While the NWO era of the Monday Night Wars has been well documented, that storyline didn’t begin until around late spring of 1996. Not as much has been written about WCW and their Monday Nitro program in the pre-NWO era. This piece will provide coverage of that era, specifically from their debut until the end of 1995. During this period WCW utilized established WWF stars, as well as older WWF storylines, and, in retrospect, had some foreshadowing of the evil Hollywood Hulk Hogan character.
The major storyline in the opening days of Nitro was WCW champion Hulk Hogan, and his allies, the Hulkamaniacs, fueding with the Dungeon of Doom. Hogan’s allies were Macho Man Randy Savage, Sting, and Vader. Ironically Vader got fired shortly before the debut of Nitro after a real life locker room brawl with Paul Orndorf. Vader was actually seen in the opening vignette of the debut episode of Nitro.
The Dungeon of Doom was a group of villains led by Taskmaster Kevin Sullivan. As much as this era of WWF gets criticized for still relying on cartoonish gimmicks, the Dungeon of Doom could just as well been a villanous WWF stable. They had Kamala, Manshark (John Tenta/WWF’s Earthquake), the Zodiac (WWF’s Brutus Beefcake), and Meng (Haku in the WWF). Another member was the Giant, a 7 foot wrestler who prior to Nitro claimed to be the son of Andre the Giant, and, on the late Andre’s behalf, was seeking revenge against Hulk Hogan. The Giant did not appear on the first Nitro.
The debut of Monday Nitro, 9/4/95, was a few weeks away from their September Pay Per View Fall Brawl/Wargames/The Match Beyond, the main event of which was the Hulkamaniacs vs the Dungeon of Doom. Wargames was WCW’s answer to the Survivor Series. There were two rings side by side with a steel cage around both. There were two teams, and one member from each team would fight each other in the ring. After five minutes, another member from one team would enter, giving a two on one advantage, (which team got the advantage was determined in story line by a coin toss). Then every two minutes another wrestler would enter, until all team members were in. Once this happened, whichever team gained a pinfall or submission would win for their team.
Lex Luger made his shocking return to WCW on the debut of Nitro, and was granted a title shot against Hogan the next week. Hogan vs Luger was a big match at the time, and part of WCW’s philosophy was to show matches of that caliber on TV as opposed to PPV.
The announcers on the 9/11 episode of Nitro said that Luger “Literally came out of the bush leagues to play with the big boys.” During the match Hogan dropped the leg on Luger when the Dungeon of Doom stormed the ring. At this point, Luger joined the Hulkamaniacs at the urging of his real life friend Sting, as the announcers stated that Vader was no longer with the company hence Hogan was a man short for Wargames. Macho Man in story was more apprehensive about Luger joining.
At the Wargames match, the Dungeon of Doom had the two on one advantage (as the heel or villain team usually did in these matches). The Hulkamaniacs were dressed in camaflogue/military gear. Hogan came out and some kind of white dust in the Doom member’s eyes. The Hulkamaniacs won, which meant that Hogan was allowed five minutes in the ring with Kevin Sullivan. After knocking him around a bit, the Giant came into the ring, got behind Hogan, and twisted his neck. This is arguably similar to the 1988 Saturday Nights Main Event episode where after defeating King Kong Bundy, Andre came behind Hogan and choked him out.
This led up to a Halloween Havoc match in October between Hogan and the Giant. In the build up to the PPV Hogan’s character was deconstructed, in a strange foreshadowing of Hollywood Hogan. On the 10/2/95 episode of Nitro, Kevin Sullivan, disguised as an old woman in the crowd, attacked Hogan, leading to the Zodiac shaving off Hogan’s mustache. The next week, Mean Gene interviewed Hogan who came out wearing black and black neck brace. The following week Hogan cuts a pre-recorded promo with a new black and grey background. Here he talks about the dark side of Hulk Hogan, how there is evil inside him. He also talks about how he once worked with a promoter who’s ego got out of control. He then took his Hulkamaniacs to WCW and “As we speak, that promoter is dying, and choking on his own ego.” He goes onto say how Hulkamania is more powerful than wrestling promotions.
Halloween Havoc had a sumo monster truck challenge that took place on top of the events arena where both the Giant and Hogan had monster trucks and tried to push each other out of a giant circle. Hogan’s truck was apparently made by the crew of the Bigfoot monster truck. Hogan won and after wards the two brawled and the Gaint seemingly fell off the building.
Later that night Hogan was in the ring, still dressed in black with a black design painted on his face. They were selling the idea that the Giant was gone. Sure enough, the Giant showed up. The match went on, and after a ref bump this other giant wrestler wrapped up like a mummy came to the ring. This was the Yeti, who debuted at the very end of Nitro seemingly bursting out of a glacier. In one of the more bizarre moments in wrestling history, Hogan was crushed between the two giants as it looked like the Yeti was dry humping him from behind. The match ended in a disqualification, but on Nitro it was revealed that Hogan’s manager, Jimmy Hart, arranged for the title to change hands if there was a DQ. Hart turned on Hogan and arranged for the Giant to win the title. However, due to the bizarre circumstances of the match, the title was declared vacant, and it would be up for grabs at the next World War Three Pay Per view.
Where Wargames was WCW’s answer to the Survivor Series, WW3 was there attempt to outdo the Royal Rumble. This match had three rings with 20 men in each ring. Each ring had their own battle royal, and when there were 20 men left between the three rings, they would gather in one ring and resume. The winner of that battle royal wins the World War 3 match, and on this inagural PPV would win the title. The match was naturally chaotic, hard to follow, not offering much in the way of spots. The TV screen was split into three segments for the audience back home to attempt to follow the action. Wrestlers seemingly exited and entered the ring at will, as you had to be thrown over the top rope to be eliminated.
On the PPV, before the WW3 match, Hogan cuts a promo where he goes back to the red and yellow. He burns the black outfit over which he had his traditional red and yellow outfit. Then cuts a promo on dirt-sheets/the various fan written newsletters that report on backstage gossip pertaining to wrestling such as the Wrestling Observer. “Observe this brother!” Hogan called the dirt-sheets out for saying the Giant would win the WW3 match and saying Macho Man’s arm was legitimately hurt. “This is like a dinosaur compared to the internet brother! The internet’s got the scoops!”
The winner of the WW3 match was Macho Man, who less than ten years prior won the vacated WWF title at a tournament at Wrestlemania IV. That title was vacated after a bizarre finish to the Hogan Andre rematch on Saturday Night’s Main Event (which followed Andre choking Hogan on the aforementioned Bundy match).
The last PPV of the year was Starrcade, and event which actually pre-dated Wrestlemania. The main event had Savage defend the title against Ric Flair, who that same night won a triangle match against Sting and Luger for #1 spot. The show ended with Flair winning the title. Oddly Hogan was not on this PPV (neither was the Giant). Given Starrcade was WCW’s equivalent of Wrestlemania it is a mystery why the first Starrcade of the Monday Night Wars didn’t feature wrestling biggest star, even if he was starting to get booed. Never mind why a Hogan/Giant match wasn’t saved until then.