyone’s top 10.
The NWO parody of The Four Horsemen appeared in every list. Remembered by some distastefully and perhaps given a pass by others due to that annoying inconvenience known as “societal context”.
Humour in wrestling has always been divisive. Some find it undermines an otherwise professional sports presentation. Some find it just infinitile and silly. Some find the delicacy with which it’s executed often makes it down right offensive. I think the latter two are most applicable here.
Sean Waltman, Konnan and Buff Bagwell all come to the ring dressed as the Horsemen and are eventually joined by Kevin Nash, with neck brace, bald cap and a cooler of beer. He proceeds to imitate Arn’s retirement speech, lampooning him for being out of shape, old, stupid and a drunk.
I think it was the timing that makes this promo most egregious. Kevin Nash parodies Arn Anderson’s speech a mere week after it was given. A farewell that Double A was forced to make, as neck injuries had cut his career short in his late 30s.
Sean Waltman mocks a tearful Ric Flair, when some of us had just stopped crying with him. Konnan’s “parody” of Steve McMichael amounted to him throwing a football in the air and rubbing his hands, although some might say Konnan didn’t have much to work with. I will admit though, I did crack a smile at Buff Bagwell’s Mr Perfect schtick.
But this is Hooked On Wrestling, where our motto is “It’s Wrestling… Enjoy It!” so I’m not going to make this an obituary to politically-incorrect comedy. In fact, let’s make this an argument in favour of comedy being sometimes close to the bone but with a purpose.
The beauty of these articles is I get to reimage classic moments with modern talent and perhaps in this instance, you’ll let me bend the rules slightly and try and make this angle better, with the only modern day faction I think could pull this off, The Undisputed Era.
“What if Undisputed Era parodied the Four Horsemen?”
Our Delorean drops us off at the Pensacola Civic Centre in Florida on September 1st, 1997. Can you fit three in the back of a Delorean? Maybe Roderick Strong could ride in the boot.
As in our previous timeline, Arn Anderson had just delivered an emotional send-off the week prior and with feelings still raw in the deep south, wrestling’s lack of sentimentally means the situation is ripe for some heel heat.
Mean Gene is interrupted by Kyle O’Reilly, dressed as Ric Flair with a sweater vest and fake nose, wooo-ing his way to the ring. In our current reality, KO is fresh off an Emmy worthy performance as Roderick Strong’s psychiatrist and since Jay Lethal remains in our pocket dimension, there’s no better man to take on the Nature Boy.
He’s joined by Roddy as Steve McMichael because, let’s face it, Strong’s strengths lie in the ring, not in character acting. Finally, we have Bobby Fish, towel in hand, gum in mouth, playing Curt Hennig perfectly.
After a quick recreation of Hennig’s acceptance into the Horsemen, Adam Cole comes stumbling down the ramp, bald, fat, neck braced up, beer cooler in hand.
The rhetoric is the same. The crowd boo as the UE mock the legendary stable;
“Wooo” says O’Reilly.
“I don’t like you, I don’t like the Horsemen but it would be an honour” Fish proclaims, hilariously declaring himself the new enforcer.
“Wooo” O’Reilly continues.
“I’m a guy of average size, average speed, average quickness, average looks, average intelligence, average carpentry skills” Cole says in a southern drawl, directly parodying Anderson’s farewell.
And the segment is punctuated beautifully by O’Reilly’s closing words. “Wooo”.
Eric Bischoff is known for saying “context is king” but if we ignore that for a second, this segment IS funny and it’s aged a hell of a lot better than the D-X parody of the Nation. However it’s still offensive but can it be offensive with a purpose?
The NWO were notorious for repeatedly mocking babyfaces, making them look like punks with no pay-off. I’m not a booker but the simple formula for heel heat is allowing your babyfaces to shine and get their comeuppance.
Next week on Nitro, the show opens with Cole and his teammates getting out of a limo, still revelling in their comedic turn from the week prior.
Suddenly from out of nowhere, like an RKO..I mean a Diamond Cutter, Arn smacks Cole from behind with a 2×4. The rest of the Horsemen jump Fish, O’Reilly and Strong, slamming arms, legs, heads in car doors, through windscreens and all over the car park.
“How’s that for average carpentry skills?!” Anderson says smirking, in his head thanking the writer who wrote that magnificent line for him.
Later in the night, the Horsemen come down to the ring led by Double A, 2×4 in hand, mic in the other. He lets off some steam before Flair challenges the Undisputed Era to a four on four War Games match.
In this universe, let’s either cancel the Mr Perfect heel turn or save it for later, making it Hennig, Flair, McMichael and a newly recruited Dean Malenko against Cole, Fish, O’Reilly and Strong.
For me, there’s always been a line that I don’t want to see crossed in wrestling. I don’t want to hear people talk about their opponents dead relatives, I don’t want to hear people mocked for substance abuse issues and I don’t think racist, homophonic or sexist insults have any place in the business. At best, it’s cheap heat, at worst it’s offensive.
But with this promo in particular, sure we can mock Arn Anderson’s real life retirement if it builds to something. We don’t need them to go over in the end but ultimately, I do think that’s what an audience looks for.
The late 90s, particularly WCW, put heels on top as a reaction to the indestructible babyfaces of the prior decade. It was cool to be a bad guy and coupled with the top heels in the company also having a hand in the booking, it’s easy to see why they ran roughshod without repercussions.
Today, every group of four guys is compared to the Horsemen. Whether you like comparisons in general or not, you have to say the Undisputed Era are the best suited to that moniker.
They’re talented workers in the ring, Cole specifically can cut visceral promos that make you feel the desired emotions and they’re heels who continuously cheat the babyface but who aren’t scared to put them over in the end.
But maybe you disagree? Maybe you think another stable would be better suited to this parody? The Hurt Business? The Inner Circle? Or maybe you thought the original angle was perfect the way it was.