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.

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 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.

WCW Monday Nitro 1995 Part 2

One of the many ways the WCW differentiated themselves from the WWF was by acknowledging other wrestling organizations. One of the WCW angles leading into Starrcade was a “World Cup” between WCW and New Japan pro wrestling. Bischoff had arranged a talent exchange between the two organizations. Talent from WCW would wrestle in Japan, and Japanese wrestlers would appear on WCW programming. (One side effect of this was the One Man gang winning the US title in a match not on WCW TV). Sonny Onnoo, a personal friend of Eric Bischoff, would appear on Nitro managing Japanese wrestlers. It was announced on Nitro that the December PPV Starrcade would have a world cup event between the two organizations, but the details were vague until the actual PPV aired.

The world cup was 7 matches between WCW and New Japan talent, all of whom managed by Sonny Onoo. Whichever team won the most of the 7 matches would “win.” In the first match Chris Benoit lost to Jushin Thunder Liger after interference from Taskmaster Kevin Sullivan, who later fueded with Benoit. It was noted during the event that Liger had a Saturday morning cartoon.

In the second match Koji Kanemoto, the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion, beat Alex Wright, putting New Japan up 2-0.

Lex Luger got WCW on the board, beating Masahiro Chono. Johnny B Bad tied it up beating Masa Saito. In a rare moment victory was achieved via the over the top rope disqualification rule. During the match commentator Bobby Heenan mentioned that he managed Masa in the AWA.


Shinjiro Ootai defeated Eddie Guerrero putting New Japan on top. Then Macho Man Randy Savage defeated Hiroyoshi Tenzan, and Sting defeated Kensuko Sasaki, resulting in WCW winning the “World Cup.” This was an interesting and different idea that acknowledged another wrestling organization. The stakes were pretty much just bragging rights and it was not built up as well as it could have been. The world cup angle was never used again.

Around this same time the famous Madusa incident took place. Right at the opening of Nitro on 12/18/1995, wrestler Debra Micelei walked onto the announcers booth. Bobby Heenan can be heard saying “What the hell are you doing here.” Debra in years past had wrestled in WCW as Madusa, but has just did a run in WWF as Alundra Blayze where she was the WWF women’s champion. In fact when she left the WWF they never took the belt off her, and she was now appearing on live WCW TV with the WWF belt.

Madusa had a mic and said  “I am Madusa, always have been Madusa, and always will be Madusa. This is the WWF Woman’s championship belt. (She picks up a trash can, and with the camera focused front and center on her,drops WWF belt in the trash). And that’s what I think of the WWF Woman’s Championship belt. This is the WCW. I am now in the WCW, and they used to call me Alundra Blaze, but not anymore, because this is where the big boys play, and now, this is where the big girls play.” She then walks off, and Eric Bischoff refers to her as Madusa, the name she would wrestle under in WCW.


Immediately after this Steve “Mongo” McMichael, the former NFL player and now WCW announcer, brings up a special guest. William “Refrigerator” Perry, the legendary defensive linemen for the Chicago Bears, walks up to announcer’s booth. Mongo said he was tired of wrestlers always coming up to the announcers booth and Perry was going to take care of that. Perry was never involved in any story lines with WCW, but his appearance surely appealed to the older demographic the WCW was targeting.

The Madusa incident is one of the most shocking events of the Monday Night Wars, however, it could be argued that it was indicative of the problems that would later plague WCW. While it was a shocking moment, there was little to no follow through. WCW did not establish a women’s title until almost a full year later. A whole storyline could have been set up around Madusa finding her way (and losing matches) to WCW female talent, and eventually turning things around and getting into the title chase.

Of course hindsight is twenty twenty. Either way, the Madusa incident, along with the feud with New Japan put WCW on the map as a place that offered innovative story lines that were fresh for American audiences.

ECW and the First Shot of the Monday Night Wars

Extreme Championship Wrestling, known amongst its fans as ECW, was a Philadelphia based promotion that had a rabid fan base throughout the 1990s. Known for its hardcore violent matches and adult themed angles, ECW is often cited as an influence on WWF’s Attitude Era. While never as large of an organization as WWF or WCW, the two combatants in the Monday Night Wars, they nevertheless served as a third party in the conflict. ECW took their own shots at WCW, and took shots at WWF that were just as aggressive, if not more so, than WCW did. In this series we will examine the role ECW played in the Monday Night War.

ECW was originally named Eastern Championship Wrestling, given that they were based out of Philadelphia. Originally it was part of the National Wrestling Alliance or NWA, which was an organization of regional promoters. WWF itself was originally a part of the NWA when they themselves were a regional promotion. Once the WWF grew to national prominence the NWA became largely irrelevant to the general public.

Eastern Championship Wrestling was owned by Todd Gordon. The booker, the person who decided what matches would be on the card, was Eddie Gilbert. Todd had a falling out with Eddie, who was soon replaced by Paul Heyman. Paul Heyman was a long time part of the wrestling business, largely from behind the scenes. In his youth he worked as a freelance photographer for the WWF, and had just come of a stint in WCW.

Heyman felt wrestling needed to change with the times. This was the early era of grunge music, Nirvana and other bands out of Seattle were popular, while both WWF and WCW were mostly putting out a more cartoonist product as they had in the 1980s. Heyman felt wrestling needed it’s own grunge movement. He also was inspired by a Newsweek article about the problems of young men in places like New York City and South Central Los Angeles. Heyman recalls the article said “today we live in an environment that for the first time ever, there are teenagers that are more afraid of living than dying.” (Loverro p.28)

ECW, under Paul Heyman’s guidance, established its new identity before the advent of the Monday Night Wars. On 8/27/94, a tournament was held to crown the a new NWA champion. Shane Douglas of ECW was booked to win. Upon winning, he got on the mic, and mentioned several wrestlers from previous generations (such has Harley Race, Barry Windham, Ric Flair, whom he personally disliked, and Ricky Steamboat), then said “They can all kiss my ass.” before throwing the belt down. He went on, “Tonight, before God and my father (who died the previous year) as witness, I declare myself, The Franchise, as the new Extreme Championship Wrestling Heavyweight Champion of the world. We have set out to change the face of professional wrestling. So tonight, let the new era begin, the era of the sport of professional wrestling, the era of the Franchise, the era of ECW.” Douglas would eventually go to the WWF, and was actually on the first RAW that went head to head with WCW. Apparently unhappy their he would return to ECW before moving on to WCW.

ECW did not have a regular network or cable television show in the early to mid 90s. They did have a show called ECW Hardcore TV, which was syndicated and often aired during late night hours. Any dates mentioned for specified matches and/or events in this series refer to when they originally aired on television (dates provided by WWE network) and do not reflect the dates they actually occurred.

It could be argued that the first shot in the Monday Night Wars was fired by ECW. On August 29th, 1996, just under a week before the Monday Night Wars officially began, ECW Hardcore TV aired the last ECW match between Eddie Guerrero and Dean Malenko. During the program ECW announcer Joey Styles was in the ring, and told the live audience that both participants would be leaving for WCW. In the audience, front and center for the camera to see was a large “Bischoff Sucks” banner. The crowd chanted “Bischoff sucks” followed by “dick.” (I watched this on the WWE Network and they had Malenko come out to the same music he had in WCW. Can anyone out there tell me if this was edited?) It was a 2/3 falls match. Eddie got the first fall, Malenko got the next, followed by a double pin and an apparent draw. Throughout the match the crowd chanted “Please don’t go.” and Joey Styles said this was “the last time they can take it to the extreme.” After the match both participants got on the mic and congratulated each other and thanked the fans for their support. Several wrestlers along with Paul Heyman came to the ring and hoisted them up on their shoulders. It was a very emotional night for the ECW crowd.

In the traditional history of the Monday Night Wars, WCW and Bischoff specifically take a lot of heat for “stealing” ECW talent. Eric Bischoff counters this by saying “one man’s raid is another company’s acquisition. We never raided anybody. We never raided the WWE, despite everybody’s opinion to the contrary. We never raided ECW. We never raided anybody….Did some talent leave ECW and come to WCW? Of course they did, because: A, they probably weren’t getting paid, and they had to in order to pay their bills and feed their families, and B, they recognized that WCW was a much stronger, much more secure, and much larger platform to ply their trade.” (Loverro p.102-103) Either way, throughout the 1990s there was a pattern of ECW developing new talent, only to lose them to both WCW and WWF. ECW would subsequently replace them with new talent, and the circle continued.

Sources

Loverro, Thom, with Paul Heyman, Tazz, and Tommy Dreamer, The Rise and Fall of ECW. Pocket Books. New York, London, Toronto, Sydney, 2006