– In case you missed it, the retro Best and Worst of WWF Monday Night Raw column has jumped ahead to 1996. The episode that aired against this week’s Nitro will be up on Friday.
– Share the column! You want a content aggregation war? You got one (if you click “like”).
And now, the vintage Best and Worst of WCW Monday Nitro for May 27, 1996. It’s … kind of important.
Worst: The 2-Hour Nitro And The Worst Announce Team In The History Of Our Sport
As you may have cried about last week (or, you know, 19 years ago) Steve ‘Mongo’ McMichael has become a pro wrestler and the era of Pepe is over. Gone forever is the beautiful, crystalline 1-hour Nitro with the announce team of an increasingly-depressed Bobby Heenan, an overly-excited Ken doll with a thesaurus he doesn’t know how to use, a yokel football player and a cosplaying dog.
Nitro is now two hours long, and the regular, fragmented team of Heenan and Eric Bischoff are in charge of hour two. Hour one is hosted by the most difficult to spell announce team in wrestling history, Tony Schiavone and ‘The Living Legend’ Larry Zbyszko.
Tony catches a lot of grief from wrestling fans for a collection of memorable idiosyncrasies, like calling every third move a “sidewalk slam” and referring to whatever’s happening on-screen as the “greatest [whatever] in the history of our sport.” He didn’t say it as much as you remember, but when you think about him in your head, it’s ALL he says. All in all he’s not a bad announcer, and he’s one of the formative voices of a childhood spent growing up in Horsemen Country, but he condescended on Mick Foley and lost the Monday Night Wars so he’s the Steve Bartman of WCW.
Zbyszko is that garbage uncle who thinks he’s smart and funny, but he’s mostly just yelling. Imagine if Mongo was from the mid-west and would rather be golfing than watching wrestling. That’s Larry Z. He’s got as many idiosyncrasies as Tony — Disco Inferno vs. Alex Wright is not a “game of human chess,” no matter how badly you want it to be — with none of the ironic charm. The show would be 100% improved by replacing him with a silent, frightened chihuahua in an astronaut costume.
Worst: Did You Know Ric Flair Can’t Beat Anybody Ever Without The Assistance Of Three People?
Get used to it, because “heel can’t win without 15 of his friends showing up and wrecking shop” is the new WCW booking standard. When the nWo shows up, they become the distraction rollup of Nitro.
Flair and Arn Anderson take on the American Males. Marcus Alexander Bagwell gets a hot tag and starts taking the Horsemen to the woodshed, soundly trouncing Ric f*cking Flair and putting him away with a Perfect Plex in the middle of the ring. That requires a referee distraction and a cheap shot from Arn to break it up. Scotty Riggs runs in, dispatches Arn with ease and dropkicks (“dropkicks”) Flair in the cubital fossa. That’s enough to KNOCK OUT RIC FLAIR, and Bagwell has a clean pin on him (again) until Woman reaches into the ring in full sight of the referee and gouges him in the eyes. While the ref is going “hey” and doing some stern pointing, Arn FINALLY hits Bagwell with a DDT and Flair gets a desperation pin.
How did Flair win so many championships without a harem of 35-year old women in ballgowns attacking people with their accessories?
Best: Mongo Vs. Flair
Aside from the super important thing that’s about to happen — the debut of THE MAULER — the best part of the episode is the out-of-ring feud between Flair and Mongo. Tony sends us to a video of Mongo and Kevin Greene “getting their workout in,” and it’s WONDERFUL.
It’s shot in slow motion, but in that mid-90s Saturday morning teen show slow motion where they cut out too many frames. Mongo and Greene work out on machines while yelling about how strong they are, then squat in front of each other grunting and yelling FLAIR while they lift weights. The one who isn’t lifting stands crotch-to-face to the other and points at him. It’s powerfully homoerotic and great, especially when paired with Flair’s post-match interview, which is for-real him singing Starland Vocal Band’s ‘Afternoon Delight’ while Gomez Addams-kissing Elizabeth and Woman on their arms.
Now that we’re all loose and warmed up, let’s talk about The Mauler.
Best: The Most Important Debut Of The Mauler In The History Of Our Sport
“The Mauler” is Mike Enos, aka Blake Beverly of the Beverly Brothers. The idea WCW wanted you to think they had was that they’d take Blake f*cking Beverly, throw him in some chaps, have him act like Dan Spivey even though he’s only like 6’2, and give him the name they give wrestlers on sitcoms when a character’s watching wrestling. It’s always THE MAULER or THE MASKED MARVEL. If Joey Gladstone or Carl Winslow have stumbled upon a wrestling show, Mike Enos is there in chaps. He’s accompanied to the ring by Colonel Parker, because the only way to make a stressed-out guy in chaps more palatable is to have an old-timey colonel follow him to the ring and pretend to sweat when he’s losing.
The Mauler’s opponent is Steve Doll, aka Steven Dunn of the pun-tastic WWF tag team “Well Dunn.” If you’ve never seen him, he looks like the little kid from Jurassic World. Like a Fry Guy given human life by the Blue Fairy.
Doll and Mauler (Doller?) have the world’s most basic match, and by the time they go to commercial you’re like, “why is this happening? Why are they devoting a chunk of the first 2-hour Nitro to an unimpressive, extended squash debut? Are we really chapping up Mike Enos and calling him The Mauler? Something important’s supposed to be happening, right?”
Then, something important happens.
Aw, here it goes.
Best: You Want A War? You’re Gonna Get One.
WCW and WWF were already locked in a “war” when this happened, but it was more of a pre-Twitter Twitter war. You know how you’ll do or say something on Twitter, and a guy you’ve never met who doesn’t like you or follow you starts asking you a bunch of questions to “prove” what you think or how you feel, and when you don’t answer them the way he wants you’re a “hypocrite,” or some other meaningless word that now means “person I don’t like?” That was WCW and the WWF. They’d passive-aggressively condescend on the other, either by reading off taped show results on a live show (WCW) or doing wacky skits with old people dressed as the other’s top wrestlers (WWF). Madusa threw the women’s championship in the trash, but Vince has been more or less throwing the women’s championship in the trash for the past 30 years, so no harm, no foul.
“Razor Ramon” interrupts the Steve Doll/Mauler classic and announces that he’s come here to confront Eric Bischoff about all the anti-WWF shit, and that if he wants a war, he’s got one. WWF is bringing the fight to WCW’s door. When your show’s top storylines were “a football guy is upset about Ric Flair banging his wife” and “Sting’s jerky friend who always turns on him may or may not be turning on him again,” a fully-formed top character from the rival show showing up in the middle of your ring and saying he’s still a representative of that rival show is AMAZING. It’s still a brilliant idea. As you know if you’ve been reading the corresponding Best and Worst of WWF Monday Night Raw reports, May 1996 WWF is stuck in a harmless, post-steroid-trial, chinlock-filled holding pattern where nobody’s really doing anything to piss anybody off and everyone’s wrestling for the sake of wrestling. Their big stories are “our champion might have been rude to this guy’s wife once” and “a blonde is being emotionally manipulative to hillbillies.” This isn’t a fired shot, this is a nuke.
For better or worse, this is the beginning of the WCW of the 90s you remember.
Best: The Perfect Match To Follow An Industry-Changing Moment
The first post-Scott Hall match is gutter-to-glory Diamond Dallas Page vs. Sgt. Craig ‘Pitbull’ Pittman. Page’s involvement with the nWo and his “everyman” persona would make him one of the most important characters in WCW’s biggest story ever, so getting to see Razor Ramon’s declaration of war followed by Page slumming it against Craig Pittman is pretty perfect.
As longtime readers know, Craig Pittman is a weird favorite of mine. I remember him as this terrible, awkward wrestler … and he is, but his matches always kinda made sense and were memorably different by the time they were over. Oh! And if you were wondering about that “Pittman tries to find someone to manage him but nobody will” story they introduced on Nitro and then seemingly dropped, they continued it on the weekend shows. His manager is Teddy Long, former (and future) referee and future Smackdown General Manager. The funny dancing, tag team matches and White Boy Challenges would come later.
Here, the point of Diamond Dallas Page continues to be THE DIAMOND CUTTER CAN ONE-SHOT ANYTHING THAT MOVES, so that’s the finish. Pittman has Page in a submission, and instead of grabbing the ropes to force the break, Page grabs Long. When the hold’s broken, Page shoves Long away, and Teddy goes stumbling into the security railing. Pittman briefly steps through the ropes to check on him and make sure he’s okay, and when he turns around, Page is up and ready to faceplant him with an awkward Craig Pittman Diamond Cutter (pictured). Poor Pitbull isn’t long for the world, but Page has a bright future thanks to the concept of grabbing somebody by the head and falling down.
Worst: I’M NOT A SHARK, I’M A MAN
The Shark has been a card-carrying member of The Dungeon of Doom since its inception. The Dungeon hasn’t been doing much lately, but the career of The Giant is thriving — he’s the WCW World Heavyweight Champion and seemingly unstoppable. The Taskmaster decides to hitch his wagon to Jimmy Hart and The Giant and kick The Shark out of the club, so a fired-up Shark gets a match against the champ. He loses, like always, because Jimmy Hart got on the apron and did nothing. You’d think after 2 years of this, WCW guys would stop running over and grabbing Jimmy by the shirt. Shark gets chokeslammed, and it’s all over.
Note: It’s hour 2, so Bischoff and Heenan are on commentary. Heenan yells “chokeslam” during the chokeslam because it’s a chokeslam, and Bischoff corrects him: “He not only BODY SLAMMED HIM, Heenan, he picked him up with one hand!” Sadly Heenan’s next line wasn’t, “what, you mean like a chokeslam?”
After the match, the new biker version of Big Bubba attacks Shark and shaves half of his head. Shark should make sure to get his revenge now, before the DEADMAN version of Bubba returns.
Dark and wet.
It’s the kind of weather that penetrates. Makes your skin feel itchy and oily. Dirty kind of, but, real too. That’s good. It’s time for Cheers. Sam and Diane, and Norm Peterson and Coach and then after he died, Woody. I don’t have a TV now but that’s okay, the shows in my mind are almost always better.
(They don’t involve any Lex Luger vs. Maxx matches.)
Worst: “Hardwork” Bobby Walker
See why Nitro doesn’t need to be two hours? Because deep into hour two you get Hardwork Bobby Walker vs. Brad Armstrong in one of the worst matches in The History Of Our Show.
If you don’t remember “Hardwork,” he’s a barely competent jobber who almost kills himself every time he touches the top rope. He’s called “Hardwork” because he’s training at the WCW Power Plant and, you guessed it, works hard. He probably should’ve been called Not Cold Enough Scorpio. He filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against WCW in 2000, and here’s what Wikipedia has to say:
He stated that his Caucasian opponents were told to make him look bad and that he was told that he would never hold a championship belt.
The lawsuit was eventually dismissed, assumedly when a judge got a tape of this episode of Nitro and was all, “did Brad Armstrong tell the ropes to make your legs look bad?”
Important side note: racial discrimination is a horrible problem in lots of sports organizations including pro wrestling, and that’s not a joke. I’m just also saying that Hardwork Bobby Walker was f*cking terrible.
Best: Regal, As Always
Lord Steven Regal trucks his dongship Alex Wright and issues a challenge for The Great American Bash: he wants a match with Sting, so he can beat the “franchise” of WCW and finally earn some respect. Mean Gene gives him a GIVE ME A BREAK response and shoos him out of the ring, which seems like kinda the wrong thing to do when a classically despicable guy is straight-up standing in the ring saying he wants a fair, one-on-one match against a top star to prove he’s worth a damn. Like, isn’t that what you W
Best/Worst: A Main Event With No Direction
This week’s main is Sting vs. Scotty Steiner, which should be the dopest thing in the world. Instead, they just kinda fart around until the finish, which is Lex Luger getting involved, drawing the ire of a Myrtle Beach-ready Rick Steiner, and the match being thrown out for excessive Everybody Punching. Everyone in the match is doing something else, and it just kinda feels like WCW’s got this Scott Hall thing ready to go and has forgotten literally every other part of the program.
So yeah, let’s get to the Fireworks Factory.
Best: You Wanna War Cont’d.
The final segment of the show is a reiteration of Hall’s earlier debut, but a necessary one: instead of being a rando who wandered into the ring and got control of a microphone, we establish that “Razor Ramon” is here as a WWF representative and wants to put his foot in Bischoff’s mouth for running it about his company. He challenges anyone in WCW, throws his toothpick in Bischoff’s face and drops the dreaded “we,” signaling the coming of Kevin Nash and the deeper nWo conspiracy. Bischoff’s responses and general no-selling of the threat seem weird until you realize he’s in on the entire thing, and that this is essentially a huge work on Bobby Heenan. Or something.
I can’t believe we’re actually here. I almost don’t know what to say about it. Can we get some dog photos and Hugh Morrus matches to ease me into it?