Monday Night Wars Episode: War Goes Mainstream.

This episode focuses on celebrity involvement in both WCW and WWF programming. It opens with Mike Tyson ripping up a WCW sucks sign at what I believe was the Royal Rumble. We get a recap of early WWF celebrity involvement, and how Mr. T and Shaq were at WCW’s Bash at the beach in 94 when Hogan fought Flair. We get yet another recap of the beginnings of the Monday Night War, but this time we do get an interesting tid bit in that Nitro and Raw collectively drew 5 million viewers a week.

As the WWF was looking for a new crop of superstars, they sponsored Olympic hopeful Mark Henry, who was a wrestling fan and apparently hung up on Vince McMahon at one point. Interestingly enough he was originally packaged as a patriotic character. UFC star Ken Shamrock was also brought in with some success. Tyson’s involvement at Wrestlemania is covered, and Bret Hart says Bischoff told him Tyson called WCW, but Bischoff felt they didn’t need him.

One of the more interesting celebrity appearances was on 6/8/98 when NBA star Dennis Rodman, who played for the Chicago Bulls, missed practice to appear on Nitro. Hogan on air even joked about missing practice. The Bulls were in the NBA playoffs at the time, and this made ESPN news. Michael Jordon even commented on it at a press conference. Dennis Rodman is interviewed for this episode, about how he and Hogan appeared on the Jay Leno show, only to be chased off by DDP and NBA star Karl Malone. Malone played for Utah, and had back to back losses in the NBA championships to Rodman and the Bulls. The angle seemed to be that Malone had a chip on his shoulder about this, leading to WCW’s highest grossing PPV, 1998‘s Bash at the Beach. The main event was Hogan and Rodman against DDP and Malone. While Raw was still slightly ahead in the ratings at this point, Nitro’s ratings did increase from this celebrity involvement.

Jay Leno would continue to be involved with WCW, as Hogan and Eric Bischoff took over the Tonight Show, leading up to the Road Wild PPV with Hogan and Bischoff against DDP and Jay Leno. (Yes Jay Leno actually wrestled in the match, and got a pinfall win over Bischoff). The Nitro ratings in late August reached 4.8 and 5.2, their highest ratings ever.

A clip from a news show at the time (I believe it was Entertainment Tonight) said that between 9 weekly hours of wrestling shows WCW reached 28 million viewers.

Other mainstream crossovers are mentioned, including MTV’s beach brawl with Kid Rock, Raven and Jimmy Hart (WWF also did MTV but that was not mentioned), Austin and McMahon on Celebrity Deathmatch, Goldberg on POV magazine, WWF’s Superbowl add and Arnold Schwarzenneger on Smackdown. They again cover Sable in Playboy, and Goldberg on TV Guide and at NASCAR, and the Rock’s mainstream celebrity status. Also covered was WWF stock, Foely’s Chef Boyardee ad and his #1 New York Times best selling autobiography.

WCW’s Ready to Rumble movie is covered, (the movie bombed), and it’s infamous Thunder episode on 4/26/2000 where actor David Arquette actually won the WCW heavyweight championship. DDP says that David actually had a negative reaction when he heard he was to win the title. Booker T says that David asked him how many times he was the champion, and at that point he’d never been champion (He would win it later). Vince Russo is interviewed in this episode, and still defends the decision to put the belt on Arquette. His defense is the next day USA today had a picture on the front page about this wrestling angle.

Things not covered on the WCW side that I remember are the musical tie ins. I know Megadeth appeared on Nitro at one point when Goldberg appeared in the movie Universal Soldier 2 with Jean Claude Van Damme. Megadeth had song on the soundtrack called Crush Em, which if I remember right was Goldberg’s new theme for a while. Also not covered was the infamous KISS appearance on Nitro, that segment debuted the KISS wrestler. That initial segment was apparently one of the lowest rated segment of Nitro ever. The rap group Insane Clown Posse also is not mentioned, interestingly enough, they started out as wrestlers before being rap stars, and actually had a run on WCW. Other acts not mentioned are the Misfits and No Limit Soldiers, who also appeared on WCW.

It should also be noted that ECW also had celebrity involvement. Numerous celebrities appeared in pre-taped segments giving shout outs to ECW, and Smashing Pumpkins Billy Corgan, a legitimate wrestling fan, appeared on the show several times.

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Monday Night Wars Episode 11 Monday Night Jericho

Fortunately this Jericho centered episode only has a small recap of how the Monday Night Wars started. It opens with Jericho saying how people told him he was too small to succeed at wrestling. Before coming to WCW he wrestled in Japan and Mexico honing his craft. He also spent time in ECW. He debuted on Nitro on 8/26/96 as a squeaky clean good guy, which did not go over as well with the crowd as this was right when the rebellious NWO was starting. Clips are shown of him getting beat up by Scott Norton and Scott Hall.

Eventually WCW official Terry Taylor told him he was turning heel, which he did on 1/24/98 at the Souled Out Pay Per View. Having more success as a heel, he feuded with Goldberg, mocking him calling him Greenburg, defeating fake Goldbergs and mocking his entrance by going out the wrong door and accidentally locking himself out of the building, having his own fake security, etc. After beating a fake Goldberg he even had a shirt that read Jericho 1, Goldberg 0.

However as this angle was used WCW management was hesitant to actually give a Jericho/Goldberg match. Rey Mysterio is interviewed in this episode and says Goldberg hated the idea. Jericho says Goldberg, Hogan, and Bischoff hated it. Bischoff says he didn’t see Jericho as a main eventer, and Goldberg is on camera saying he thought it was a good angle, but didn’t want Jericho to have a clean victory. We see Goldberg spear Jericho on Nitro, but there never was a pay per view match, and the feud fizzled. From here he went to the WWF.

Jericho was brought into the WWF with much fanfare. The year 2000 was approaching, and there was much angst in the culture about the end of the world and the Y2K virus. One day Jericho was in the Post Office and saw a clock that was counting down to the millennium. This gave him the idea of how the WWF could introduce him. While Jericho was still on contract from WCW, vignettes ran on Raw of a millennium clock counting down. The clock ran out on Raw on 8/9/99, when Jericho finally debuted and verbally starred with the Rock, who was red hot himself at the time and arguably the best talker in the business.

That night Dean Malenko and Jericho’s other friends were watching Raw in the Nitro dressing room in secret. Someone was even in charge of watching the door. It sounded like something out of a prison movie.

However, things did not go so smoothly during his early days in the WWF. He says the boys in the locker room didn’t like him at first, since he was from enemy territory. Big Show describes how Jericho would walk into the locker room and everyone would stop talking.

Jericho was able to rebound, and the episode ends with his post Monday Night Wars success at the 12/9/01 PPV, where he defeated both the Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin in the same night to become the first WWF Undisputed Champion (uniting the old WCW title with the WWF title).

Monday Night Wars Documentary Review Episode 10: Who’s Next

Goldberg is the one new superstar who rose to the top of WCW that was neither a former WWF star or an already established WCW star like Flair and Sting. This episode profiles his career.

Unfortunately it starts out with another recap of how Turner started WCW, and decided to put Nitro on head to head against WWF. At this point it’s officially annoying how the start of ever episode repeats all of this.

Once we get to Goldberg we see a few clips of him sacking people while playing college football for the University of Georgia. He played 3 seasons in the NFL and worked out at a gym owned by Sting and Lex Luger. He was given a try out at the WCW Power Plant and was soon moved onto TV.

WCW’s strategy in using Goldberg was to showcase his strengths and to hide his weaknesses. The design was to have quick matches with him demolishing people. They focused on his entrance with the security coming to the ring with him and the fireworks. Booker Kevin Sullivan didn’t have him talk at first.

The inevitable comparisons to Stone Cold Steve Austin are brought up, but like the Austin episode CM Punk dismisses that, saying Goldberg “evolved more organically” and that the two “couldn’t have been more different.” Stu Saks of Pro Wrestling Illustrated agrees.

The Miz calls his win streak into question, saying every week the number seemed significantly higher. Personally I’ve heard different accounts on the legitimacy of Goldberg’s streak. This is something I’ll have to look into more.

Goldberg’s match against Hogan on Nitro is discussed. Hogan had the championship belt, and made the call to lose to Goldberg on Nitro (Could this call into question claims that Hogan held down younger talent?). On Thursday Thunder the match was announced for the following Monday at the Georgia Dome where he played football. At this point Nitro’s 84 week streak of ratings wins over Raw was over, and WCW was feeling the pressure to stay on top. Giving this match for free on TV instead of a PPV is widely criticized in wrestling circles. The number changes throughout the episode, but WCW apparently filled the Georgia Dome with between 30,000 and 45,000 people with basically 3 days notice of the match.

Goldberg, the now WCW champion, became a mainstream star, making the TV guide cover and appearing at a NASCAR event. Through August of 98 Nitro’s ratings went back up, but Raw recovered by the end of the year. WWF’s Gillberg, a mockery of Goldberg, is also mentioned.

The Starrcade incident is covered, where Goldberg loses the title to Kevin Nash after Scott Hall zaps Goldberg with a taser. This led to the “Finger Poke of Doom” incident that is repeated throughout several episodes of this series, where on 1/4/99 Nash (in story) willingly drops the title to Hogan to reform the NWO. This has become known as one of the most unpopular moves WCW made, and is attributed to WCW’s downfall. Nash explains the plan with reforming the NWO was to put Goldberg in the title chase and have 8-9 guys to feed him and then eventually build to a rematch so Goldberg could get the title back. However, after this the crowd started turning on Goldberg, chanting Goldberg sucks and bringing signs like Fools Gold, Sold berg, and Goldberg=gutless. On 12/23/99 he punched through a limousine window and shredded the tendons in his right arm. He was out for five months. He came back on 5/29/2000, but by then it was too late. Raw more than doubled Nitro’s rating that night with a 6.4 to a 3.0. A year later, the Monday Night War would be over.

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.

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.