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.

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.