I’ve always been a big fan of WWF/E programming and their characters. Growing up I loved the Macho Man, Jake the Snake and Demolition. I was never a Hulkamaniac but The Ultimate Warrior? Yes please.
At the tender age of 20 when I left home I only had access to wrestling one of two ways: WWF tapes a friend recorded for me or on the old NWA/WCW Worldwide broadcasts on TV late at night after Noisy Mothers.
When Monday Nitro started on September 4, 1995, I simply didn’t have access to it. And I never got around to catching up.
Of course in watching wrestling over the years I’ve seen the highlights and bullet points but I’ve never really gone back and caught up. Since it’s Nitro week at HoW towers, it’s time for a deep dive.
But before we go there I wanted to refresh myself on the landscape at the time. RAW was very much a ‘by the numbers’ show: they had stars but didn’t really utilise them that well, it was an hour long and they tried to get as many stars on as possible, mostly jobber matches with a few star matches entwined.
Let’s take a look at the last RAW before Nitro’s debut.
RAW: August 21st 1995
So, one of the first things to note about his RAW was the announcement that they have been pre-empted for next two weeks because of the US Open Tennis at Flushing Meadows, also it was the ‘go home’ show for SummerSlam . RAW was on a break, what a perfect time to launch a competitor eh?
The main storyline for the show was King Mabel calling out the Allied Powers, Lex Luger and the British Bulldog, while also building to his championship match against Diesel.
Another storyline was the Million Dollar Corporation going after the Undertaker. The previous week Kama had ripped up a wreath and “beat up a fan” which mildly annoyed Taker, so this week he was going to destroy Tatanka, and start bringing down the corporation.
Men on a Mission kicked off the card by destroying a couple of jobbers before cutting a promo against Diesel and the Allied Powers, one thing mentioned frequently was that the Bulldog was ‘looking for’ Lex Luger who’d gone missing, more on that later.
Next on the show, Dean Douglas taught us something that comes from the realm of Scott Steiner’s maths lessons only nowhere near as entertaining. I can’t imagine why Dean Douglas never caught on.
Moving on, 1, 2, 3 Kid took on Steve Lombardi, which lasted about a minute finishing with a rushed looking series of kicks that did the job before we got Taker vs. Tatanka. It was really nice to see these two guys having a match in their prime and while there were a few botches the quality of it was a step above anything else on the show.
Next up, a ‘wrap up’ from Todd Pettengill, five stars. And now I need some super size Stridex pads.
We hear more from MoM and we cut away from and Bulldog still can’t find Lex Luger. Perhaps he should look in the Mall of America? And then we get an absolutely awful Tee Vee Trivia segment which was truly, one of the worst things I’ve ever seen on a wrestling broadcast.
Another jobber match as Jean Pierre LaFitte takes on Scott Taylor. I have to say, everything about this looks awful, the offence was bad, the outfit was bad, the only good thing was seeing JPF doing a ‘swanton bomb’ long before Jeff did it. Shame he almost missed (Ed’s Note: and to think 25 years later PCO would rank pretty high on the PWI 500!)
Last segment was an interview with Diesel that thankfully tied up the threads of the show nicely. During the interview Big Daddy Cool was interrupted by the British Bulldog who asked Diesel to tag with him against Men on a Mission and Diesel accepted, but it was a trap!
After a few moves Bulldog whacked Diesel from behind and King Mabel hit his finisher on the champion. Bulldog was joined in the ring by James Cornette.
Overall I have to say the underlying storylines worked, thrown together a bit as Luger left for the WCW after a brief cameo during the Summerslam main event, but the WWF didn’t do too badly here.
Diesel looked every bit the champion and Mabel looked nasty as the King and challenger. The rest of the show was all over the place, the jobber matches were extremely low quality, the segments and constant plugs for the hotline and Stridex were so annoying.
The next RAW was scheduled for September 11th. And by the time it was back on the air, the entire game had changed…
Monday Nitro: September 4th 1995
Live from the Mall of America in Minnesota, the show looked fresh, different and exciting. Every match was a ‘superstar’ match, not a jobber to be seen in the house and that started with the announce team. Eric Bischoff and Bobby Heenan led the booth, with NFL star Steve McMichael giving the commentary a third angle.
I honestly don’t know how you can kick off a new era any better than presenting the best you have to offer, Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger vs. ‘Flyin’ Brian Pillman.
If you’ve only seen Liger recently during his retirement run I beg of you, go and watch him in the 90s. He is consistently one of the best technical high flyers on the planet and here he has America’s best across the ring from him.
They absolutely rock the joint. Is it perfect? No. But it’s a great start to the show, the crowd are hot and Brian Pillman takes the win to the adulation of the crowd.
And up next Sting cuts a promo and Hogan hosts a segment from Pastamania. OK, its strange and the crowd don’t really get it but you are in a shopping mall and you are using what you have in front of you, why not?
In the ring how do you follow two amazing technical high flyers? Well you bring it down a notch and present two of the best heavyweights in history. California Stinger vs Ric Flair. Flair comes in looking his best, Sting comes in looking like an 80s reject, still great and then… Lex Luger struts down the aisle as well!
“What in the hell is he doing here? Get him out of here!” shouts Bischoff as if Lex was invading WCW, I’m sure if they found someone with a bit more impact they could make something of a line like that, chico. Anyway the crowd love it.
Flair and Sting put on a clinic of holds and hard hitting offence before we have yet another intruder, Arn Anderson. I hear hoofbeats but Arn is here for Flair and he gives him a beating after Flair gets himself disqualified.
But that’s not all, Scott Norton comes out of the crowd and confronts Steve McMichael at the commentary booth. Before they can explode Macho Man Randy Savage comes in and breaks things up before issuing a challenge to Scott, Bischoff steps in and stops a ‘match’ starting even though Macho and Scott both want to go. Build for next week; keep them hooked in to the story!
Now something I hated about WCW at the time, instead of importing characters directly from the WWF they felt a need to just completely rip off a gimmick and put it on someone else, I present to you, Michael Wallstreet.
He’s dressed in black with gold stitching, dollar signs; it’s the Million Dollar Man’s sidekick Irwin R Schyster talking about money and name dropping the IRS. It’s cringe worthy (it gets worse: he changes his name to V.K. Wallstreet next week, in a subtle-as-a-saucepan-to-the-junk dig at V.K. McMahon – Ed).
Back to the action and we’ve had two of the best high flyers on the planet and two of the best pure wrestlers in history so how are we going to finish? With a bag of charisma, that’s how.
WCW Champion Hulk Hogan with Jimmy Hart vs. Big Bubba Rogers. This match is exactly what you imagine it would be; lots of big flashy moves, plenty of fan interaction and I expect a ton of T-shirts sold.
But of course it can’t be that simple.
Hogan does his whole routine and beats Big Bubba, then after the match the Dungeon of Doom comes down to the ring and attacks the Hulkster but they don’t even get a punch in.
Luger comes steaming in to help Hogan even though he doesn’t need help in a 1-on-500000 situation and he is here for competition. At first Hogan is resistant but then offers him a championship match next week on nitro. There’s a perfect hook for next week.
Honesty as shows go, WCW’s first Nitro is just a massive step ahead for wrestling on TV. The matches were fantastic they gave you everything but also took the time to build story for future events.
It’s how you book a wrestling show, not too many diversions; introduce as many people as possible without making things messy. If only they could have stuck to this menu things may have ended very differently. And if only I had been able to keep up with this on a weekly basis at the time, as I’m sure I would have loved it for the most part.
And with the WWE Network now making Nitros and more available, I’d recommend any younger wrestling fan go and relive these halcyon days.
“I wasn’t born/I was too young” isn’t a valid excuse to deprive yourself of the Monday Night Wars with the technology we have available. It’s given me a second chance to enjoy it all in full, and you should too.