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.