If you’re anything like me, Mondays outside of NFL season feel a little empty ever since WCW Monday Nitro went off the air. At least from September until January if Monday Night Raw stinks, you can flip over to the game or vice versa, but the rest of the year, it’s Raw or Antiques Roadshow … at least that’s what I’ve been told by people.
Nitro was on fire for a relatively short time in the late 90s but it’s still remembered fondly by fans of professional wrestling nearly 20 years later. The WWE Network has made getting your Nitro fix much easier and has dedicated a series to the ratings battle between the two companies. Might you be tempted to flip over to the Network next week if they ran an old episode of Nitro against a live episode of Raw?
Nitro, as Kevin Nash once said, was where the big boys played and they were the place to be for 84 consecutive weeks. But nothing lasts forever and it seemed as soon as WCW reached the mountain top, it all went to their heads and they began putting out complete garbage. There were massive changes and also storylines that would never die, but watching the company fall apart was also entertaining in a way.
I was a teenager in those years, just the the type of person the WCW and WWE were hoping to appeal to. They did and whether it’s the nostalgia factor or the belief that things were truly better back then, it’s no wonder I find myself checking out old episodes from the Monday night war. Here are some more reasons why you and I, and probably many of you, miss Monday Nitro.
15 Crazy Locations
The very first episode took place in the middle of the Mall of America, because pro wrestling goes hand-in-hand with the Gap and Auntie Anne’s pretzels. But it made sense as there was a built in audience and they didn’t even have to provide much seating. People just watched from the concourses. WCW also took the show to spring break in Florida, which one year saw Kevin Nash jump in the pool around the ring. They even took the show to Australia in October 2000.
Every RAW pretty much looks the same now, with the universal sets and the standard arena setting. Wrestling should have some charm to it and shows should have a unique feel to them. Nitro provided that.
14 Mike Tenay
A walking encyclopedia of wrestling knowledge, the Professor was an announcer with WCW from 1994 until its end in 2001. Tenay’s shtick for a while focused on his knowledge of wrestlers from around the globe, which WCW brought in like no other, but the man has never appeared on WWE television. He brought an interesting perspective to the ring and knew the name to every hold you would see. He was named the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Announcer of the Year in 1997.
Nothing says “wrasslin” quite like a tie-in with NASCAR or monster trucks. Enter the WCW Chevrolet and the Goldberg monster truck. The car didn’t fare so hot on the track, but the truck was a major force around the Monster Jam circuit in the early 2000s. The drivers and vehicles appeared on Nitro with the Goldberg truck doing a number to Rick and then Scott Steiner’s cars on a couple of episodes. Once the WWE purchased its rival, the agreements were dropped.
12 Nitro Girls
I was in high school and college in the mid to late 90s so girls dancing in skimpy outfits worked for me. Yes, the Nitro Girls were basically useless and nothing more than eye candy, but you paid attention when they were on screen. It’s okay, you can admit you had a favorite. Some of them, including Kimberly and Skye, went on to bigger roles with the company and three of them are/were married to Hall of Famers (Kimberly was married to DDP, Storm is married to Booker T and Whisper is married to Shawn Michaels). Why professional wrestling ever needed cheerleaders is beyond me, but hey, when in Rome.
11 Larry Zbyszko
Let it be known that I’m a fan of Larry Zbyszko. He was one of the great heels of his day, feuding with the great Bruno Sammartino, and later had a solid run at the announce table. The crowd loved him and he acknowledged them to open many of the broadcasts, taking a bow as everyone cheered on. Zbyszko even had a match with Eric Bischoff for control of Monday Nitro at Starrcade 1997. He won. The Living Legend was WCW’s answer to Jerry the King Lawler and played the part well.
10 Celebrity Guests
Remember the randoms that would show up on Nitro and actually hit the ring? For a while it was compelling with Dennis Rodman and Hulk Hogan taking on Karl Malone and Diamond Dallas Page. At least those guys were athletes and of comparable size to the wrestlers. Then you had Jay Leno throw the armlock on Hogan and David Arquette won the title. The Misfits and Kiss showed up. Master P was wrestling. It got completely out of hand and hilarious in the process.
For a while, WCW was the place for a more realistic approach to wrestling. The matches were based on guys not liking each other and they seemed like actual people while WWE chose to focus on characters. Razor Ramon was Scott Hall; Diesel was Kevin Nash. What the hell is a Ringmaster anyway? Sure, there were Glacier and Disco Inferno, but far fewer cartoonish wrestlers than WWE, as long as you forget about the Dungeon of Doom. I wish I could.
8 When It Started To Get Bad
What a nosedive WCW took after the nWo ran its course and Goldberg eventually won the title. The company was throwing any and everything at the wall hoping something would stick.
They split up the nWo only to bring them back together with the same tired ideas. They told everyone that Mick Foley was going to win the WWE title on a taped episode of Raw and everyone switched over to watch it. They brought in WWE writers Vince Russo and Ed Ferrara and the show went further into the hole. Even a complete reboot of the show didn’t work. And then to top it off you get Vince and Shane McMahon on the final episode. You couldn’t script anything more ridiculous.
Nitro became the senior league for wrestlers after a while. WWE stars like the Macho Man and Hulk Hogan joined WCW veterans like Ric Flair, Lex Luger and Sting and had some of the matches that people only had dreamed of a few years earlier. WCW had its share of younger talent but it was the old guard that dominated the main event scene. For a while it was cool but started to get stale and couldn’t compete with the WWF’s fresh Attitude Era talent.
Still, it was good to have that alternative whenever you were feeling nostalgic.
6 Raw’s Lousy Booking
Yes, there have been a lot of good matches on Raw over the past few years, but let’s be honest, there have been a whole mess of bad ones as well. And let’s not forget all the promo time devoted to utter nonsense or diatribes by The Authority. Some of the stuff here is worse than we ever saw on WCW programming. Every time I watch Raw and see something I don’t like, I wish I could flip over to TNT to watch Alex Wright take on Perry Saturn. Ahh, the good old days.
5 Mean Gene Okerlund
Mean Gene is the best interviewer of all time and there’s no ifs ands or buts about it. It didn’t matter the situation, Okerlund was almost always perfect. If Randy Savage is speaking complete gibberish, Mean Gene had an inquisitive face like he understood what the madman was saying. When people started throwing stuff into the ring at Hogan’s nWo turn, he handled it like a pro. Even now if just for a short segment, Okerlund interprets the situation and adapts so well.
Goldberg’s run to the title was unreal. There was nothing quite like it as he was undefeated from September 1997 to December 1998. Didn’t it always seem to be a lot longer than that? It felt like it ran over the course of two years. He blew through everybody and won the United States Heavyweight Championship in the process. His name only grew when he defeated Hulk Hogan for the world title. But when he lost the title and his streak at the 1998 Starrcade event, it was all over.
Goldberg was still popular and all, but seriously, did anything matter after the streak?
Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, Dean Malenko, Juventud Guerrera and so many others led a cruiserweight division that was the backbone of Nitro. Sure, the nWo got the headlines, but after a while they were just cutting promos and didn’t spend much time in the ring. It was the cruiserweights who wrestled the best matches on Monday nights. Bouts between Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio were legendary. Every time you saw a luchador on screen, you paid attention. Psychosis, La Parka, Ultimo Dragon. WCW could have done a cruiserweight focused show and had the deepest roster on television.
Hogan’s turn at the 1996 Bash at the Beach is one of the best moments in pro wrestling history. For a while, the group was the best thing going in the industry. You had to tune in to see what they were doing every week. There would be a sea of nWo t-shirts on Nitro and Raw every Monday night.
Eventually, the group ballooned to more than two dozen members. And then they split. And then they got back together. And then nobody cared. No matter how many times they tried, the magic of the first run was never recaptured.
Still, there was nothing quite like the nWo at its peak.
Monday nights were awesome for wrestling fans in the mid to late 90s. I remember flipping back and forth between USA and TNT because you didn’t want to miss anything that was happening on either show. Success for WCW was the whole reason for WWE’s Attitude Era, but once Vince McMahon bought his competition, it all changed. Nowadays the WWE can put out whatever they want because there’s no other wrestling show to watch. Ratings have dropped and that golden age seems further and further in the rearview mirror.