WCW Monday Nitro 1996: The Pre-NWO days.

WCW continued their war with WWF Nitro in the early episodes of 1996. The January 8th episode hyped the upcoming Clash of the Champions wrestling event on TBS, Bischoff saying fans could watch it for free “Forget about the Royal Fumble,” referring to WWF’s upcoming January Pay Per View the Royal Rumble that Bischoff calls an “over priced PPV.” Clash of the Champions aired on January 23rd, the main event having the Giant and Ric Flair defeating Hogan and Savage. Also of note is Hogan’s entrance included his real life wife Linda, Woman (who formerly managed Ric Flair), Debra McMichael, two other women, and the WCW debut of Miss Elizabeth. This event had the only time WCW mentioned the WWF parody skits airing on Raw, and only back handedly. The WCW 900 number is plugged and one of the selling points is Mike Tenay interviewing Eric Bischoff about the WWF skits.

The taunting continued on 1/29 when Bischoff says “Forget about it Vince, get a job at a Pizza Parlor buddy.” Later former WWF women’s wrestler Madusa (known in WWF as Alundra Blayze) lost to Sherri Martel to which Bischoff says “Madusa should have stayed in the WWF she could have taken on 90% of the male athletes in that division.” Steve Mongo McMichaels adds “She’s a lot more of a man than Goldfarb I’ll tell you that,” referring to WWF star Golddust. Later Bischoff refers to Goldust as the “Rupal impersonator.”

A month later on February 26th Bischoff reffered to the “World Whining Federation.” “DQ Yokozuna in a handicapped match,‭ ‬Jake the Snake Roberts,‭ ‬you talk about picking up some bones here,‭ ‬over Isacc Yankem and Diesel over Bob Holly.‭ H‬e’s still around?”

A few months later on April 22 the broadcast opens with Bischoff “We are not like the world whining federation which a‭ ‬taped canned show,‭ ‬happened a couple weeks ago. Let me save you some time and put your remote control down.‭ T‬he‭ ‬Rupal impersonator, the transvestite Golddust defeats Savio, regains the intercontinental title YAWN‭ ‬Mankind‭ ‬defeats Auto Montoya,‭ ‬bigger yawn.‭ ‬And Vader defeats Batu Oh Boy”

A month before that one of the stranger WCW events occured with Uncensored 1996. The main event being a triple cage match between the Mega Powers, Hogan and Savage, vs the Alliance to End Hulkamania, which consisted Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Meng, The Barbarian, Lex Luger, The Taskmaster, Z-Gangsta and The Ultimate Solution, with the now heel Woman, Miss Elizabeth and Jimmy Hart. Z-Gansta was actor Tiny Lister, known among wrestling fans as villain Zeus from Hogan’s WWF produced No Holds Barred Movie. The character Zeus even had a few appearances and matches in the WWF. On the 3/18 episode of Nitro Taskmaster Kevin Sullivan introduced Z-Gangsta saying “Everybody in the world knows this man and what he did to you in the late‭ ‬80s.”

There was another extremely large wrestler in the ring. His real name was Robert Swenson. Taskmaster, in the ring on live TV, called him the Final Solution. The character was not affiliated with Nazis in anyway, but apparently WCW creative weren’t aware that the Final Solution was the name for the Hitler’s plan to kill all the Jews. By the time the Pay Per View aired the next Sunday, the name was changed to Ultimate Solution. It would be Swenson’s last pro wrestling match (he had a brief wrestling career in the late 80s). A year later he went on to play Bane in the Batman and Robin movie, considered by many fans to be the worst comic book movie ever, (he also had a small role in the aforementioned No Holds Barred movie). Swenson passed away in August of 97, and was perhaps the most unlucky guy in the history of pop culture.

Even without the unspeakably offensive name this match is still known as one of the dumbest things ever in wrestling. Hogan and Savage of course beat the eight other wrestlers, but it is somewhat note worthy that it was Hogan’s last major match before his infamous heel turn. He had a handful of appearances in subsequent Nitro’s, but by mid April he was off the air for a few months. The real life reason was he was filming a movie, Santa with Muscles. There was no in ring story to explain his absence, looking back, one would think they could have had a brutal defeat of Hogan at Uncensored to have an in ring story for his absence.

Of course Hogan would return to WCW at the July PPV Bash at the Beach, and his return would mark one of the greatest moments in professional wrestling history.

Beyond the Mat Documentary Retro Review

In March of 2000 comedy writer Barry W. Blaustein made his directorial debut in Beyond the Mat, a documentary about professional wrestling. He wrote, directed, and produced this documentary about something which he loved all his life, but admits always feeling embarrassed about it.

Beyond the Mat starts with the filmmaker’s own childhood, explaining how he was always a wrestling fan.He recalls seeing a wrestling show as a kid, and feeling befuddled when after the show he saw one of the wrestlers meeting their own family backstage. Seemingly in that moment that wrestler appeared to be a normal family man. Hence, the essential question of this documentary is, who are these people that become pro-wrestlers?

Blaustein starts at the top with the WWF. At the time of this filming the WWF was worth close to a billion dollars, which the filmmaker says is more than the New York Knicks, Rangers,and Mets put together. During a business meeting we hear that WWF was, at that time, the #2 license (I presume this means in retail products) and that they were fighting it out with South Park. WWF is compared to the Muppets, in the sense it’s a family business involving fictional characters. Vince McMahon is interviewed, and gives a very interesting insight into his business. He explains that a lot of people don’t understand what they’re really about, saying “We make movies.” He goes onto say he makes monsters, and compares WWF to the old Hollywood Studio system.

Writer Vince Russo is seen backstage with Sable (Russo would go on to write for WCW). We also see the wrestler and former Denver Bronco Droz, who apparently early on was going to base his wrestling persona around his ability to vomit on cue. It is noted at the film’s end that shortly after the film wrapped, Droz was paralyzed in the ring. There are also a few wrestlers that briefly get screen time sharing their gripes against Vince, including Justin Credible, Koko B. Ware, and Al Snow. While it’s not clear in the initial viewing, Blaustein’s audio commentary reveals Al Snow is in fact talking about his previous run in WWF where he had a different gimmick called Avatar.

World Championship Wrestling is not covered in this film at all. It is only mentioned twice in passing, once by an indy promoter and once by an ECW fan. From the time I saw this in the theater I wondered why that was the case. On the same commentary Blaustein reveals he approached WCW but they would not sign the necessary paper work to let him film. He says WCW wanted creative control of the project. Interestingly enough, he adds that even though they are not covered, WCW programming still ran adds for the show and apparently discussed it on air.

Vince McMahon/the WWF were not as cooperative at first either. The commentary reveals that Ron Howard, who produced the film, lived near Vince McMahon, but amusingly only had a slight understanding that he was somehow involved in the wrestling business. After several meetings Vince finally agreed, but later wanted to control the project, offering to cover the film’s budget. Vince’s request was declined. Apparently after the movie came out WWF stars were told not to do press for the film, nevertheless, Blaustein and WWF star Mick Foley appeared on Larry King Live around the time of the film’s release.

Back to the documentary, Balustein’s favorite wrestler, Terry Funk, is profiled next. Extreme Championship Wrestling is also profiled along with Funk, as Funk wins a match at the first ECW Pay Per View. ECW was a renegade ultra-violent promotion based out of Philadelphia that had a rabid international fan base. Blaustein says in the film “No fans scared me more.” Just after this documentary was made ECW had a TV deal on TNN.

Later, due to health problems, Funk decides to retire and have one last match (It should be no surprise to hear his retirement doesn’t last long). His “last match” is in Amarillo Texas, where he lives and is a local celebrity. His opponent is then WWF champion Bret Hart. WWF and ECW wrestlers are show in the audience. Personally I didn’t see any WCW wrestlers in attendance, but ECW’s Shane Douglas says that only Terry Funk could have brought together people from WWF, ECW, and other promotions. Two fans are also interviewed who came all the way from England for this match.

From Funk the film segues into Mick Foely, perhaps the most unlikely WWF champion. His friendship with Terry is highlighted, and the climax of the film is his brutal I Quit Match against the Rock at the 1999 Royal Rumble, which his wife and two young children had front row seats for.

Also of note are the segments with Jake the Snake Roberts, who was at a low point in his life at the time, and was heavy into drug use. At the time Jake objected to how he was portrayed in this film. He has subsequently got himself through treatment and has been clean for a while. I imagine his feelings on this film might have changed over time.

WWF female superstar Chyna is briefly portrayed, as is former WWF star Koko B. Ware, Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura, ECW’s Spike Dudley and New Jack, and a small California based promotion. From this promotion two indy wrestlers get a WWF try out.

Beyond the Mat is perhaps an unintentional time capsule of a time when wrestling was the in thing. Blaustein on his commentary observes, correctly in retrospect, how wrestling was hot at that time, but adds “I know that will go away pretty soon.” While it is disappointing that WCW is not covered, it seems that was beyond the filmmaker’s control. The goal of the film was to cover the types of people that become professional wrestlers, and I would say it had mostly succeeded at that.

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.