Yesterday was 15 years since the last WCW Nitro aired. Thought this was pretty good.
In the late 90s, a small Philadelphia promotion took the wrestling world by storm with it ulta-violent hardcore style and rabid fan base. Extreme Championship Wrestling, although it did not air programming on Monday nights, served as a third party in the Monday Night Wars.
At first we get yet another recap of Turner investing in WCW, and how Raw’s Saturday morning style did not work with a prime time audience. We see Jeff Jarret’s cowboy gimmick along with the Bushwhackers.
Then we get to the good stuff. The early days of ECW are re-capped, how they broke away from the NWA, how the lower production values added to the content, and how the audience was as much a part of the show as the wrestlers and would even bring weapons to be used. The clip of the Foely/Funk tag match is shown where the audience literally showered the ring with chairs.
As well as this episode tells the story of ECW, unfortunately it still uses the narrative of WCW “stealing” ECW stars, saying “Eric Bischoff had a blank checkbook signed by Ted Turner.” What is not mentioned but is well documented elsewhere is that ECW often had trouble meeting it’s payroll, prompting talent to leave for more security and stability, not to mention a bigger platform. Eric Bischoff is at least given a chance to respond, saying “One man’s raid is another companies acquisition.” In fairness, ECW founder Paul Heymen is shown saying he didn’t like it personally but knew it was just business. He added “When you’re up against WWE and Vince McMahon in a Monday Night War what else are you supposed to do?”
Just before Monday Nitro began to air, WCW acquired Mexican Lucha Libre talents along with other cruiser weights such as Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, La Parka, and Chris Jericho. As time went on, both WCW and WWF would recruit ECW stars like the Dudley Boys, Sandman, and Tazz. Heymen says “Our move was always to find new talent and develop them faster than they were pulling people out.”
ECW pulled off a small miracle on April 13th 1997, by having their own PPV Barely Legal. To help promote it, ECW stars actually appeared on the 3/17 episode of Raw. Paul Heymen was actually in the ring and on commentary with Vince, and announcer Jerry Lawler challenged the ECW locker room to come out the next week, which they did. They appeared on several Raws, and the ratings increased. Cable companies were hesitant to put the violent federation on PPV, (MMA events were not even allowed at the time) but fans picketed outside the cable companies demanding the PPV be aired.
Over the next few years ECW had enough momentum to get on television. TNN, The National Network, debuted a Friday Night ECW show on 8/27/99. This gave ECW more legitimacy, allowing other projects to be possible like a video game, magazines, and T-shirts deals. This episode doesn’t mention it, but the ECW video game was the first, and I believe only wrestling game to get a mature rating.
Unfortunately for them, write as ECW was going on TV, the Sandman and Mike Whipwreck signed with WCW, and Tazz and the Dudley Boys signed with WWF. Sandman in WCW was known as Hack. Mikey Whipwreck is interviewed in this episode, and says that he signed while he was taking time off for injury. Even though he agreed to a WCW deal, he feels WCW simply signed him so ECW wouldn’t have him.
The ECW show had 1 million views per week, but they hit another obstacle as their champ Mike Awesome jumped to WCW while still on contract with ECW. He is shown on the 4/10/2000 episode of Nitro attacking Kevin Nash. The announcers say he’s the champ but the belt is not shown on TV. This led to one of the more curious incidents of the Monday Night War. At an ECW show, Mike Awesome fought Tazz, who was on loan from the WWF. It was the first and only time during the Monday Night Wars that a contracted WWF wrestler fought a contracted WCW wrestler, and the match was in an ECW ring for the ECW title. Tazz won, and days later dropped the belt to ECW star Tommy Dreamer.
It is well documented elsewhere so it was a little disappointing this episode did not cover the censorship issues and other restrictions that TNN placed on ECW. It does cover how TNN was in negotiations with the WWF to move Raw to their network, which they eventually did. Paul Heymen often suspected TNN only aired ECW to test if they could get a wrestling audience, and also to lead into TNN’s Rollerjam show, which was an attempted revival or Roller Derby.
ECW was only on TNN for one year, and without their TV deal, the company folded. Paul Heymen envisioned ECW being a global promotion. What no one knew at the time, was the Vince McMahon was secretly subsidizing ECW, and used it as a developmental territory. In January of 2001, WWF purchased ECW, and just a few months later purchased WCW. ECW’s revival is covered, with the One Night Stand PPV on 6/12/05. What is also covered is the influence ECW had on WWF and the attitude era.
From the beer drinking Stone Cold Steve Austin to the advent of the WWF Hardcore title, ECW’s influence on the Monday Night Wars is unquestionable.
The Montreal Screwjob is the most written about, over-analyzed and controversial incident in the history of professional wrestling. This episode starts with Bret Hart’s time before that incident and ends with the fallout and his time in WCW.
During the steroid trial of the early 1990s, Hulk Hogan testified against Vince McMahon in court. This steroid scandal partially led to the WWF focusing on stars that were not as large and muscular as Hogan. Bret Hart, a talented long time veteran, fit the bill. He and Shawn Michaels, another star also with a smaller build, were friends. A clip is shown of Bret saying they’re friends on WWF programming.
At Wrestlemania X, the two fought for the championship in an hour long Iron Man match. They were both excited about the match. Sunny is interviewed for this episode and she says there was some professional jealousy between the two but it was not personal.
However as time went on Bret became resentful of the attention Shawn was getting. He felt like he was having great matches and no one cared. Bret was also into the idea of being a role model, whereas Shawn Michaels character certainly was not.
Hart’s contract was coming up, and his business manager arranged a meeting with Eric Bischoff who asked him how much money he wanted. Thinking Bischoff would refuse, Hart said three million a year, to which Bischoff agreed.
Still wanting to stay in WWF, he ended up turning down a three year nine million dollar contract and signed on to WWF for a 20 year deal. Clips from the A&E Television Documentary Wrestling With Shadows is shown, which chronicled this period in wrestling history.
During this time Shawn was the WWF champion, but vacated the title claiming he had a knee injury. In an on camera interview Shawn says he “was not in a good place in 96.” That’s not specified much except that he was taking pills. Hart doubted his injury, and Shawn played up on that, doing a back flip during a TV appearance. Tensions continued as Shawn suggested on WWF programming that Hart was having an affair with WWF diva Sunny. Things came to a boil as Pat Patterson says the two got into an actual brawl backstage in Hartford Connecticut. These incidents, along with Hart being critical of the then new Attitude Era, caused Vince to reconsider his deal.
This leads Hart signing with WCW, and the Montreal Screwjob. At the 1997 Survivor Series in Montreal, Bret Hart lost the championship title to Shawn Michael. In the match, Shawn had Hart in the sharpshooter, a submission maneuver that was Hart’s signature move. Hart did not submit, but says he heard someone yell “Ring the bell.” Vince was at ringside during the match, and this would be Hart’s last WWF appearance for over a decade.
Former WWF writer Vince Russo says Hart was given every possible scenario on how to end the match and Hart rejected all of them. The story is that Hart wanted to win in Montreal, and hand the title over the next night on Raw. What this episode does not mention, but is covered in the women’s episode, was the Madusa incident. In the very beginning of the Monday Night War, on 12/18/95, Alyundra Blaze, the then WWF women’s champion, appeared on Monday Nitro, having just signed with WCW where she’d wrestle under the name Madusa. In the very beginning of the program she threw the WWF women’s title in a trash can. Vince and everyone else in the WWF was concerned that Bret Hart would appear on WCW programming and denigrate the WWF title.
Either way, Sgt. Slaughter gives an interview here and says Bret legitimately punched Vince McMahon backstage. This incident also gave birth to the Mr. McMahon character, that would later feud with Steve Austin in perhaps the most successful story line ever.
Meanwhile the episode suggests WCW didn’t know what to do with Bret. We see clips of him wrestling Disco Inferno and the Goldberg steel plate bit. However he did have a run with their title. His injury at Starrcade is covered, he had a few matches after that, but in October of 2000 he was officially done.
Eric Bischoff has said that when Hart came to WCW he was so upset about the Montreal incident that he lost his passion for the business. Hart says that he “never stopped trying.” That’s the extent that issue is covered.
Like the last episode, I would have liked to have seen more analysis toward the end. I wanted them to break down exactly how Bret Hart was used in WCW, as I said he did have their title. In what ways was he not used properly? How should he have been used?
Aside from that, this episode has a good structure of showing Hart’s story through this time in wrestling history, without overemphasizing the already done to death Montreal Screwjob.
One of the many ways the WCW differentiated themselves from the WWF was by acknowledging other wrestling organizations. One of the WCW angles leading into Starrcade was a “World Cup” between WCW and New Japan pro wrestling. Bischoff had arranged a talent exchange between the two organizations. Talent from WCW would wrestle in Japan, and Japanese wrestlers would appear on WCW programming. (One side effect of this was the One Man gang winning the US title in a match not on WCW TV). Sonny Onnoo, a personal friend of Eric Bischoff, would appear on Nitro managing Japanese wrestlers. It was announced on Nitro that the December PPV Starrcade would have a world cup event between the two organizations, but the details were vague until the actual PPV aired.
The world cup was 7 matches between WCW and New Japan talent, all of whom managed by Sonny Onoo. Whichever team won the most of the 7 matches would “win.” In the first match Chris Benoit lost to Jushin Thunder Liger after interference from Taskmaster Kevin Sullivan, who later fueded with Benoit. It was noted during the event that Liger had a Saturday morning cartoon.
In the second match Koji Kanemoto, the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion, beat Alex Wright, putting New Japan up 2-0.
Lex Luger got WCW on the board, beating Masahiro Chono. Johnny B Bad tied it up beating Masa Saito. In a rare moment victory was achieved via the over the top rope disqualification rule. During the match commentator Bobby Heenan mentioned that he managed Masa in the AWA.
Shinjiro Ootai defeated Eddie Guerrero putting New Japan on top. Then Macho Man Randy Savage defeated Hiroyoshi Tenzan, and Sting defeated Kensuko Sasaki, resulting in WCW winning the “World Cup.” This was an interesting and different idea that acknowledged another wrestling organization. The stakes were pretty much just bragging rights and it was not built up as well as it could have been. The world cup angle was never used again.
Around this same time the famous Madusa incident took place. Right at the opening of Nitro on 12/18/1995, wrestler Debra Micelei walked onto the announcers booth. Bobby Heenan can be heard saying “What the hell are you doing here.” Debra in years past had wrestled in WCW as Madusa, but has just did a run in WWF as Alundra Blayze where she was the WWF women’s champion. In fact when she left the WWF they never took the belt off her, and she was now appearing on live WCW TV with the WWF belt.
Madusa had a mic and said “I am Madusa, always have been Madusa, and always will be Madusa. This is the WWF Woman’s championship belt. (She picks up a trash can, and with the camera focused front and center on her,drops WWF belt in the trash). And that’s what I think of the WWF Woman’s Championship belt. This is the WCW. I am now in the WCW, and they used to call me Alundra Blaze, but not anymore, because this is where the big boys play, and now, this is where the big girls play.” She then walks off, and Eric Bischoff refers to her as Madusa, the name she would wrestle under in WCW.
Immediately after this Steve “Mongo” McMichael, the former NFL player and now WCW announcer, brings up a special guest. William “Refrigerator” Perry, the legendary defensive linemen for the Chicago Bears, walks up to announcer’s booth. Mongo said he was tired of wrestlers always coming up to the announcers booth and Perry was going to take care of that. Perry was never involved in any story lines with WCW, but his appearance surely appealed to the older demographic the WCW was targeting.
The Madusa incident is one of the most shocking events of the Monday Night Wars, however, it could be argued that it was indicative of the problems that would later plague WCW. While it was a shocking moment, there was little to no follow through. WCW did not establish a women’s title until almost a full year later. A whole storyline could have been set up around Madusa finding her way (and losing matches) to WCW female talent, and eventually turning things around and getting into the title chase.
Of course hindsight is twenty twenty. Either way, the Madusa incident, along with the feud with New Japan put WCW on the map as a place that offered innovative story lines that were fresh for American audiences.