WCW Monday Nitro 1995 part 1.

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.

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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.