If you were a fan of pro wrestling in the mid-’90s, get ready to feel old. Twenty-two years ago today, the ball officially started rolling for the Monday Night War, as WWE’s flagship show, Monday Night Raw, went head-to-head for the first time against rival WCW’s spanking new counterpart, the similarly-named Monday Nitro.
In a quick recap of both shows, Cageside Seats recalled that this first-ever head-to-head showdown saw Hulk Hogan retain his WCW World Heavyweight Championship against Lex Luger via disqualification, with the first match of the evening featuring WCW newcomer Sabu (who returned to ECW just two months later) losing to Alex Wright. Monday Night Raw, on the other hand, was main-evented by bitter rivals Shawn Michaels and Sycho Sid, with Michaels picking up the victory. Razor Ramon defeated Davey Boy Smith in the opener, and in another match, the future Kane defeated the future Scotty Too Hotty—Kane was still working his unfortunate Isaac Yankem dentist gimmick, while Scotty was an enhancement talent working under his real name, Scott Taylor.
Also of note was the fact that 9/11/95 Raw was taped a few weeks prior to its air date, and that gave Eric Bischoff an opportunity to spoil the results live on Nitro. To quote Bischoff, the main event saw HBK “beat the big guy with three superkicks.” This would be a tactic Uncle Eric and his announce team colleagues would pull on a regular basis, giving Nitro viewers no reason to change the channel to see how things were going on the other side.
Additionally, that week’s Nitro was actually the second, and not the first episode of the new show. Nitro had premiered on Sept. 4, 1995, and is arguably most memorable because that’s where Lex Luger made his shocking return to WCW, literally one day after he had last competed for WWE. Meanwhile, Monday Night Raw was pre-empted for that week due to tennis’ U.S. Open, which essentially meant the Monday Night War was going to have to wait a week before it began in earnest.
As a longtime WWE loyalist, we had no idea that Monday Nitro would soon kick Raw’s butt in the rating wars, and nobody watching during that time had any clue that a year later Hulk Hogan would turn heel and join forces with the guys who were still calling themselves Razor Ramon and Diesel in late 1995. But looking back, it’s no surprise that Nitro eventually got the upper hand. This was, after all, an era where almost everyone in WWE’s mid-card had some sort of ridiculous day job or goofy gimmick, and it certainly helped that Bischoff was aggressively pushing the fact Nitro was 100 percent live, while leaking the results of WWE’s taped Raw episodes on air.
Of course, we all know that a proverbial series of unfortunate events would help knock Nitro off its perch come 1999, but that, as they say, is another story for another time. (Hint: You might want to check this space come Jan. 4 to look back on one of those unfortunate events.)
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