Previously on the Best and Worst of WCW Monday Nitro: Diamond Dallas Page thinks he’s the one who bangs people around here, but it’s actually the Giant who does the banging. He bangs the most and hardest! He bangs thoroughly! Also, Kevin Nash is now super cereal about Goldberg despite not taking him seriously the week before.
Click here to watch this week’s episode on WWE Network. You can catch up with all the previous episodes of WCW Monday Nitro on the Best and Worst of Nitro tag page and all the episodes of Thunder on the Best and Worst of Thunder. Follow along with the competition here.
Remember, if you want us to keep writing 20-year-old WCW jokes, click the share buttons and spread the column around. If you don’t tell them how much you like these, nobody’s going to read them. It’s almost time for Starrcade, the biggest show of the year to feature one or fewer poisonings!
And now, the Best and Worst of WCW Monday Nitro for December 14, 1998.
Worst: His Heart Wasn’t In It
And now we’ve reached the episode of Monday Nitro that doesn’t get as much credit as the Fingerpoke of Doom for finally destroying the public’s faith in World Championship Wrestling and making them watch something else, but arguably did just as much: the one where Ric Flair has a heart attack.
In case you haven’t been following along, Ric Flair and Eric Bischoff are doing a fictional feud based on their real life backstage feud in which Bischoff filed a lawsuit against Flair for no-showing a random episode of Thunder to go to his son’s wrestling tournament. Flair made a big return several months later and reformed the Four Horsemen in one of the greatest Nitro moments ever, but the company kept Flair and the group at the bottom of the food chain out of some combination of (depending on who you talk to) greed, pettiness, and stupidity. On TV, Flair’s been trying to get back into the ring to wrestle again, but Bischoff won’t let him. Thanks to a seemingly random conflict of conscience from nWo member Dusty Rhodes, however, Flair received a match with Bischoff at the promotion’s biggest show of the year.
This week’s segment starts off as an Eric Bischoff promo, wherein he brags about how good he is at karate — karah, tay!! — and how he’s gonna literally kick Flair’s ass at Starrcade. This brings out Flair, of course, who uses his hidden NFL-level running back skills to chase Bischoff out of the ring and up the aisle to the back. The man was 49-years old and could still book it.
After several moments of confusion, Flair returns to the ring and delivers another red-faced promo about how at Starrcade he’s going to jam his fist into Bischoff’s stomach and break his goddamn spine. To illustrate, he does some of the Invisible Man wrestling we know and love, including bumping himself over the top rope. Eventually he’d figure out it’s better if he’s in his boxer shorts, but that’s neither here nor there. When it’s over, he kinda clutches at his left arm and collapses into the corner with Mean Gene saying he’s “totally exhausted,” and sending it to the next segment.
Only we don’t go to the next segment, because Ric Flair is having a heart attack live on Nitro.
Except, Not Really
The announce team has no idea what’s going on, and speculate that Flair might’ve injured his shoulder dropping dumb elbows on nothing. Arn Anderson shows up to help, as does WCW security, Doug Dellinger, Dusty Rhodes, and even David Crockett, of all people. That’s him in the upper left. Part of me wishes Crockett had joined the Nitro announce booth to be all, “look at him, good heart attack now, watch him, watch him Tony!” Flair does a full-on stretcher job and is loaded into an ambulance. It feels awful watching the man go through this.
The announcers spend the entire middle hour and change of Nitro wondering about Flair, speculating on what happened to him, and providing non-updates like, “WCW officials are on the phone with the hospital.” Bischoff comes back out in Regular Person Clothes and glasses (!) to deliver the bad news: Ric Flair has had a mild heart attack. It takes the wind out of the crowd, and Bischoff does a “shoot” promo about how wrestling is entertainment but the injuries are real, and how he knows Ric Flair is basically the most important wrestler ever, and can’t wait to apologize to his family for the way the on and off-screen stories have been playing out.
Only, you know, Flair didn’t actually have a heart attack. He didn’t have anything. It was a worked heart attack, Fritz Von Erich-style, to make it seem more believable that Bischoff could beat him at Starrcade. If you read that and said to yourself, “holy shit,” congratulations, you’re still human. The bit was so believable that Flair, Flair’s family and friends, WCW, emergency rooms in the area, local newspapers and other media outlets were all inundated with frantic calls from friends, peers, reporters, and fans wanting to know what happened. It’s the kind of thing that happens when you say “everything on the show is fake, except THIS thing, which is ACTUALLY REAL,” and it’s 1998 so people still believe you.
One of those calls was from Charleston, South Carolina’s WCSC-TV sports director Warren Peper to The Post and Courier‘s Mike Mooneyham.
My cell phone rang, and it was Warren.
“Mike, I’ve just got to know the answer,” he said with a justifiable sense of urgency. But I really knew the question before he asked it.
“How is Ric doing? Did he really have a heart attack?”
“Let me put it this way,” I replied. “He’s in the middle of the dance floor right now, and he looks like he’s moving pretty good from here.”
The truth was that Warren caught me at a Christmas bash Ric was holding at a posh location in Charlotte where, safely out of public sight, the Nature Boy partied well into the early morning hours, obviously displaying no effects of a heart attack.
But Warren had his story, with other media outlets soon following suit. And WCW, fearing backlash due to the controversial storyline, would later take the high road and drop the misguided angle.
Whoops! As you’ll see in the next two weeks of Nitro columns, WCW ret-cons it so that Flair never actually had a heart attack as announced, but was instead poisoned by Eric Bischoff and the nWo. That’s not any better, but isn’t a “boy who cried wolf” situation that deliberately breaks kayfabe to emotionally manipulate people into caring about what’s happening instead of writing compelling storylines, interesting characters, or matches that don’t make you feel joyless and stupid for watching. It’s also the closest Gene Okerlund ever came to being Ser Dontos the Red.
Best: Raven’s Mom Wants To Speak To The Manager
Nitro’s supposed to start with a Raven vs. Scott Putski match, but Raven once again refuses to wrestle due to existential depression. Kanyon’s finally had enough of Raven’s whining, and drops the bombshell: Raven didn’t have a “terrible childhood,” he went to an Ivy League school, has a degree in pre-med, had a $3.2 million trust fund, got a Mercedes for his 16th birthday, and grew up in the “paradise known as Palm Beach, Florida.” He also mentions that Raven, “had the pick of the rich, young debutantes,” but is still unhappy. This is, incredibly, a reference to the fact that Raven used to be Palm Beach’s own Scotty Flamingo, a flamboyant, rich asshole who competed in WCW in ’92 and ’93. Raven, more upset at being outed as a poser than a deluded elitist, walks out. Not a lot of people remember this angle fondly, but I love it, and the continuity at play is just ridiculous.
(Quick side note: As a teen watching this in 1998, I was like, “BOOO, RAVEN YOU SUCK, YOUR CHILDHOOD WASN’T BAD, YOU HAD MONEY, I’M POOR, YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT HARD TIMES ARE, DADDY.” As an adult watching it twenty years later, I want to pull Kanyon aside and explain to him that yes, Raven should understand his privilege, but having money and being highborn doesn’t safeguard you from the emotional scarring of disinterested and destructive, yuppie parenting.” Don’t try to embarrass your friend out of his suicidal depression; get him the professional help he needs, and be supportive if he’d rather sit around doing nothing than wrestle Scott Putski. Nobody wants to wrestle Scott Putski. Although I guess I shouldn’t expect nuance and compassion from a guy who spent years dressing up as a skeleton to karate fight people in the pits of Thailand.)
Later in the episode, a woman who looks like Cecily Strong playing a drunk rich lady on Saturday Night Live shows up and reveals herself to be Raven’s mother. Kanyon sent a raven to Palm Beach, apparently, so Mrs. Levy-Flamingo fired up her Learjet and flew down to see him. WCW security won’t let her in without a pass, because who even know Raven had a mom, but Kanyon shows up and offers to take her to Raven, off-site, for fifty bucks. Like I said, Kanyon’s a bad friend. At least he didn’t ask her for any mystical artifacts.
Best: The WCW Superstar Series
Long before the WWE Network or even “best of” DVD sets, you had two choices: tape live WCW shows on your VCR and properly label the tapes so nobody tapes over them with random episodes of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, or pay 20 bucks a pop for the WCW Superstar Series. You bought them trying to get some wrestling matches, but all you got were highlights and like 45 minutes of talking. It’s was like watching hour one of a modern Raw!
This Is An A-To-B Conversation Between Diamond Dallas Page And Bret Hart, So C Your Way Out Of It
Do you like those AEW Dynamite bits where people get thrown through a suspiciously fragile, suspiciously wooden section of the stage? You’re gonna love this week’s episode of Nitro.
There’s supposed to be another rematch between Diamond Dallas Page and Bret Hart for the United States Championship on the show, but when Hart calls out Page, it’s revealed to be a trap. The Giant sneak attacks Page with a steel chair La Parka-style (somehow, despite being seven feet tall and weighing over 500 pounds) and dismantles the big gunmetal WCW letters on the set (pictured). Here it is in motion, if you’d like to see an colossal Billy Kidman hurling an enormous letter C.
With the letters removed, Giant uses the platform they were on to chokeslam DDP through a very brown section of wooden stage we’ve never seen before.
I wish they’d had someone in a chef’s hat run out with his hands on his head and scream, “NO, MY BANQUET TABLES! DINNER IS RUINED!” WCW would eventually decide to make their entire set and ramp out of balsa wood so anyone who stumbled on it could fall through and become unconscious. It came in handy for constant attempted recreations of Mick Foley’s Hell in a Cell bump without any of the danger or believability that made it memorable.
Worst: Scott Hall Falls Victim To, Participates In, nWo Run-Ins
While Ric Flair’s being loaded into an ambulance and driven away to get medical attention at a fun Christmas party, the camera catches sweatsuit monster Bam Bam Bigelow attacking Scott Hall and hurling him into some vending machines. Shout-out to SURGE for making this moment as 1998 as possible. I just wish the other machine had been selling Jolt Cola. This quickly turns into another I WANT A PIECE OF YOUR BUTT pull-apart brawl involving Bigelow, Scott Hall’s frenemy Kevin Nash, and Goldberg. More on that in a bit.
Not much more, which is weird considering Nash and Goldberg are in the biggest show of the year’s championship main event, but all you really need to know about the story is that nobody involved cared that much for several weeks, and now everybody’s so involved they can’t stop aimlessly screaming at each other from little haphazardly arranged pods of security dudes.
Later in the night, Scott Hall has a match with Horse Hogan that ends with an nWo Hollywood run-in and beatdown. You know how it’s just the nWo attacking the nWo over and over now, with no purpose or anything to fight for? Yeah, that. You can’t even let HORACE take a clean pin at this point. Literally the only purpose of putting terrible guys in the New World Order is to have them take pins so the top guys don’t have to, but by December ’98 WCW would send out five guys for a five-minute run-in assault to keep Vincent from losing to Goldberg.
The only highlight here is Good Guy Disco Inferno trying to validate his “Kevin Nash asked me to join the Wolfpac” claims by running in and trying to help Hall fight nWo Hollywood. He’s immediately murdered by Scott Norton the second he gets into the ring, because Scott Norton fucking rules.
Anyway, Hall shows up again two matches later to cause an nWo disqualification run-in finish for the second ruined Kevin Nash vs. Goldberg vs. Bam Bam Bigelow main event in two weeks. Between this and the heart attack, WCW’s really instilling a sense of good faith in its audience. As long as they don’t, I don’t know, braggadociously remind their audience that much better wrestling with likable new stars is happening on the other channel, they should be fine!
The nWo Hollywood Recruitment Drive
nWo Hollywood is hiring! Update your resumes!
We get two nWo recruitment segments this week:
- After mercilessly destroying Van Hammer with less effort than it took to incapacitate Wildcat Willie, Big Poppa Pump Scott Steiner and Buff Bagwell call out nWo Wolfpac member Lex Luger and try to get him to switch sides. They point out that the Wolfpac’s a pretty garbage faction that doesn’t show up to cause a disqualification in every match, and that Nash eliminated Luger at World War 3 because he only cares about Kevin Nash. You know you’re in a bad spot when SCOTT STEINER is the voice of reason.
- Stevie Ray dumps on Booker T for being a bad brother again and for not staying in a dominant tag team so he could take all the glory for himself, and tells him the only way for him tomake it right is to join nWo Hollywood. Booker wouldn’t join up with the team here, instead deciding to join the worst possible version of the group in a completely different promotion like seven years later.
Bonus: The Latino World Order is ALSO recruiting this week, adding main-event talent VILLANO V to the group. They’d also do ANOTHER run-in on ANOTHER Billy Kidman vs. Rey Mysterio Jr. match, so I’m glad we’ve got three concurrent groups of guys in matching black t-shirts who make sure every wrestling match makes us unhappy. And no, Psicosis wasn’t able to powerbomb Kidman.
Best: A Week Of Bizarre And Random Sports Guests
For example, here’s Konnan showing up for his match against Stevie Ray — Jesus Christ, stop doing that match — alongside former Florida Marlins first baseman Orestes Destrade and Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Chidi Ahanotu. Nitro’s gonna kill Raw in the ratings with that Orestes Destrade fandom bump.
Warren Sapp is also here, but he’s too important to walk out with Konnan so he spends the show chilling in a skybox with New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. Steinbrenner is nWo for life, if you’ll recall, and so is recurring Monday Nitro and Mr. Perfect fanboy Wade Boggs, seen here in the front row reaffirming his allegiance to the Biz Cliz.
Also On This Episode
Wrath continues his “I can still beat these jobbers, please don’t remember Kevin Nash easily kicking my ass” tour with a squash win over Al Green. I spent like 10 minutes trying to work out an Al Green/Walgreens joke but gave up, if that’s any indication of how much even I don’t care about Wrath vs. Al Green.
Perry Saturn loses to Normal Smiley due to two factors: his ongoing feud with Ernest Miller and Sonny Onoo, who keep showing up to distract or defeat him in wrestling matches like four times a week for some reason, and referee Scott Dickinson being pissed about getting Death Valley Driven on last week’s show.
Here, referee Charles Robinson — pictured above, letting know he’s not going to put his hands on Saturn — gets bumped and replaced by Scotty Dicks. Ernest Miller blatantly kicks Saturn in the face in front of the ref, but Dickinson allows it and then counts a super fast three to make sure Saturn loses. It’s kind of nice to see a referee stand up to physical threats from time to time. The best part is either Tony Schiavone randomly throwing Mike Tenay under the bus for being friends with Dickinson (Tenay: “What do you mean MY friend?”), or Norman Smiley celebrating the win by telling fans in the front row he’s gonna put it in their asses:
That’s so much more threatening than “suck it.”
Emery Hale gets a real entrance and graphic this week, featuring Wildcat Willie randomly appearing behind him in a Tampa Bay Lightning sweater. WCW really thought Tampa was obsessed with local sports, didn’t they? He gets completely squashed and pinned by Barry Windham, who is doing a Scott Hall nWo debut tribute now and wrestling in a Canadian tuxedo.
Best: Gerardo Namedrops Were Already Funny In 1998
Finally this week, Chris Jericho attempts to bring a little joy into our lives and explain why he’s no longer Le Champion de la Télévision through a combination of visual aids, a white board, and Bore-us Malenko dressed up like Konnan.
Jericho says that Konnan hit him with brass knuckles, hit him with a steel chair, hit him with a full-sized SNOW SHOVEL, and smashed his head into the championship belt to pin him. It’s pretty funny, but the money is in Jericho saying Konnan is a “Baby Huey lookalike” (lol) and saying he’s the, “best Latino rapper since Gerardo.” He ends it by randomly beating up poor Bore-us again, for emphasis. This would easily be the best Konnan segment not featuring Konnan ever until the Disco Inferno’s music video a couple of months later.
Ric Flair died. Just kidding, he’s fine! Plus, Ernest Miller gets into a fight with Santa Claus and more on an EVERYTHING’S FINE, WE SWEAR edition of WCW Monday Nitro. See you then!