Monday Night Wars Episode: War Goes Mainstream.

This episode focuses on celebrity involvement in both WCW and WWF programming. It opens with Mike Tyson ripping up a WCW sucks sign at what I believe was the Royal Rumble. We get a recap of early WWF celebrity involvement, and how Mr. T and Shaq were at WCW’s Bash at the beach in 94 when Hogan fought Flair. We get yet another recap of the beginnings of the Monday Night War, but this time we do get an interesting tid bit in that Nitro and Raw collectively drew 5 million viewers a week.

As the WWF was looking for a new crop of superstars, they sponsored Olympic hopeful Mark Henry, who was a wrestling fan and apparently hung up on Vince McMahon at one point. Interestingly enough he was originally packaged as a patriotic character. UFC star Ken Shamrock was also brought in with some success. Tyson’s involvement at Wrestlemania is covered, and Bret Hart says Bischoff told him Tyson called WCW, but Bischoff felt they didn’t need him.

One of the more interesting celebrity appearances was on 6/8/98 when NBA star Dennis Rodman, who played for the Chicago Bulls, missed practice to appear on Nitro. Hogan on air even joked about missing practice. The Bulls were in the NBA playoffs at the time, and this made ESPN news. Michael Jordon even commented on it at a press conference. Dennis Rodman is interviewed for this episode, about how he and Hogan appeared on the Jay Leno show, only to be chased off by DDP and NBA star Karl Malone. Malone played for Utah, and had back to back losses in the NBA championships to Rodman and the Bulls. The angle seemed to be that Malone had a chip on his shoulder about this, leading to WCW’s highest grossing PPV, 1998‘s Bash at the Beach. The main event was Hogan and Rodman against DDP and Malone. While Raw was still slightly ahead in the ratings at this point, Nitro’s ratings did increase from this celebrity involvement.

Jay Leno would continue to be involved with WCW, as Hogan and Eric Bischoff took over the Tonight Show, leading up to the Road Wild PPV with Hogan and Bischoff against DDP and Jay Leno. (Yes Jay Leno actually wrestled in the match, and got a pinfall win over Bischoff). The Nitro ratings in late August reached 4.8 and 5.2, their highest ratings ever.

A clip from a news show at the time (I believe it was Entertainment Tonight) said that between 9 weekly hours of wrestling shows WCW reached 28 million viewers.

Other mainstream crossovers are mentioned, including MTV’s beach brawl with Kid Rock, Raven and Jimmy Hart (WWF also did MTV but that was not mentioned), Austin and McMahon on Celebrity Deathmatch, Goldberg on POV magazine, WWF’s Superbowl add and Arnold Schwarzenneger on Smackdown. They again cover Sable in Playboy, and Goldberg on TV Guide and at NASCAR, and the Rock’s mainstream celebrity status. Also covered was WWF stock, Foely’s Chef Boyardee ad and his #1 New York Times best selling autobiography.

WCW’s Ready to Rumble movie is covered, (the movie bombed), and it’s infamous Thunder episode on 4/26/2000 where actor David Arquette actually won the WCW heavyweight championship. DDP says that David actually had a negative reaction when he heard he was to win the title. Booker T says that David asked him how many times he was the champion, and at that point he’d never been champion (He would win it later). Vince Russo is interviewed in this episode, and still defends the decision to put the belt on Arquette. His defense is the next day USA today had a picture on the front page about this wrestling angle.

Things not covered on the WCW side that I remember are the musical tie ins. I know Megadeth appeared on Nitro at one point when Goldberg appeared in the movie Universal Soldier 2 with Jean Claude Van Damme. Megadeth had song on the soundtrack called Crush Em, which if I remember right was Goldberg’s new theme for a while. Also not covered was the infamous KISS appearance on Nitro, that segment debuted the KISS wrestler. That initial segment was apparently one of the lowest rated segment of Nitro ever. The rap group Insane Clown Posse also is not mentioned, interestingly enough, they started out as wrestlers before being rap stars, and actually had a run on WCW. Other acts not mentioned are the Misfits and No Limit Soldiers, who also appeared on WCW.

It should also be noted that ECW also had celebrity involvement. Numerous celebrities appeared in pre-taped segments giving shout outs to ECW, and Smashing Pumpkins Billy Corgan, a legitimate wrestling fan, appeared on the show several times.

Monday Night Wars Episode 13: Divas Gone Wild.

This episode focused on women wrestlers in my opinion is easily the best episode of the series, even though it primarily focuses on WWF talent. It starts out with how in the 80s women wrestlers were a minor attraction that really didn’t catch on with the audience. Because of this the women’s title was vacated in 1990. This was curious to me because from my childhood I don’t even recall them having a women’s title that late.

However once Raw started in 1993, the women’s title was brought back to add to the variety show feel that was Vince McMahon’s philosophy. Alyundra Blaze was the centerpiece of the women’s division, and held the title for years. While she was a great wrestler, the problem was there weren’t enough good opponents for her to fill up the division.

Once WCW Monday Nitro aired, the WCW signed her while she still had the WWF women’s belt. She has previously wrestled in WCW under the name Madusa, and went back to that identity with them. The opening segment of 12/18/95 is one of the most famous incidents of the Monday Night Wars. Alyundra Blaze/Madusa walked onto the Nitro broadcast booth, said who she was, and threw the WWF women’s belt in the trash. My biggest gripe with this episode is that Madusa is not interviewed in this episode or anywhere in this whole documentary. Eric Bischoff is on camera talking about how it was his idea and how Madusa was reluctant to do it.

The impact of this event is huge, although strangely they never say this, it almost had to be a factor in the Montreal Screwjob. A more certain and concrete effect was the WWF retired the women’s title and did not have a women’s division for the next 3 years.

Women in the WWF went back to being managers, but still their role was not as passive, as say Miss Elizabeth (who signed in WCW in early 96) was in the 80s. Sunny was the original WWF Diva, and was the most downloaded AOL celebrity in 1996. Chyna, who not surprisingly was not interviewed, fortunately was profiled. Nicole Bass, another large muscular woman who I remember from WWF at the time, is not mentioned or shown at all. I can’t help but wonder what the bigger reason was for Chyna not being interviewed, her personal history with HHH, or her becoming a porn star.

The Nitro Girls are mentioned, as they were like cheerleaders for WCW Nitro, doing a dance routine at the beginning and end of commercial breaks. I recall WCW having an answer to Chyna in a large muscular woman they called Asya, but she is not mentioned at all.

Sable is mentioned, how she was a valet for Marc Mero, but got the spotlight when Mero was out with an injury. There is no mention of her later lawsuit against WWF or her appearance in the audience of Nitro. They repeat the clip of Nash saying how at one point Sable beat anything Nitro had in the ratings.

At this point the WWF was going to more racy and sexual content, with characters like Sexual Chocolate Mark Henry, Val Venis, who was basically a porn star, and the pimp character the Godfather, who brought a line of women called Hoes with him to the ring. Female talent had bra and panties matches and bikini contests, and Sable appeared in Playboy, which turned out to be one of their best selling issues ever.

While this change in content was happening in the WWF,the WCW was going through the merger between AOL and Time Warner, Time Warner having just acquired Turner broadcasting. This change in corporate culture led to more creative restrictions for WCW. Kevin Nash explained how Standards and Practices representatives now sat in on WCW creative meetings telling them what they were and were not allowed to do.

The WWF women’s title did return on the 9/21/98 edition of Raw. In a match between Sable and Jackie, Jackie won the new title. From here more female wrestlers were brought in, women like Lita and Trish that were attractive but were also very capable of having a good wrestling match. Women’s accomplishment from here are highlighted, like Chyna becoming the first woman in the Royal Rumble and the first woman Intercontinental Champion. The episode is capped off with the first time Raw had a female main event on 9/6/04 (after the Monday Night Wars were over) with Lita defeating Trish Stratus for the Women’s title.

This episode did an excellent job outlying the history of women in the WWF. I wish they would have done a counter episode to show how they did not do as well in the WCW. They did mention how Stacey Keibler and Torrie Wilson had success in the WWF after the demise of WCW. Still there were plenty of other women in WCW who’s stories were not told, and somebody needs to tell those stories.

Monday Night Wars Episode 12: The War Gets Electrified

This episode focuses on the Rock. We get yet another recap of how the Monday Night Wars started, and then some coverage of the history of the relationship between the McMahon family and the Maivia family that the Rock is from. We see his debut at Survivor Series on 11/17/96, how his initial baby face character didn’t work out, and how he eventually turned heel joining the Nation of Domination. This is one of the few episodes where the Undertaker is interviewed. We get an interesting compare and contrast between the Rock and Goldberg, along with his feuds with Mankind and Stone Cold Steve Austin. The Rock and Sock connection is also covered, along with the famous Rock: This is Your Life segment (which had 9 million viewers). We also see how he became a mainstream celebrity. The Rock is the only wrestler to ever have legitimate success in the entertainment industry outside of professional wrestling. We see clips from when he hosted Saturday Night Live along with his being on the cover of Newsweek and TV Guide.

While the Rock’s story is certainly interesting and worth telling, and he certainly was a factor in the Monday Night Wars, this episode almost seemed unnecessary. The episodes about Jericho or Mankind or Austin were good for this series because they all worked for WCW (and ECW) before finding stardom in the WWF.

The Rock introduced the word Smackdown into the English language, another accomplishment perhaps no other wrestler has done. This word became so popular that it became the title of the WWF’s new network prime time show. WWF Smackdown debuted on 8/26/99, and in a reversal of roles, aired head to head against WCW’s Thunder on TBS. Smackdown won that ratings battle immediately.

The Thursday night war is something that I don’t believe has ever been covered in wrestling history. It is noted a few times throughout this series that Thunder was seen as the B show, that bigger name wrestlers didn’t want to be on it etc, while Smackdown had their big superstars like the Rock, Austin, and HHH. Personally, instead of an episode about the Rock, whose story has been told very well elsewhere, I would have been curious to see an episode about this seemingly untold story in wrestling history.

Monday Night Wars Episode 11 Monday Night Jericho

Fortunately this Jericho centered episode only has a small recap of how the Monday Night Wars started. It opens with Jericho saying how people told him he was too small to succeed at wrestling. Before coming to WCW he wrestled in Japan and Mexico honing his craft. He also spent time in ECW. He debuted on Nitro on 8/26/96 as a squeaky clean good guy, which did not go over as well with the crowd as this was right when the rebellious NWO was starting. Clips are shown of him getting beat up by Scott Norton and Scott Hall.

Eventually WCW official Terry Taylor told him he was turning heel, which he did on 1/24/98 at the Souled Out Pay Per View. Having more success as a heel, he feuded with Goldberg, mocking him calling him Greenburg, defeating fake Goldbergs and mocking his entrance by going out the wrong door and accidentally locking himself out of the building, having his own fake security, etc. After beating a fake Goldberg he even had a shirt that read Jericho 1, Goldberg 0.

However as this angle was used WCW management was hesitant to actually give a Jericho/Goldberg match. Rey Mysterio is interviewed in this episode and says Goldberg hated the idea. Jericho says Goldberg, Hogan, and Bischoff hated it. Bischoff says he didn’t see Jericho as a main eventer, and Goldberg is on camera saying he thought it was a good angle, but didn’t want Jericho to have a clean victory. We see Goldberg spear Jericho on Nitro, but there never was a pay per view match, and the feud fizzled. From here he went to the WWF.

Jericho was brought into the WWF with much fanfare. The year 2000 was approaching, and there was much angst in the culture about the end of the world and the Y2K virus. One day Jericho was in the Post Office and saw a clock that was counting down to the millennium. This gave him the idea of how the WWF could introduce him. While Jericho was still on contract from WCW, vignettes ran on Raw of a millennium clock counting down. The clock ran out on Raw on 8/9/99, when Jericho finally debuted and verbally starred with the Rock, who was red hot himself at the time and arguably the best talker in the business.

That night Dean Malenko and Jericho’s other friends were watching Raw in the Nitro dressing room in secret. Someone was even in charge of watching the door. It sounded like something out of a prison movie.

However, things did not go so smoothly during his early days in the WWF. He says the boys in the locker room didn’t like him at first, since he was from enemy territory. Big Show describes how Jericho would walk into the locker room and everyone would stop talking.

Jericho was able to rebound, and the episode ends with his post Monday Night Wars success at the 12/9/01 PPV, where he defeated both the Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin in the same night to become the first WWF Undisputed Champion (uniting the old WCW title with the WWF title).

Monday Night Wars Documentary Review Episode 10: Who’s Next

Goldberg is the one new superstar who rose to the top of WCW that was neither a former WWF star or an already established WCW star like Flair and Sting. This episode profiles his career.

Unfortunately it starts out with another recap of how Turner started WCW, and decided to put Nitro on head to head against WWF. At this point it’s officially annoying how the start of ever episode repeats all of this.

Once we get to Goldberg we see a few clips of him sacking people while playing college football for the University of Georgia. He played 3 seasons in the NFL and worked out at a gym owned by Sting and Lex Luger. He was given a try out at the WCW Power Plant and was soon moved onto TV.

WCW’s strategy in using Goldberg was to showcase his strengths and to hide his weaknesses. The design was to have quick matches with him demolishing people. They focused on his entrance with the security coming to the ring with him and the fireworks. Booker Kevin Sullivan didn’t have him talk at first.

The inevitable comparisons to Stone Cold Steve Austin are brought up, but like the Austin episode CM Punk dismisses that, saying Goldberg “evolved more organically” and that the two “couldn’t have been more different.” Stu Saks of Pro Wrestling Illustrated agrees.

The Miz calls his win streak into question, saying every week the number seemed significantly higher. Personally I’ve heard different accounts on the legitimacy of Goldberg’s streak. This is something I’ll have to look into more.

Goldberg’s match against Hogan on Nitro is discussed. Hogan had the championship belt, and made the call to lose to Goldberg on Nitro (Could this call into question claims that Hogan held down younger talent?). On Thursday Thunder the match was announced for the following Monday at the Georgia Dome where he played football. At this point Nitro’s 84 week streak of ratings wins over Raw was over, and WCW was feeling the pressure to stay on top. Giving this match for free on TV instead of a PPV is widely criticized in wrestling circles. The number changes throughout the episode, but WCW apparently filled the Georgia Dome with between 30,000 and 45,000 people with basically 3 days notice of the match.

Goldberg, the now WCW champion, became a mainstream star, making the TV guide cover and appearing at a NASCAR event. Through August of 98 Nitro’s ratings went back up, but Raw recovered by the end of the year. WWF’s Gillberg, a mockery of Goldberg, is also mentioned.

The Starrcade incident is covered, where Goldberg loses the title to Kevin Nash after Scott Hall zaps Goldberg with a taser. This led to the “Finger Poke of Doom” incident that is repeated throughout several episodes of this series, where on 1/4/99 Nash (in story) willingly drops the title to Hogan to reform the NWO. This has become known as one of the most unpopular moves WCW made, and is attributed to WCW’s downfall. Nash explains the plan with reforming the NWO was to put Goldberg in the title chase and have 8-9 guys to feed him and then eventually build to a rematch so Goldberg could get the title back. However, after this the crowd started turning on Goldberg, chanting Goldberg sucks and bringing signs like Fools Gold, Sold berg, and Goldberg=gutless. On 12/23/99 he punched through a limousine window and shredded the tendons in his right arm. He was out for five months. He came back on 5/29/2000, but by then it was too late. Raw more than doubled Nitro’s rating that night with a 6.4 to a 3.0. A year later, the Monday Night War would be over.

Monday Night Wars Documentary Review Episode 9: Flight of the Cruiser Weights.

This episode focuses on the Cruiser Weights primarily in WCW. It starts out effectively explaining the Lucha Libra/Mexican style wrestling as well as the Japanese style wrestling. WCW programming used Japanese and Mexican wrestlers on their WCW Saturday Night and WCW Pro television shows before the Monday Night Wars began. They were brought in to make WCW stand out from the WWF. This episode makes the point that on the very first episode of Monday Nitro, the very first match of the Monday Night Wars was a cruiser weight match. It was Japanese star Jushin Thunder Liger vs. the Brian Pillman. Having a Japanese wrestler in the first match of the Monday Night Wars drove the point home that WCW was something very different from WWF. While there was obviously a language barrier that prevented most of them from working on the mic, their acrobatic in ring performance more than made up for it. Eventually the defunct WCW Lightweight championship was brought back as the Cruiser weight belt. This episode, however, takes the opinion that the term Cruiser weight hurt the wrestlers in the long run, making them seem appear to be less than the heavyweights. Later a match between Scott Hall and Billy Kidman where Kidman is getting beat up while the announcer says “Well he is a cruiser weight in a heavy weight match up.”

As Nitro moved to two hours more cruiser weights were hired, and WWF responded with their own Light Heavy Weight division. It was not as successful, perhaps because, as Jerry Lawler explained, the higher ups in WWF were skeptical of the move. During this segment Taka from Japan is shown, and Scott Putskie is mentioned. When talking about these wrestlers you can sense a doubt that some of them were even really lightweights to begin with.

As successful as the cruiser weights might have been in WCW, frustration mounted as the NWO was still leading the show. Arn Anderson says Eric Bischoff wouldn’t listen to suggestions to move them up the card. Tensions between Eddie Guerrero and Bischoff are highlighted, as on 8/17/98 Eddie quit on the air. A clip is shown of them arguing backstage over who really made Eddie a star.

This frustration led to defections to the WWF, a reversal from the early days of the Monday Night War. On 8/9/99 Jericho debuted on Raw with much fanfare. The 1/31/2000 edition of Raw showed Dean Malenko, Eddie, Perry Saturn, and Chris Benoit sitting at ringside and later getting involved in the show.

According to this episode WCW never found cruiser weights that could capture the audience’s attention the way the originals did. Kenny Kaos from the WCW Power Plant and the West Hollywood Blondes are shown to emphasize this point.

A more general point is made about an overall lack of direction in WCW. Booker T explains how it seemed they were flying by the seat of their pants. Announcer Tony Schivanne is shown on air saying “What are we going to do now?” after he thought they were going to a match.

The end of the episode showcases the cruiser weight’s success in WWF after the the Monday Night Wars were over in 2001. Hurricane Helms had a victory over the Rock, Eddie Guerrero pinned Brock Lesnar for the World title, and they paved the way for the next generation of superstars that were not heavyweights like CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Tyson Kidd. The episode ends on a high note with Rey Mysterio winning the WWF title at Wrestlemania.

Monday Night Wars Documentary Review Part 8: The Austin Era Has Begun

Stone Cold Steve Austin is undoubtedly the most popular star to come out of the Monday Night Wars. Some wrestling fans even argue he was more popular than Hulk Hogan. Episode 8 of this documentary focuses on his story, and opens with Austin himself saying he had to fight and claw for everything he ever had.

His time as Stunning Steve is covered in WCW, where he went from singles competition, to tag team, then back to singles where he had a great match with Ricky Steamboat. Early frustrations are shown as we see a WCW clip of Mean Gene hyping Hulk Hogan, then going to interview Steve Austin. Austin on camera calls out Gene for hyping Hogan when he’s supposed to be interviewing him.

Bischoff is shown saying how Austin was starting to be irritable to be around, was always hurt etc. Eventually Bischoff let him go. From there he went to ECW, while he was injured he cut promos ripping Bischoff and Hogan and the rest of WCW. It’s here his eventual Stone Cold persona started to come out.

From ECW he went to the WWF where he was the Million Dollar Champion, managed by Ted Dibiase. However, when Dibiase went to WCW Austin was on his own, and had more of an opportunity to develop his character. He’d seen a documentary about a bald hitman for hire, and thinking about that cemented the Stone Cold Steve Austin character. His King of the Ring victory is covered with the famous Austin 3:16 quote, as is his “I Quit” match at Wrestlemania with Bret Hart. His injury at Summerslam in 1997 led to him further developing his mic skills and anti-authority stance.

The Goldberg/Stone Cold comparison issue was inevitable, as it is suggested that Goldberg was WCW’s response to Stone Cold. Leave it to CM Punk to question that analysis, and rightfully so. Their similarities were only superficial, their actual characters were completely different.

The episode ends with Vince selling the idea that Austin was the biggest star wrestling ever had.

Monday Night Wars Documentary Review Part 7: The War Goes Extreme

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.

Monday Night Wars Documentary Review Episode 6: Hart of War

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.

Monday Night Wars Documentary Review Episode 5: Have a Nice Day.

While episodes 2 and 4 of this documentary profiled a specific faction, NWO and DX, this is the first episode to focus on an individual wrestler, that wrestler being Mick Foley.

It starts with Arn Anderson explaining how the WCW strategy was to use already established stars (Sting is shown while he says this). Mick was in WCW, but was not a big star, and eventually left for ECW, Extreme Championship Wrestling. There’s an interesting bit here about how in ECW he turned away from his fans and purposely started having slower paced, scientific wrestling matches, as opposed to the more brutal, hard hitting, hardcore style his fans liked. He started wearing a suit and a pony tail,and carried a teddy bear named Chuck with him.

Meanwhile WWF was still using cartoony characters, and the same clip is shown when they made this point in other episodes. Foley eventually signed with WWF, and early design sketches are shown of ideas for his character. Foley thought about the destruction of Mankind, and came up with that name for use in the WWF. The early vignettes are shown that introduced him before he had his first WWF match on 4/1/96.

Early on Vince was not a fan, but apparently he gave some speech backstage where he admitted the methods he used in the past weren’t really working, and that a wrestler’s character should be an extension of their own personality.

From here the WWF showed home movies from Foley’s childhood, and his childhood character Dude Love was actually brought into WWF programming on 7/14/97. His WCW/ECW era character, the more evil Cactus Jack was brought in on 9/22/97 and got a huge pop from the crowd.

The infamous Hell in the Cell match is covered, where he got thrown off the cage by the Undertaker, only to continue the match and later fall through the cage, and still finished the match. Vince says today that match would be stopped immediately, but they were in uncharted territory then.

After this obviously his physical problems were taking their toll, so he started introducing more comedy into his act, hence the birth of Mr. Socko. His segment with the Rock: This is Your Life bit which drew 9 million viewers. It was not rehearsed at all, to the point where he introduced the Rock’s school teacher as Betty Griffin, when on the graphic for TV it read Mrs. Schubert.

Tony Schiavone is interviewed regarding Mankind winning the WWF title and it being spoiled on WCW programming. This was a tactic WCW used from the beginning, but in this case it backfired, as an estimated half a million people switched stations to see the title win.

Of all the personalities of this era, Mick Foley’s is undoubtedly the most interesting. This episode does a good job of chronicling the journey of perhaps the most unlikeliest of superstars and their rise to the WWF championship.