Beyond the Mat Documentary Retro Review

In March of 2000 comedy writer Barry W. Blaustein made his directorial debut in Beyond the Mat, a documentary about professional wrestling. He wrote, directed, and produced this documentary about something which he loved all his life, but admits always feeling embarrassed about it.

Beyond the Mat starts with the filmmaker’s own childhood, explaining how he was always a wrestling fan.He recalls seeing a wrestling show as a kid, and feeling befuddled when after the show he saw one of the wrestlers meeting their own family backstage. Seemingly in that moment that wrestler appeared to be a normal family man. Hence, the essential question of this documentary is, who are these people that become pro-wrestlers?

Blaustein starts at the top with the WWF. At the time of this filming the WWF was worth close to a billion dollars, which the filmmaker says is more than the New York Knicks, Rangers,and Mets put together. During a business meeting we hear that WWF was, at that time, the #2 license (I presume this means in retail products) and that they were fighting it out with South Park. WWF is compared to the Muppets, in the sense it’s a family business involving fictional characters. Vince McMahon is interviewed, and gives a very interesting insight into his business. He explains that a lot of people don’t understand what they’re really about, saying “We make movies.” He goes onto say he makes monsters, and compares WWF to the old Hollywood Studio system.

Writer Vince Russo is seen backstage with Sable (Russo would go on to write for WCW). We also see the wrestler and former Denver Bronco Droz, who apparently early on was going to base his wrestling persona around his ability to vomit on cue. It is noted at the film’s end that shortly after the film wrapped, Droz was paralyzed in the ring. There are also a few wrestlers that briefly get screen time sharing their gripes against Vince, including Justin Credible, Koko B. Ware, and Al Snow. While it’s not clear in the initial viewing, Blaustein’s audio commentary reveals Al Snow is in fact talking about his previous run in WWF where he had a different gimmick called Avatar.

World Championship Wrestling is not covered in this film at all. It is only mentioned twice in passing, once by an indy promoter and once by an ECW fan. From the time I saw this in the theater I wondered why that was the case. On the same commentary Blaustein reveals he approached WCW but they would not sign the necessary paper work to let him film. He says WCW wanted creative control of the project. Interestingly enough, he adds that even though they are not covered, WCW programming still ran adds for the show and apparently discussed it on air.

Vince McMahon/the WWF were not as cooperative at first either. The commentary reveals that Ron Howard, who produced the film, lived near Vince McMahon, but amusingly only had a slight understanding that he was somehow involved in the wrestling business. After several meetings Vince finally agreed, but later wanted to control the project, offering to cover the film’s budget. Vince’s request was declined. Apparently after the movie came out WWF stars were told not to do press for the film, nevertheless, Blaustein and WWF star Mick Foley appeared on Larry King Live around the time of the film’s release.

Back to the documentary, Balustein’s favorite wrestler, Terry Funk, is profiled next. Extreme Championship Wrestling is also profiled along with Funk, as Funk wins a match at the first ECW Pay Per View. ECW was a renegade ultra-violent promotion based out of Philadelphia that had a rabid international fan base. Blaustein says in the film “No fans scared me more.” Just after this documentary was made ECW had a TV deal on TNN.

Later, due to health problems, Funk decides to retire and have one last match (It should be no surprise to hear his retirement doesn’t last long). His “last match” is in Amarillo Texas, where he lives and is a local celebrity. His opponent is then WWF champion Bret Hart. WWF and ECW wrestlers are show in the audience. Personally I didn’t see any WCW wrestlers in attendance, but ECW’s Shane Douglas says that only Terry Funk could have brought together people from WWF, ECW, and other promotions. Two fans are also interviewed who came all the way from England for this match.

From Funk the film segues into Mick Foely, perhaps the most unlikely WWF champion. His friendship with Terry is highlighted, and the climax of the film is his brutal I Quit Match against the Rock at the 1999 Royal Rumble, which his wife and two young children had front row seats for.

Also of note are the segments with Jake the Snake Roberts, who was at a low point in his life at the time, and was heavy into drug use. At the time Jake objected to how he was portrayed in this film. He has subsequently got himself through treatment and has been clean for a while. I imagine his feelings on this film might have changed over time.

WWF female superstar Chyna is briefly portrayed, as is former WWF star Koko B. Ware, Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura, ECW’s Spike Dudley and New Jack, and a small California based promotion. From this promotion two indy wrestlers get a WWF try out.

Beyond the Mat is perhaps an unintentional time capsule of a time when wrestling was the in thing. Blaustein on his commentary observes, correctly in retrospect, how wrestling was hot at that time, but adds “I know that will go away pretty soon.” While it is disappointing that WCW is not covered, it seems that was beyond the filmmaker’s control. The goal of the film was to cover the types of people that become professional wrestlers, and I would say it had mostly succeeded at that.

Eric Bischoff: Sports Entertainment’s Most Controversial Figure DVD Review

This year the WWE released a 3 DVD set about Eric Bischoff, the former head of World Championship Wrestling, who kick started the Monday Night Wars and changed the business of professional wrestling. The first disc features a new documentary about his life.

Interestingly enough the documentary opens with a series of clips from previous WWE documentaries/specials etc where various people charge Eric Bischoff with being egotistical, conducting un-ethical business practices, and in particular, Mean Gene Oakerland’s charge that he gave everyone in WCW creative control in their contracts.

From here it goes into his life story, his early upbringing in Detroit, where his brother tells of all the fights Eric got into, before moving onto Pittsburgh and Minneapolis. Much of Eric’s life story is probably familiar to wrestling fans, especially those who read his autobiography “Controversy Creates Cash.” One nice touch this documentary offers is seeing the actual commercial of the Ninja Star Wars game he developed with Sonny Ono, which ran on a regional wrestling TV show, and was pretty much Eric’s entry into the wrestling business. Disc 2 of this set also has a segment from one of the wrestling programs promoting Ninja Star Wars.

Also shown is his infamous 1990 audition for an announcing job at WWF. At this point in his life he’d fallen on hard times financially, and when auditioning for the WWF he was asked to sell a broom. Needless to say he didn’t get the job, but admits now he knows he wasn’t ready for it.

Taking a break from his past the next segment is about his Cody Buffalo Beer, his brand of beer he personally started just a few years ago based out of Wyoming, which is where he now lives.

Back to his past he discusses his philosophy of TV which he calls SARSA, for Story, Aniticipation, Reality, Surprise, and Action. His subsequent rise to head of WCW and creation of Nitro is covered, again much of which is probably familiar to wrestling fans. Footage of the early Disney MGM shows is shown.

The montage of clips criticizing Bischoff is repeated, and Eric takes a moment to acknowledge these, particularly Mean Gene’s charge that he gave everyone creative control. Eric says the only person who had creative control was Hogan, and, as documented elsewhere, the only time Hogan used that clause in his contract was during the infamous incident with Jeff Jarrett Bash at the Beach in 2000. He says Goldberg’s contract might have had language that sounded similar to creative control, and a small handful of other contracts might have had similar language, but Eric challenges his critics to find another wrestler’s contract that specifically says they had creative control.

One frequent criticism of World Championship Wrestling was that, except Goldberg and the Giant (now known as Big Show) they didn’t develop new stars. Eric acknowledges at the time he wasn’t thinking about the long game. At the time he had so many big stars like Hogan, Savage etc, and his job in 1995 was to make WCW/Nitro big at that present time, so he simply wasn’t thinking about new stars yet.

Another criticism often brought up was the use of Jay Leno, but he says Leno himself had the idea to be in WCW programming, and it certainly did lead to mainstream media exposure.

Some interesting insights are offered into the Tuner cultural climate that led to WCW’s downfall, including some things I don’t recall hearing before. Harvey Schiller is quoted as saying “It was clear that there was more interest on the part of the individuals that were presidents of the cable networks TBS and TNT to put more Hollywood type things as opposed to the wrestling side and one of the reasons was although wrestling was driving the major ratings it wasn’t driving profitability. So one was against the other. That may seem strange but advertisers began to shy away from the wrestling side.”

This is followed by Bischoff explaining how ABC network took out a full page ad in the Wall Street Journal (which is shown here) during the up fronts, when networks pitch new shows to advertisers. The newspaper add reads “Are you wrestling with your mix,” and encouraged advertisers not to advertise on wrestling programs but instead advertise on ABC Monday Night Football and other non-wrestling programs.

WCW star Kevin Nash adds a few interesting insights I hadn’t heard before. He said WCW Pay Per View went to Turner Entertainment. Bischoff adds that WCW got some credit for live events, merchandise, and international business, but got no credit for advertising sales.

The final fate of WCW is then covered. Eric’s business partner of Wonder Years fame Jason Hervey talks about how they tried to buy WCW. Hervey doesn’t recall exactly but he thinks the FX network might have offered them a TV deal but it was only for something like 44 episodes, which was “not enough to keep the money intact.”

Bischoff’s career in WWE is highlighted, where he says one of his favorite moments was being disguised as an old minister on Smackdown’s “Commitment Ceremony” (implied to be a gay wedding) between wrestlers Billly Gunn and Chuck Pulumbo.

Disc two includes various clips cut from the Disc 1 Documentary, including another segment on his brand of beer. He also has a top ten controversial moments, including his challenge to Vince McMahon, which he says was in part a response to a RAW promo by former WCW employee X-Pac.

Also included is a two part interview by John Bradshaw originally shown on the WWE Network. In another segment Eric says that after that interview was over he realized he was glad that Vince bought WCW instead of the other way around. His feeling is that the AOL corporation would not have the commitment to wrestling that Vince McMahon has.

The third disc has various clips from WCW and WWE featuring Bischoff, coupled with a few extra interview segments.

This disc is definitely a worthwhile presentation on the life of Eric Bischoff that does in fact offer a few new insights into the Monday Night War.

Monday Night Wars: The Video Game!

A few years ago I blogged about an idea I’d obsessed over for a while. What if they made a Monday Night Wars video game? Here I’ll discuss an updated version of my idea.

I should say up front that I’m a completist. In my mind this game would have every wrestler, gimmick, TV show, Pay Per View, match type, title belt, and announcer that ever appeared on WWF, WCW, and ECW programming from September of 1995 to March of 2001. Realistically that’s impossible, as there must have been literally hundreds of wrestlers that appeared on TV during those 5 and a half years. Also a good portion of those wrestlers had short lived careers, hence there wouldn’t be as much of a demand from fans to see those wrestlers in a video game. Some of this could be amended with an initial roster followed by downloadable content packs of various wrestlers like they do these days anyway.

If they ever actualy made a game like this, for the announcers they’d likely just have the current RAW announcing team do the in game commentary. Again in my mind I’d love to have all the announcers, Eric Bischoff, Bobby Heenan, Joey Styles, Paul Heyman, Vince McMahon, Jim Ross, etc. It would also be amusing if you could mix and match the announcers during exhibition mode and unlock some unique exchanges and humorous dialogue. For example have Lawler and Heyman, or Bischoff and McMahon, or a three man announcing team of McMahon, Bischoff, and Heyman. At the very least they could do Shivanoe and Bischoff for WCW, Lawler and J.R. for WWF, and Joey Styles for ECW. For simplicity sake they’d probably just have one ring announcer, but it would be cool to mix those up as well. For big name WCW matches it would be awesome to have Michael Buffer on the mic with his famous line “Let’s get ready to rumble!”

Nitro, Raw, and the ECW arena would all be playable settings, along with all the PPVs. Other arenas could be included along with some unlockables, like Sunday Night Heat, Thunder, and Smackdown.

Wrestling video games usually have the different match types, like singles, tag team, triple threat, survivor series, royal rumble, etc. This game would have to have the WCW specialty matches like War Games, World War Three, and the triple steel cage. I’d want to see all the belts, like the different hardcore titles, women’s belts, TV championships, etc. Some of these belts could be unlocked by playing championship modes. Games in the past had a championship mode where you play through a series of matches to win one of the secondary or tag team belts.

In the last few years the WWE games have had features where you play through a timeline of different matches from different periods of wrestling history. I envision a similar mode for this game. I see it broken down by different eras for each company. For example, WCW would start with the pre-NWO era, from 9/95 to 96’s Bash at the Beach. The next era would be NWO, then NWO Wolfpac, then New Blood/Millionaires, etc.

Career mode could be pretty sophisticated. You pick one wrestler, and choose a company to start in, WCW, WWE, or ECW. Your goal is to win the world titles in all three companies. Secondary goals are to win at all the PPV and match types of each company, and finally to simply survive the Monday Night Wars. This could also be like a role playing game where you have to train your character, develop different skills, avoid injury, and make money to buy other unlocked characters, PPVs, match types, outfits, etc.

For this mode each company would have advantages and disadvantages. ECW would earn you the least money, but would make you the most popular. Their training would be average. WWE would have the best training, average money, but not make you as popular. WCW would pay the most, give average popularity, but the lowest training.

There’d be lots of unlockables, like different wrestlers or old gimmicks, (Like Austin’s ring master gimmick, etc.) The look of each years PPV would be unlockable as well. (Example, Wresltemania XVI, XVII, XVIII etc)

One feature they tried a few times in the Smackdown vs Raw series that always sounded interesting never seemed to turn out right was the general manager mode. I don’t know how to make that interesting, but there has to be a fun mode where you actually run WCW, WWE, and ECW. You have to fight off invasions from other brands, deal with network and locker room politics, etc. One idea is for WCW you invade the WWE taped shows to steal there results. If you win a backstage brawl, then you get the results back to WCW for a ratings bonus. For WWE, you’d defend against the same thing. This opens up possibilities to see different outcomes of the era. Like what if WCW ended up buying WWE, or what if by some miracle ECW emerged victorious?

Other “what if” scenarios could be played out, such as what if the Montreal Screwjob turned out differently? After the wars, what if the NWO lasted longer in the WWE? What if ECW kept all it’s big stars? The possibilities are many.

The final mode would be Fantasy Match, where you get to play big matches that never occurred. Hogan/Austin, DX/NWO, Sting/Undertaker, etc.

A game like this, and wrestling games in general could use a trivia game.

Celebrity involvement was a huge part of the Monday Night Wars. Jay Leno, the Insane Clown Posse, and NBA stars Dennis Rodman and Karl Malone actually had matches on WCW PPVs. Other celebrities that made appearances include Mike Tyson, Pete Rose, and rapper Master P. There was also the KISS wrestler, and WWF’s Gangrel was liscenced from a vampire role playing game published by White Wolf. Realistically I imagine these people would not appear in a video game due to liscence fees, however Mike Tyson was once included in a WWE game.

Regarding a game about this era, the two elephants in the room are Owen Hart and Chris Benoit. It would be nice to have Owen Hart in the game, just exclude his Blue Blazer gimmick and the Over the Edge Pay Per View. Benoit has been erased from history, so he’ll never appear in a wrestling video game again.

Unfortunately I’m afraid the ship has sailed on this game anyway. If they would have done it I think it would have been done a few years ago. ECW had appeared in the last few Smackdown vs Raw games. WWE 2K13 was a nostalgia trip on the WWF Attitude Era. 2K14 showcased 30 years of Wrestelmania (and finally made beating the Undertaker at Wrestlemania a thing in video games). 2K15 was pretty much just the current roster. It would have been nice to at least have seen a WCW video game that would have covered it’s existence from 1988 to the end. That could have been followed by an ECW game covering 1993 to the end. Those two games plus an Attitude Era game could have led into a Monday Night Wars game that you could have uploaded the rosters too. Oh well, here’s to dreaming.

The Origin of the Monday Night Wars

The roots of the Monday Night Wars stem from a rivalry between Vince McMahon and Ted Turner that went as far back as the 1980s, when Vince McMahon was first taking his promotion national.

Before the advent of cable television, the professional wrestling scene in the North America was made up of several small regional territories that never crossed over into one another. What would eventually become WWE was a territory based out of New York run by Vince McMahon senior. Other territories included Mid Atlantic, run by Jim Crockett, Georgia Championship wrestling by Jim Barnett, AWA in the Midwest run by Verne Gagne, and in northwestern Canada was Stampede wrestling run by Stu Hart. When Vince McMahon Jr. took over his father’s business, he took his company national, hiring talent from other regions in a move that was unprecedented, eventually turning his territory into the global giant it is today.

One of the ways McMahon reached a national audience was through cable, but he was not the only wrestling promoter on cable. Ted Turner launched TBS, the Turner Broadcasting System, which was the first super station, or the first station to be carried on all cable providers. One of the main programs on the super station was Georgia Championship Wrestling. Starting in 1971 Georgia Championship Wrestling aired from 6:05pm to 8:00pm on Saturday nights. TBS’s highest ratings were from Georgia Championship wrestling. Hence it was around this show that Turner built his cable empire. New shows would debut before and after Georgia Championship Wrestling until they built an audience and moved to another time slot. (1)

While it was a different territory, Jim Crockett and his Mid Atlantic territory out of the Carolina’s grew highly successful, and ended up supplying a lot of the talent that appeared on Georgia Championship Wrestling, and thus appearing on TBS. (2)

Georgia Championship Wrestling’s stockholders included Jim Barnett and Paul Jones, but in the early 1980s a young Vince McMahon got control of the company. This put Vince in position to air WWF programming on the TBS network. McMahon offered TBS $500,000 a year to air WWF programming. Turner agreed, and took Crockett’s wrestlers off the air.
While WWF talent appeared on TBS, Vince also had a deal to air programming on the USA network, saying “I thought that would be a great 1-2 punch straight away into the cable market.” Turner and Vince had a handshake agreement, but eventually Turner wanted out. (3)

Turner was not happy when WWF programming was airing on another network besides his own. Turner also wanted to buy a piece of the WWF but was refused. Turner went to court over this dispute, but the court ruled in favor of McMahon, who ripped up his contract in front of Ted Turner. (4) Crocket also wanted back on the air, and paid Vince 1 million dollars to get his old contract back to be on TBS. At the time Vince was planning his first Wrestemania, so basically Crocket helped pay for Wrestlemania. (5)

By 1988, Jim Crockett’s business grew very popular, but unfortunately for them acquired a lot of debt. That year Ted Turner purchased what was then called Jim Crocket promotions and re-christening it World Championship Wrestling, or WCW. At this point Turner called McMahon saying “Hey Vince I wanted to let you know I’m in the rassling business.”
To which McMahon replied “Well you’re in the rassling business…. I’m in the entertainment business. That’s two completely different philosophies.” (6)

WCW star Ric Flair ads “The association with Ted Turner and the cable network was huge. What was bad was he just gave different parts of the company to his friends whether they had experience or not.” (7) The early days of WCW saw a series of rotating bookers (people who plan out the matches) and executives; including Jim Herd, Ole Anderson, Kip Fry, wrestling legend Dusty Rhodes, the controversial Bill Watts, and Bill Shah. Under Shah’s regime, a new position for Executive Producer opened, which would eventually be filled by a young ambitious man who would change the course of wrestling history. That man, was Eric Bischoff. (8)

Sources

1 The Rise and Fall of WCW. DVD, WWE Home Video. 2009

2 Rise and Fall

3 Rise and Fall

4 McMahon. DVD, WWE Home Video 2006

5 Rise and Fall

6 The Monday Night Wars Episode One: The War Begins. WWE Network, 7/7/2014

7 The Monday Night Wars Episode One.

8 Rise and Fall

The First Time WCW Nitro Aired Head to Head Against WWF RAW

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.

The Very First WCW Monday Nitro

It is possibly the greatest conflict in the history of entertainment. Twenty years ago from the time this blog was posted, September 4th, 1995, at 9pm eastern time, World Championship Wrestling debuted it’s professional wrestling program Monday Night Nitro on Turner Network Television. For the next 5 and a half years, WCW would air their Monday night program on TNT head to head against the WWF’s Monday Night Raw on the USA network. In less than a year, WCW would do the unthinkable, and dethrone the WWF’s reign as the number one organization in professional wrestling. During this period, both sides would try various stunts to try to out do the other, and wrestling talent would jump form one side to the other. Meanwhile, Extreme Championship Wrestling, a small Philadelphia based promotion with a rabid fanbase, would serve as a third party in this conflict. This period is regarded by many to be the greatest era in the history of professional wrestling. This era, was the Monday Night Wars.

On this blog I’ll be recording the history of the Monday Night Wars, and my first entry will be about the very first episode of Monday Nitro.

WWF Raw did not air on September 4th 1995, as the USA network aired a tennis program instead. Hence WCW would get a great opening shot in the Monday Night Wars. The first thing about Nitro that was different was that it was live. WWF RAW and their other programs were pre-recorded. Usually their only live programming was their Pay Per Views.

Nitro in the Mall of America in Minneapolis Minnesota. The Mall of America is the biggest mall in the United States (designed by the same people that made the West Edmonton that is the largest mall in the North America). At it’s center is an amusement park and this central area is where the ring was set up for the show. WCW head Eric Bischoff chose to have the debut show in the mall, because he figured if he debuted at an arena and the attendance was poor it would look bad on television. Debuting at America’s largest mall would give the show a different look, and would guarantee a crowd would be watching.

The broadcast team was Bischoff, along with WWF alum Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, and Steve “Mongo” McMichaels. McMichaels played football for the Chicago Bears and won a Superbowl, and would eventually become an in ring talent. This first Nitro was actually his WCW debut, and when broadcasting he always had his dog Pepe by his side. Throughout the early Nitro’s, he would often say hilarious things to encourage people to tune in. They would be along the lines of “If you’re not watching Monday Nitro you must have brain damage!”

Nitro’s very first match would also establish their differences from their competitor. It was a cruiserweight match between “Flying” Brian Pillman and Japanese superstar Jushin Thunder Liger. Liger was a masked wrestler and together with Pillman offered something extremely different for North American audiences. Pillman won the match, and afterwards raised his arms side by side with Liger.

After this match Hogan is shown in a pre-taped segment being interviewed by Bischoff in the mall. Apparently Hogan had a business venture in the mall, a pizza joint called Pasta-mania. Hogan cut a promo for his title match against Big Bubba, and promised that with Pasta mania running through his veins he couldn’t lose. Sadly Pasta mania does not exist anymore.

On a personal note, I remember the first time I was at the Mall of America in the spring of 2000. I actually saw a cardboard cut out of Hogan, which was an ad for pasta mania. They had it on display somewhere in the mall. I think at that time I didn’t know what the significance of it was.
The next match featured a surprise that would set the tone for the Monday Night Wars. During a Sting/Flair match, Lex Luger walked down the aisle toward the ring. Luger had worked in WCW in the past, and but more recently was a star in the WWF.

Personally Bischoff wasn’t a fan of Luger, but Luger was friends with Sting and asked Eric several times to talk to Luger again. When they spoke Eric offered Luger 20% of what he made when he left WCW. Eric figured Lex wouldn’t take it, but he did. As the Nitro date was approaching, they realized Luger’s contract ended literally the night before. In fact on September 3rd Luger wrestled a house show in Halifax, Nova Soctia. Everthing was kept secret, Lex held up resigning with WWF, realizing that at that time WWF owner Vince McMahon kept people at their word. (From the Monday Night Wars DVD, released in 2011)

So when Luger walked down the aisle at the Mall of America on the very first Nitro, it was quite a shock to both wrestling fans and insiders. Bischoff played it off as if it were “real” shouting “Get that camera off him,” and calling for security to remove Luger. Heenan, always playing devils advocate, said it was a public mall and he had the right to be there.

The referee calls the match after Arn Anderson came to the ring to attack Flair. The two former allies had been feuding, and had a match at the upcoming PPV Wargames, which is mentioned here for the first time tonight.

After this match we had an impromptu confrontation between arm wrestling champion Scott Norton and Macho Man Randy Savage. Norton actually confronted McMichaels before Savage came to ringside. During the main event it is announced that Norton and Savage will face each other the next week on Nitro.

The main event was the world title match between Big Bubba Rogers and champion Hulk Hogan. Rogers previously wrestled Hogan in the WWF under his Big Boss Man gimmick. In fact when he came to the ring Rogers was billed as being from Cobb County Georgia, the same as the Big Boss Man. He also used the same finisher. In fact Heenan even says he used to be a prison guard, which was basically the Big Boss Man gimmick,

After Hogan wins, the villainous stable the Dungeon of Doom ambushes Hogan. Luger comes to the ring and helps fight them off, before they almost square off themselves. Hogan shouts at Luger “Why don’t you go back to where you came from!” Mean Gene Oakerland comes to the ring and puts them both on the mic. Luger calls Hogan “The only world’s heavyweight champion.” Continuing on, he says “I’ve been down the same roads as you. I’ve been where you’ve been, I’ve beaten the same people you’ve beaten, I am sick and tired of playing around with kids! I’m here to get it on with the big boys (WCW had an ad campaign that said WCW was “Where the big boys play.”) and that means you.” Hogan accepts the challenge and declares the match will happen on next weeks Nitro, a perfect almost cliffhanger like way to end the first episode.

Nitro was live, in a different kind of venue, started with a cruiserweight match with a Japanese superstar, then showed two of WCW’s top guys, Flair and Sting, and also included former WWF superstars Hogan and Savage, along with Mean Gene and Bobby Heenan. From the very beginning, Nitro established that it stood apart from WWF, offering audiences both the different and the familiar. The first episode had a 2.9 rating, and it was off to the races from here. No one could imagine the incredible changes that wrestling would go through from this point. The war was on.