On September 4th, 1995, the first shot of the Monday Night Wars was fired as World Championship Wrestling (WCW) debuted Monday Nitro. However, they chose this date to debut because the USA network was airing the US Open and not WWF Raw. Hence the first time Nitro actually went head to head with Raw was on 9/11/1995. Here we will analyze both programs that aired that night.
At this point it was two weeks since WWF’s Summerslam was on Pay Per View, and Raw opened with highlights from the ladder match between Shawn Michaels/HBK and Razor Ramon. Vince McMahon told the audience the main event of Raw would be HBK vs Psycho Sid (also known as Sid Vicious) for Michaels’ Intercontinental Championship belt. The opening match that night would be Razor Ramon vs the British Bulldog. Vince McMahon and Jerry “The King” Lawler call the action. Lawler makes a joke about the Bulldog needing a pooper scooper as McMahon welcomes us to a new season of Raw.
The intro video to Raw is a far cry from what came later in the Attitude Era. The visuals are exciting, with various wrestlers beating each other up in the ring, but the music is very low beat. The show’s theme song had very relaxed vocals calmly stating “I like it Raw.”
Nitro’s introduction is much more exciting, with a more energizing guitar riff accompanied by images of explosions going off through a city interspersed with in ring action. The first match of Nitro that night was the German Wunderkind Alex Wright vs Sabu, who was hyped in a vignette on Nitro’s debut episode and was fresh out of Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW). Sabu wins the match, but then after the match lays Alex Wright on a table outside. Then he climbs up on the turnbuckle and jumps out of the ring, landing on Wright and crashing through the table. This prompts the referee to reverse the decision and award the match to Sabu. This trend would continue for several Nitro’s afterwards. It was a great idea, not letting the extreme superstar be extreme, but like many great ideas WCW had, in the long run it didn’t build to anything.
Having said that, the Sabu/Wright match was a great segment. Compare this to the first Raw match, and we can see how WWF was still partly (but not entirely) stuck in it’s 80‘s style cartoonish gimmicks and wrestlers whose gimmicks were occupations. Apparently Razor Ramon had been feuding with Dean Douglas, a heel/villain whose gimmick was a school teacher and had an interview segment called the Report Card. A flashback clip is shown of the two brawling. Back to the Bulldog/Ramon match, after a ref bum Douglas does a run in, followed by the 1,2,3, Kid who came to help Ramon. Unfortunately for Ramon, the Bulldog gets a victory via DQ.
After a commercial break McMahon interviews Ramon and Kid in the ring, after a dated promo with a voice over in rhyme for an upcoming show. “So why are these teams both scheduled to meet? Cause our fan friendly prez (Gorilla Monsoon) thought it’d be neat!” McMahon has his own bad jokes as well. As the 80‘s style Gold WWF logo is on the screen Lawler cracks on McMahon’s suit. To which Vince answers it’s a French cut, J. C. PenYay.
Nitro has Mean Gene do a brief interview with Ric Flair while Lex Luger walks out. They briefly speak but it doesn’t lead to much.
Next on Raw is a match between the two cowboys called the Smoking Guns and the team of Brooklyn Brawler and Rad Redford. Billy Gunn in later years will be known as Mr. Ass and join DX.
Nitro’s segment at this point is US champion Sting vs VK Wallstreet, who also had a promo vignette last week, and was previously known as I.R.S. in the WWF. More importantly, this segment was the first time an infamous move was made during the Monday Night Wars. Raw was taped, meaning the matches that aired that night were previously filmed/they happened already. Nitro was a live show. As Sting comes down to the ring, Eric Bischoff says “Hey and by the way, in case you’re tempted to grab the remote control and check out the competition, don’t bother, it’s 2 or 3 weeks old. Shawn Michaels beats the big guy with a super kick you couldn’t earn a green belt with at a local YMCA. Stay right here, it’s live it’s where the action is.” Mongo McMichaels joins in saying “Who cares about that. They named it (RAW) after a bunch of uncooked eggs. This thing sizzles here ladies and gentlemen, period.” Bischoff giving away the results to Raw on his live show became an infamous part of the Monday Night Wars. It’s curious why he waited 20 minutes into the program to do this, and why he didn’t give away all the results, but the shot was fired. Raw eventually would start being live every week, and continues to do so to this day.
After this match Randy Savage defeated Scott Norton, who started his feud with Savage the previous week. Meanwhile on RAW the dentist Isaac Yankem D.D.S. defeated Scott Taylor with a DDT he called D.D.S. for some reason. He also did a chokeslam. Yankem would eventually be the monster Kane, brother to the Undertaker, but at this time he came to the ring to the sound of a dentist drill and wore fake rotting teeth. This was followed by a What’s Happening In Your House segment. In Your House were Pay Per Views that aired in between the months of the bigger shows like Summerslam, Survivor Series, etc. This segment is hosted by Todd Pengril, who tried to come off like a late night talk show host, making jokes about the TV show Mad About You on the NBC network. Matches of this upcoming Pay Per View included Bret Hart vs the pirate Jean Pierre, who apparently stole sunglasses from a young fan that were given by Bret Hart. Psycho Sid is seen walking to the ring briefly as this segment ends. Later in the broadcast there’s an ad for the next in your house with a kid parting at home with the Smoking Guns and the Bushwackers as his disgruntled mom catches him at the end. It looked like a throwback to the Beastie Boys classic video “Fight for Your Right to Party.”
At ringside Barry Dyzysnky is shown telling the TV audience how they can buy their own Shawn Michaels leather hat and sunglasses. The match gets underway as Vince calls Shawn Michaels a modern day Evil Knievel, the 1970’s daredevil who was known for jumping motorcycles across great distances. Of course as Bischoff has already told us, Shawn wins the match.
Back at Nitro the main event is Hogan vs Luger. Luger was brought into the WWF initially as a heel, but once Hogan left WWF Luger was repackaged as an all American patriot ala the next Hulk Hogan. Wrestling fans at the time would have been clamoring to see a Hogan/Luger match, and might have been surprised it was given away for free on WCW TV. Of course the match did not have a clean finish. Hogan hit the leg drop and was about to go for the pin when the heel stable the Dungeon of Doom arrived to attack Hogan. The Dungeon of Doom was led by the Taskmaster/Kevin Sullivan, and included members Kamala, the Zodiac, (Brutus Beefcake in the WWF), Ming (Haku), and Man Shark (Earthquake). It also included the Giant, but he did not appear on this episode. Sting and Luger ran in to make save Hogan, prompting an argument about Luger’s loyalties. Much to Macho Man’s disagreement, Hogan agrees to let Luger join his team for the upcoming Wargames Pay Per View, as Vader was apparently out.
In comparing the two shows one noticeable difference is Nitro seemed to definitely move it’s stories along more. Raw’s main event almost had no meaning, and the beginning was more of a recap of Summerslam. The first Nitro had a great cliffhanger to the next episode with the Luger/Hogan match announced, followed up this week with Luger joining Hogan’s team. Also of note is while Hogan main evented the first two Nitro’s, then WWF champion did not appear in the ring on this night.
While looking back now WWF is criticized at that time for having cartoony characters, WCW’s Dungeon of Doom looked like they could have been a WWF stable, and while WWF did still have teachers and dentists as wrestlers, they were starting to have edgy content as well. Shawn Michaels was just about pulling his pants down at the end of Raw while dancing around the ring to the delight of the female audience. The character Goldust, a sexually ambiguous character who dressed in gold and painted his face was already introduced by this point. On this night he would appear on a pre-recorded promo calling out the Undertaker.
So you could argue that wrestling in 1995 for both companies was somewhere in between the cartoonish gimmicks of the past and the edgier content that was about to dominate in the coming years. Either way, it was a neck in neck race that night, with Raw scoring a 2.5 rating and Nitro just behind with a 2.4. Wrestling was off to the races, and it was only going to get more wild from here.