– In case you missed it, this is actually our second vintage Best and Worst of WCW Monday Nitro. The first episode uploaded to the WWE Network was actually episode two, so I jumped ahead and wrote it up. You can read that here. I hope this doesn’t cause any great stress for people browsing through the tag three years from now when we’ve written up 150 episodes.
– Compare/contrast with the Best and Worst of WWF Monday Night Raw Episode 1.
– Comments, likes, shares and other things are appreciated.
Please click through for the vintage Best and Worst of the very first episode of WCW “Don’t call it Monday Night Nitro” Monday Nitro.
Best: A Wrestling Show In The Mall Of America
Welcome to the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. It has a Radio Shack, a Hot Topic, and Jushin Thunder Liger was there once 20 years ago.
As you probably already know, the first episode of Nitro took place in the middle of a mall. It was built around Hulk Hogan having recently opened a dirt pasta restaurant in said mall, and how eager he is to force the few thousand children who still love him in 1995 to eat garbage Spaghetti-O’s. We’re trudging through that weird WCW era between Hogan showing up and the nWo debuting, so he keeps shrinking, is desperately trying to be a television action star before his youth officially dries up and tells kids to their faces that eating Mall Fettucini with extra Bathroom Sauce will make them fit. Ethically I guess it’s a step up from saying “eat your vitamins” and winking and nudging them in the ribs.
Anyway, I’ve always loved the mall setup. I wish wrestling promotions would embrace their locale when they set up in some random town. WCW was better at it than most. Instead of “WCW comes to Minnesota,” it was “WCW is IN Minnesota” with a show in their mall, surrounded by the whitest, most ready-to-walk-through-Icing-By-Claire’s people in history. When they came to a Spring Break town during Spring Break, they had the ring in the middle of a pool. Stuff like that. WWE’s version of this is “put a double-decker bus on the stage because ENGLAND.”
Best/Worst: Liger Vs. Pillman. IN A MALL.
The first match on the first episode of Nitro is Flyin’ f*ckin’ Brian against Jushin f*ckin’ Thunder f*ckin’ Liger. BEST.
Here’s the problem: it’s not very good. It’s the convergence of a lot of bad timing and unfortunate circumstances and kinda plays like the B-side to their epic Light Heavyweight Championship opener at SuperBrawl II. That match is one of the kingshit hot opening matches of all time. This one … well, it’s at a mall. So that’s something?
Pillman was at the most awkward stage of his career. He’d just finished his AMAZING run alongside Steve Austin in the Hollywood Blondes, spent a little time in 1994 ECW as part of a talent exchange and had returned as a babyface. He’s still about a year away from developing the “loose cannon” persona that would help kickstart the Attitude Era and make him a cult hero, so he’s just “Flyin’ Brian” with longer pants and an older face and nobody’s sure what to do with him. Liger had recently returned from breaking his leg, so he’s not quite himself and a little nervous to float around and take moves. So what we get is a lot of Liger taking his sweet time to do moves that should be done instantly, Pillman being slightly too heavy to pull off hurricanrana with any reliability and the announce team saying “WELP NOT SURE WHAT’S WRONG WITH THESE GUYS TONIGHT BUT WHAT GREAT ACTION.” Again, it’s Pillman vs. Liger, but it’s not Pillman vs. Liger.
Pillman reverses a Liger suplex into a victory roll for the three, and an important theme is born: filling the beginning of the show with world-renowned cruiserweights to make up for the Hogan stuff at the end.
Mongo: “Let me tell ya if the fans weren’t tuned into this, baby, they didn’t see a match worth watchin’.”
Truer words have never been spoken.
Eric Bischoff “catches up” with WCW World Heavyweight Champion Hulk Hogan, who is signing autographs for sorta-interested children outside of PASTAMANIA, his new “restaurant” in the Mall of America. I put restaurant in quotes for two reasons:
1. there is no way that place sold actual food, and
2. Hogan usually only opens breastaurants.
Hogan’s facing Big Bubba in the main event and tries to cut a promo on him. It’s one of those times when you know someone came up to Hogan earlier in the day and was like, “promo on Big Bubba, here are some notes” and Hogan went NUTS TO YOUR NOTES, BROTHER, I CAN WING IT. So Hogan’s trying to come up with a classic promo on the fly, but he’s surrounded by children in front of the GREAT STEAK AND PASTA COMPANY in a goddamn mall so it turns into a story about how he’s going to eat Hulk Hogan Brand Pasta, bodyslam Big Bubba, then make Bubba eat the pasta. Imagine his “Donald Trump will almost drown when I slam Andre and break the fault lines” promo, but instead of Andre he’s slamming a George Foreman grill.
Sting and Ric Flair, the two biggest icons of pre-Hulk Hogan WCW, wrestle on the first episode of Nitro. Not to jump ahead seven years, but spoiler alert, they also wrestle on the LAST episode. A lot of wonderful, awful, unforgettable, concerning stuff happens in-between. I’ll try to do it justice.
Much like Pillman and Liger this isn’t their best match (not by a long, longshot), but it’s good. It’s interesting to see these guys struggling to perform under Hogan’s shadow. Sting has pretty much already given up and is visibly licking the envelope for the match he’s gonna mail in for the next 15 years. Flair’s all wrong … he’s got his short 90s hair instead of his flowing Nature Boy locks. He’s feuding with Arn Anderson. He’s shrinking into irrelevancy and developing the in-ring inferiority complex that formed who we’ve known him to be for the last decade and a half. Hogan really nerfed everything. Even the pasta.
Going back and watching old Nitros is so weird, because it feels like there’s a dark cloud over everybody. God, and Chris Benoit hasn’t even shown back up yet.
Worst: Jesus Christ, This Commentary
If you were to play a drinking game where you took a shot whenever the announcers said “where the big boys play,” you’d have been dead before Pillman and Liger locked up.
On top of that, it’s the first episode, so everyone’s working overtime to make EVERY SINGLE THING seem crucial and important. Sting superplexes Flair, right, and instead of saying “big superplex by Sting” or whatever Bischoff says the ring moved two feet. Mongo goes “it almost knocked my monitor off the table” and Heenan has to TOP THAT with “MY MONITOR WENT BLACK.” It’s like a context to see who can Mike Tenay a wrestling move the most. Dude suplexes his opponent off the second rope and it caused a wrestling ring to SLIDE against all known understandings of physics and ALSO destroyed ALL OF YOUR MONITORS. And then the superplex had BABIES and THE BABY LOOKED AT ME. Calm down, everybody.
Worst: That’s Larry Lugar, Taz! What’s LARRY LUGAR doing in the Nitro Zone??
As an historical footnote, Lex Luger ditching the WWF and showing up on the first episode of Nitro was the first real shot fired in the Monday Night Wars. You remember the Monday Night Wars, don’t you? That’s the name for the late-90s ratings battle where WCW got popular by stealing WWF’s big stars, exclusively making bad decisions and never making sense until the Triple H and Shawn Michaels version of D-X drove a tank into the ring on Nitro and put them out of business. [source 1=”WWE” 2=”Network” language=”:”][/source]
Best: Arn Anderson’s ’90s Dad Windbreaker
The name on the marquee is SPORTS AUTHORITY.
Best/Worst: This Booking Is Just INSTANT
In 2014 we’re used to watching Raw, where it takes Cody Rhodes and Goldust six weeks to have a conversation. After that, you’ve got to have six weeks of the same, regurgitated tag match to set up a seventh, sorta-important match at a pay-per-view. The first episodes of Nitro have NONE OF THAT.
After Flair/Sting, Scott Norton shows up randomly to yell at the announce team about how he signed a contract and wants a match. Mongo briefly steps to him, but Macho Man Randy Savage is suddenly there to answer Norton’s challenge. They agree to a match next week. If you’ve read that Best and Worst column, the match happens and ends with the Dungeon of Doom being too fat and collapsing on Norton’s legs, allowing Savage to elbow drop him for the win. Boom, crash, pow, it’s over in two weeks.
Similarly, the show ends with Lex Luger confronting Hulk Hogan about how he wants the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. Hogan agrees to Luger’s challenge and they set up a title match for next week. That match happens, Hogan basically wins clean and Luger ends up on Hogan’s team at War Games. Boom, crash, pow, they’ve re-debuted a guy, positioned him against the champion, had the title match and moved on to the next cycle of PPV storytelling in SEVEN DAYS. They are just pumping that shit out. It’s like doing a juice cleanse.
Worst: Here’s What’s Happening On The OTHER Show
Mike Rotunda makes his official return to WCW as “Michael Wallstreet.” He says that the NEW Generation is more like the FEW Generation (ho ho) and mentions that the IRS might be watching him, but that’s all right. Get it? No? Does it matter?
Modern wrestling fans condescend on people who think they’re “smart” and know how the wrestling business works. You’ve probably rolled your eyes and called someone a “smark” on a forum. What’s funny about this is that most of these modern fans — both the insulters and the people they’re insulting — grew up during this mid-to-late-90s boom period, which was BUILT on playing with peoples’ insider knowledge of the sport. If you weren’t a smark, you had to CONSULT a smark or you’d have no idea what was going on. Mike Rotunda’s cutting this winky winky shooty shooty promo about the WWF’s mission statement catchphrases and the old characters he’s played, and there’s no subtlety or grace to it. It’s just “YOU KNOW WHAT’S IN THE DIRT SHEETS I BET, HEH HEH” The Character. It gets worse when WCW as a whole becomes that character, and all the major stories are built around “the other parts of the show are fake, but THIS PART is REAL.” ECW and the WWF become the same character, and Pro Wrestling turns into an incestuous ball of who can passive-aggressive f*ck who the most.
Michael Wallstreet would become “V.K.” Wallstreet by the next episode, because Eric Bischoff buried his face in a pile of cocaine and screamed NO, MORE SHOOTS, MORE SHOOTS!
Two episodes, two decisive Hogan wins where he refuses to sell anything or acknowledge that his opponent is tough or good at anything. Must be all those Hulkaroos in his brains. I can’t wait for Goldberg to show up and beat 100 guys in a row so he can give Hogan his decade’s only decisive loss.
This Week’s Pepe Costume: Devil
This is actually my favorite part of the entire episode. Hogan beats Big Bubba and the Dungeon of Doom runs in to attack him. Luger shows up to help Hogan fight them off. As the show’s going off the air, Mongo CHIDES HIS DOG for being a Dungeon of Doom fan and says that Pepe has to take off his devil costume because … because this tiny dog is dressing like a devil to show support for the Dungeon of Doom? MONGO I SWEAR.