The greatest feud in professional wrestling history was not Austin vs, McMahon. It wasn’t Bret vs. Shawn, Sting vs. Flair or even Hulk vs. Andre. No, the greatest feud of all time saw two promotions themselves square off for supremacy: WCW vs. WWE!
WCW debuted Monday Nitro on September 4, 1995 in direct competition to WWE’s already established Monday Night RAW. With that, an unmatched rivalry was born, bringing with it a time period unlike any other the business has ever seen. It lasted for nearly six years, until one fateful day. Vince McMahon’s face was the first image seen on the final episode of Nitro, and WCW was soon declared dead by its new WWE ownership.
The Monday Night War was exactly that. It was a war! Shots were fired each week on both sides, some behind the camera and others right there on screen for the world to see. While many memorable moments in wrestling history happened prior to the War and while WWE has carried forward as a successful entity post WCW’s death, it’s hard to argue that no time was better to be a wrestling fan than during those years.
Some of the greatest, most loved moments of all time came to fruition during the Monday Night War. Along with it, however, came some of the absolute worst. Here are 8 reasons we loved the Monday Night War and 8 reasons we hated it.
16 Loved: Utilized Talent
The hottest commodity during the Monday Night War was, of course, the on-air talent. With over 24 hours of weekly programming combined from both companies at the height of the competition, even those considered B-list and D-list stars were given time to shine. While high profile names on both sides were given the most and the best air time, there was still room for names like Barry Horowitz or Sgt. Craig Pittman to make an appearance, something lacking from WWE’s programming today, even with more weekly content and an entire network to fill.
Both WWE and WCW were always quick to sign up-and-comers from the indies or from one another once contracts expired, but the search for new and young talent remained high up on their to-do lists. Stars like Goldberg and Edge were both established during the Monday Night War after working their way through each promotion’s training circuits. It’s a model WWE has evolved and nearly perfected today through the WWE Performance Center and NXT.
15 Hated: Celebrities And Ratings Stunts
At the end of the day, the Monday Night War was all about the ratings and PPV buy rates. Neither side cared in the least if those dollars came from actual wrestling fans or not. If they could get more revenue by having folks like Jay Leno wrestle Hulk Hogan instead of, oh I don’t know… a deserving wrestler, well then that’s what they were gonna do and they did it at a fairly consistent rate.
Celebrity appearances at events like WrestleMania were always a thing, so it’s hard to justify complaining about it. Still, the idea of stealing ratings through third parties who don’t actually care about wrestling is annoying and takes away from those of us who actually care. Attempts at cash grabs during the Monday Night War ran rampant. Some ended up being good ideas like Mike Tyson’s involvement leading up to WrestleMania XIV, while others saw stunts like having KISS perform on Nitro which, needless to say, didn’t turn out so well.
14 Loved: Poking Fun
WWE didn’t mention WCW much on TV. They tossed in a few tongue-in-cheek jabs here or there, but even after WCW was successfully beating them in the ratings it was almost sacrilegious to mention them by name. Back when Vince McMahon was still commentating, Jeff Jarrett returned and Vince nearly choked on the words WCW when he said one of their old champions would make an appearance. Aside from the quasi-lame, sorta-funny Billionaire Ted vignettes, WWE mostly just stuck to themselves.
WCW on the other hand was relentless. The whole idea of The Outsiders that would later give birth to the nWo was that they were there from WWE to take over WCW. No cheap shot seemed too little or big, from Eric Bischoff grabbing signs in the audience that mocked WWE’s product all the way to the WCW announce team giving away the pre-taped RAW results on air. Of course that last one came with a fateful, ratings-turning price the night Mick Foley became a champion.
13 Hated: Politics
WWE has always been forged under Vince McMahon’s vision, with his being the final say over anything that aired, regardless of who joins him in the confines of creative. Backstage politics happen everywhere, but it always seemed like Vince was better at putting out fires before they became too hot to handle. While WWE surely had problems backstage over the years, it rarely seemed to affect the on-air product and therefore the fans as well.
WCW, on the other hand, was a backstage political nightmare. So many hands were in that cookie jar it’s hard to even know who to blame when things went wrong. Since certain stars had contracts directly with Time Warner, they were getting paid regardless of whether they showed up for work or not. WCW had a plethora of people pulling strings to their advantage and it was evident in the on-air product, especially after Eric Bischoff was first let go. There’s a reason an asylum needs a warden. WCW learned it the hard way as politics played a big part in their ultimate demise.
12 Loved: Having A Choice
As a fan, it’s nice to have a choice. Having two (sometimes) equally entertaining products to choose from was nice when one or the other became stagnant or went in a direction that didn’t sit well. While many fans likely tuned in to both products, some certainly chose a line in the sand and stood their ground. It was this choice that actually gave fans the feeling that their voices mattered when it came to what the big two put on television and brought to the arena when they’d swing into town.
When WCW ended, WWE became the only real game in town. The Monday Night War finished with it and to the victor went the spoils, but also the knowledge that while fans could choose to turn their TVs off, they couldn’t change the channel to the competition. It’s allowed WWE to do what they want, when they want, no matter what the fans want to see. Sometimes WWE will reward their fans, but many times they seem as though they could not care less.
11 Hated: Copycats
All too often during the Monday Night War, both promotions would fall prey to trying to copy what the other brand was doing instead of coming up with their own fresh and new ideas to set their own bar higher. Most of the time this happened, the copycat company would produce a poor man’s version of something that was never nearly as successful as they’d hope, let alone as big of a hit as what they were copying in the first place.
WCW had a great Cruiserweight Division, so WWE made a far less superior Light Heavyweight one. WWE introduced their unique Hardcore Division, while WCW started a terrible one that paled in comparison. From a business standpoint I suppose implementing changes like this makes sense. Give the fans everything they want so they have no reason to change the channel, right? It never came off that way though. Nearly every time copying occurred, the execution either fell flat or seemed cheap.
10 Loved: Surprising Pushes And Rising Stars
Not everyone on the roster for either company could be a main event star; there has to be a pecking order from World Champion to bottom of the barrel jobber. Fortunately though, many names deserving to be bigger than they were found their stocks rise and ran with the ball when their time came.
Names like Steve Austin, DDP and Mick Foley, who all worked so hard for so long, became some of the most over and loved wrestlers in the world. Guys like Goldberg were able to become an overnight success, while others like The Rock were able to go from being a hated babyface to one of the greatest of all time. None of it would have been possible without the Monday Night War being such a heated battle. It would’ve been easier to not give certain wrestlers their due or to give up on stars who just weren’t working out as intended if the competition didn’t force the hands to take a chance with what and whom they had.
9 Hated: Exploiting The Past
I’m as big a fan of nostalgia as the next guy, but sometimes you gotta know when enough’s enough and to leave things alone. This is something for which the WCW was certainly more guilty at the time as WWE was quickly on to the Attitude Era and moving forward with its next generation of stars. Even their old acts like The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels were reinventing themselves.
For WCW, it was hard not to hang on to the past, what with most of their higher profile talent on the roster being icons whose legacies ran deeply entrenched in wrestling history. Seeing someone like Roddy Piper return to WCW, despite being past his prime, was fantastic and well deserved, but having him main event against Hogan because of a feud that occurred 15 years earlier was a bit much. Cash grab matches like this, including the maligned Hogan/Warrior II at Halloween Havoc, while digging up great memories of the past, should have stayed there where they belonged.
8 Loved: Second Chances
The Monday Night War provided a big enough stage that it allowed some of the greats from the past who were never considered the greatest to stay relevant as the wrestling landscape was changing around them. While most of them were never able to maintain the popularity they perhaps once had, it was still nice to see them around.
People like Curt Hennig, Rick Martel, Mike Rotunda and Jacques Rougeau were all part of the WCW roster in its later years during the Monday Night War. While none of them made too huge of an impact like they had in their glory years, it gave them a chance to stick around and entertain the fans. Meanwhile in WWE, there was still room for guys like X-Pac and The Big Boss Man to not only get a second chance in the spotlight and make a return, but become quite big parts of WWE’s burgeoning Attitude Era roster.
7 Hated: The Lies
“This is going to be, without question, the biggest night in the history of our sport!” This is a quote that Tony Schiavone, play-by-play man for WCW during the entire Monday Night War, liked to say on almost a weekly basis. Both WCW and WWE were guilty of stroking their own egos. They had to remain confident as the Monday Night War progressed with each week of TV needing to be bigger and better than the last. Not because it was, but because they couldn’t risk fans changing the channel to the competition.
But sometimes the lies they told grew too big and they did it right in the faces of their fans. You can’t plug a main event match between Kevin Nash and Hulk Hogan for the WCW World Title on every segment of a show and then reward fans for sticking around by giving them the finger poke of doom. How many main event matches on both RAW and Nitro ended in a two minute non-finish? Way too many, by my count.
6 Loved: The Risks
In order to be the best, to take the competition down a peg or two, both companies would take risks, and not necessarily risks as in high spots like a Mick Foley dive off a Hell in a Cell (although those types of risks happened too). Rather, they took risks like trying something new or, dare I say, actually giving fans what they wanted. While they didn’t happen all the time, they did happen seemingly more frequently during the Monday Night War than in the WWE today.
Pushing a popular but essentially untested wrestler like Goldberg was a risk. Attempting to make Vince McMahon, the actual head of the company, an on-screen villain was a risk. These are things that didn’t have to happen but they decided to try and it worked out tremendously. Sure, sometimes you take risks and they aren’t received in quite the same way, like David Arquette winning the WCW World Title, but you take the good with the bad. Sometimes the risk could become bigger than you’d ever imagine. It’s better than…
5 Hated: The Same Old Thing
Sometimes when something works in wrestling, when it clicks with fans or becomes popular, it isn’t always a good thing. It is at first, of course, but in a world where anything can become stale or boring, it’s tough to justify repeating it as often as some things tend to be in wrestling. Both WCW and WWE went to the well too often with certain things because they were too afraid to try something new.
How many times did we need Kane vs. The Undertaker or The Rock vs. Austin? How many times did the nWo need to pull a fast one or for Sting plummet from the rafters to clean house? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, I guess, and it makes sense, but it can also put you into limbo. There was too many feuds that went too long during the Monday Night War and too many times fans would tune into their favorite Monday night wrestling program and felt as if they were watching a rerun.
4 Loved: Jumping Ship
Was there ever anything more exciting during the Monday Night War than when a superstar jumped ship to the competition? The internet age was alive and well and smart marks everywhere would flock to their wrestling rumor sites to let the world know someone from the competition was backstage at either RAW or Nitro ready to make their debut. It was enough to make any wrestling fan buzz with excitement.
For some of these jumpers, like Chris Jericho and The Big Show, it was the first time fans got to see some of WCW’s best and brightest stars of the future mix it up with a brand new roster of possibilities. For others, like when Bret Hart finally made his WCW debut, it was one of those moments when you knew nothing was gonna be the same again. Unfortunately, WCW completely dropped the ball on how they handled The Hitman, but still, at the time it felt crazy to see such a long time face of WWE in WCW.
3 Hated: Lack of Dream Match Impossibilities
The ship jumpers opened doors that made wrestling fans salivate with possibilities. When The Radicalz jumped to WWE, all anyone could talk about was dream matches like Benoit or Guerrero against the likes of Kurt Angle. That’s what made jumping ship so exciting because that was the only way you were ever gonna get some of the biggest dream matches of all time.
Sure when WWE bought WCW, it opened a lot of doors and slowly but surely, we got almost all the ex-WCW stars over in WWE, but that was after WWE was the only game in town. So many wrestlers stayed true to their respective promotions during the Monday Night War that fans missed out on countless dream bouts. Imagine Sting and The Undertaker in their prime going one-on-one or Hulk Hogan squaring off against Stone Cold Steve Austin. The fact that these companies protected their elite stars to the best of their ability made it next to impossible for any of these epic matches to ever become a possibility.
2 Loved: The Competition
Marvel and DC… Disney and DreamWorks… Xbox and PlayStation… competition breeds excellent work because it forces your hand before the other guys beat you to the punch. For all the good and bad things about the Monday Night War, the bottom line is each side pushed one another to their limit. Being obsessed with ratings and buy rates may have caused a lot of lame situations to go down over the years, but more often, it forced bold decisions and exciting television in a fight to stay on top.
WCW would have never been nearly as good as it once was if WWE wasn’t a couple of channels away pushing the envelope with the Attitude Era and developing new stars. Likewise, WWE wouldn’t have gone on to be anything close to the success it was if WCW had not forced them to change how they do business. These two companies may have been direct competition, but without one another, all you get is what WWE is today. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing necessarily, but it sure isn’t the same.
1 Hated: The Death of WCW
Unfortunately, when you have a battle between two opposing forces and each side openly declares war, one of those two sides has to win and the other has to lose. WWE may have a successful and thriving product today, some 15 years after WCW closed its doors for good, but where could it be had that never happened? Competition is almost necessary. WCW lit a fire under WWE that, had it kept pumping, would’ve made them even bigger, better and certainly more entertaining than they are today.
WCW, with all its faults and darkest times included, was still an outstanding, game-changing product. They were able to do the unthinkable by dethroning WWE as the premier sports entertainment federation in the world. There’s a sense of legacy that died along with it, all the while creating a monopoly in the wrestling world that nobody has come even remotely close to touching. Even though I personally was always a WWE fan first, the one thing I would change about the Monday Night War would be WCW still going strong today.