On September 4, 1995 the Monday Night War began. So as we’re 20 years from this historic date in wrestling history, I felt like it was a good time to look back on the first episode WCW Monday Nitro.
As the legend goes, after WCW signed Hulk Hogan they were still lagging behind the WWF. Ted Turner called Eric Bischoff into a meeting and asked him what it would take to compete with the WWF. Bischoff said he needed an hour of primetime, live TV every single week. Preferably on Monday night, opposite Monday Night Raw. Bischoff was stunned when Turner agreed to the request on the spot. It helps when the owner of the company owns the TV station. Thus, WCW Monday Nitro was born.
Nitro was an audacious experiment in wrestling: a live weekly broadcast featuring top-tier matches every single week. WWF Raw was live only once a month at this point, with all four shows for a month being shot on the same night in the same arena. Raw also featured mostly squash matches. Nitro was going to change the game. For their debut, they selected a week in which Raw would be preempted by the U.S. Open tennis tournament. Thus, Nitro would be free to make its first impression without competition from the WWF. Let’s get to the action:
WCW Monday Nitro
September 4, 1995
Mall of America
I always liked the Nitro intro, in which a flame ran through city streets while images of WCW wrestlers appeared on the buildings.
Our hosts tonight are Eric Bischoff, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, and former Chicago Bears star Steve “Mongo” McMichael.
The arena really doesn’t look impressive. It’s just a ring set-up in the middle of the mall, which a small crowd in the 2,000-3,000 range. Always seemed to me they should have booked a big arena for this.
Jushin “Thunder” Liger vs. Brian Pillman
Awesome choice for an opener. These two tore the house down at SuperBrawl in 1992. No storyline here, Liger hadn’t been wrestling in WCW much.
Liger gets Pillman into the corner and hits a Rolling Kick. Liger comes off the top rope with a sloppy Moonsault and then applies a Chinlock. Pillman slings up on the turnbuckle and connects with a Headscissor Takeover. Pillman blocks a charge with his boots and then hits a Hurricanrana off the second rope! Liger gets a Drop Toe Hold and then a Surfboard. Liger whips Pillman to the ropes, but he comes back with a Headscissor Takeover.
Liger Backdrops Pillman over the top rope and then comes off the apron with a Front Flip Kick. Pillman blocks Liger’s Suplex attempt and Suplexes him to the floor. Pillman comes off the top rope with a Cross Body. Pillman goes to the top again, but Liger crotches him. Superplex by Liger! Liger comes off the top rope, but Pillman catches him with a Dropkick.
Liger catches Pillman telegraphing a Backdrop and hits him with a Powerbomb. Liger gets Pillman on the top rope and hits a beautiful Hurricanrana that somehow only gets two. Liger gets Pillman on the top rope, but Pillman comes off with a Tornado DDT! Pillman gets a Victory Roll off a standing switch for the pin at 6:55.
Rating: ***1/2. Awesome TV match and the perfect choice to kick off the show. There was no one in the WWF at this time doing anything like this, and if there was you wouldn’t be seeing it on Raw.
We get brief pre-recorded comments from Sting before kicking it to commercial.
Segment Grade: A. Great match to open the show. No complaints about that.
Mean Gene shills for the WCW Hotline. Huckster.
We come back with a pre-taped segment showcasing Hogan’s Pastamania, his failed restaurant at the Mall of America. Waste of precious TV time, but they had to keep Hogan happy.
Sting vs. Ric Flair
Good choice to draw in the casual fan-showcase two of wrestling’s biggest stars. I don’t think Sting’s US Championship is on the line here. Before the match starts, LEX LUGER walks down the aisle.
Luger had been gone from WCW since 1992. He had wrestled at Summerslam the week before and had just appeared at a WWF house show the night before this. This was a huge surprise to everyone in wrestling, including Vince McMahon. Luger had been working without a contract and was eager to get out of the WWF, seeing that they didn’t have any real plans for him. Huge coup by WCW and a great way to showcase the fact that anything can happen on live TV.
Rope-running sequence ends with a Military Press by Sting. Sting follows that with another Military Press. Hip Toss by Sting, then a Dropkick. Flair bails. He gets back in, goes to the eyes during a test of strength, and then hits some chops. Sting comes back and Military Presses Flair again. A Body Press sends both guys over the top rope. Flair charges Sting on the floor and gets Military Pressed back into the ring. Flair counters a Stinger Splash attempt with a Back Elbow. We go to commercial with both men down.
Segment Grade: B+. Solid wrestling and a huge surprise. Only dragged down by the Pastamania stuff.
We come back with Flair in control. Nature Boy goes to the top, but gets thrown off. Sting Military Presses Flair for like the fifth time in this match. Arn Anderson makes his way down to ringside. Flair and Arn have been on the outs lately, so we don’t know who he’s here to help. Sting misses a Splash from the top rope. Vertical Suplex by Flair, which Sting no-sells. Clotheslines by Sting. A Flair Flip ends with Flair getting Clotheslined off the apron. Ten Punch by Sting. Sting gets a Hip Toss, but then gets pushed off the top rope while attempting a Superplex. Bridge spot goes to a Backslide by Sting. Sting Superplexes Flair. Sting talks trash to Arn and gets Chop Blocked. Flair applies the Figure Four. The referee catches Flair holding the ropes for leverage. Arn gets into the ring and the match is immediately thrown out at 8:43.
Analysis: **1/2. Solid TV match. Sting just kind of threw Flair all over, which got a little repetitive. I would have liked to see Flair get more heat on Sting.
Arn goes after Flair and beats his ass. He was fed up with carrying water for him for years and never getting any glory or world title shots. Flair bails and heads out of there.
Scott Norton shows up and gets in Mongo’s face. Randy Savage shows up and goes face-to-face with Norton. Savage challenges Norton to fight right now, but Bischoff and security break it up. Live TV. Anything can happen.
Video package for Sabu. He only lasted a few weeks in WCW, but I don’t really know the story. I think he just wanted to get Heyman to pay him more.
Segment Grade: B. The conclusion of a good match, then a nice little segment with Norton and Savage. It’s nice to actually set something up for the show next week so that people have a reason to tune in.
Back from commercial, Mean Gene announces the winner of a Harley Davidson contest.
Bischoff plugs WCW Saturday Night, featuring Johnny B. Badd vs. Dick Slater and Sting and Randy Savage vs. The Blue Bloods. Isn’t it refreshing to have the card for a TV wrestling show announced in advance?
Promo from Michael Wallstreet in the back. This is Mike Rotunda, AKA IRS. He takes a shot at the WWF New Generation, calling it the “few generation.” He also makes a sly reference to the IRS watching him closely.
WCW World Heavyweight Championship: Hulk Hogan (c) vs. Big Bubba Rogers
Big Bubba Rogers is the Big Bossman reverting to his original name due to the WWF’s trademarks not allowing him to use the Big Boss Man character.
Pretty typical Hogan match here with Bubba getting heat on Hulk for most of it. Hogan fires up and Ten Punches Bubba in the corner. Hogan Clotheslines Bubba in the corner and then slams him. Bubba comes back and slams Hogan. Bubba misses a corner charge and then catches Hogan with the Boss Man Slam. Hogan Hulks Up, then hits the Big Boot and the Leg Drop for the pin at 7:10.
Analysis: *1/2. Standard Hogan match.
Hogan and Hart celebrate, then get jumped by the Dungeon of Doom. Luger joins him and they clean house together. They go face to face. Sting and Savage hit the ring and try to calm things down. We go to commercial with tension in the ring.
Segment Grade: B+. The match wasn’t fantastic, but Hogan main eventing was definitely the right call for this show. I like Luger saving Hogan and teasing a brawl between the two, and going to commercial with them face to face is a good way to keep fans from changing the channel.
When we come back, Gene Okerlund is in the ring. As always, he doesn’t know what the hell is going on. Hogan says Luger has no business being here. Luger says he’s there because he wants to be WCW Champion. Hogan says there’s no way Luger’s going to beat him. He says he’ll put the title on the line next week. Luger and Hogan shake hands and we have a monster main event for next week.
In case you’re curious, the match went to a No Contest after interference from the Dungeon of Doom. Afterwards, Hogan was suspicious of Luger because the Dungeon guys only attacked Hogan. Regardless, Hogan asked Luger to take Vader’s place on Hogan’s team for WarGames and Luger accepted.
We go back to the announce table, where Bischoff, Heenan, and McMichael preview next week’s show. Flogging a dead horse here, but I wish they would do more of that in WWE today. Give people something to look forward to next week.
Overall: Tremendous first episode. No complaints at all, perfectly booked. Hot opening match, a second match between two legends, then a main event featuring the biggest star in wrestling. Luger’s shock debut, the confrontation with Hogan, and setting up the main event for next week. All perfect. It’s hard to think of a way they could have done a better first episode than this. I know Vince McMahon was watching tonight, and I bet he realized he had his work cut out for him.