One of our last editions of Random Reviews looked at a collection of squash matches from WCW in the 90s… so we’re going to go back there for some more nostalgia, as we look at the first edition of Monday Nitro!
Long-time wrestling fans know exactly what happened with Nitro – it helped kickstart the hottest period of pro-wrestling in the modern era (for better or for worse), with both WCW and WWE battling it out to become the “must see” wrestling promotion. When Nitro started in September 1995 though, it wasn’t quite obvious where they were going.
For the first episode, we had Eric Bischoff, the debuting Steve “Mongo” McMichael and Bobby “The Brain” Heenan on commentary. Bizarrely, we’re not in an arena, as Minneapolis’ Mall of America is playing host to the inaugural broadcast, and we’re straight into action!
Jushin “Thunder” Liger vs. Flyin’ Brian
Of course, Flyin’ Brian is Brian Pillman, and my God, the amount of self-pleasuring/name-checking for WCW in this opener.
The action starts out well as Liger works over Pillman, who gets an advantage with some headscissors out of the corner before taking the Japanese veteran into an abdominal stretch. Liger hits back with a long Romero special, before ending up outside for a plancha as Flyin’ Brian lived up to his name. Another attempt to go airborne goes badly as Liger hits a superplex instead, as Liger tries for a Ligerbomb… and only gets a near-fall out of it.
Liger tries for his move again, but Pillman turns it into a tornado facebuster, before a German suplex attempt is countered with a roll-up for the surprise win. This was nowhere near the pace that you’d expect from cruiserweights later in Nitro’s run, but considering what was usually churned out at the time, this was noticeably quicker. **½
After a pre-taped segment with Sting, we go to commercial, then another pre-tape, this time with Hulk Hogan who’s shilling his Pastamania restaurant. My word, that place looked so rinky dink in 2017… like a low-rent cafe with photos of the Hulkster all over. Aside from plugging his carb overload, the Hulkster makes his main event match with Big Bubba for the WCW title tonight.
There were a load of kids with the Hulkster in his cafe… but no adults. Who was paying for their food?!
WCW United States Championship: Ric Flair vs. Sting (c)
Well, this was quite the match in hindsight, given that this was also on the final episode of Nitro, almost six years later!
Before the match can even start, Lex Luger makes an appearance – he’d left WWE after wrestling for them just 24 hours earlier. Yep, his contract expired, and he’d not signed a new one, so he was here as a surprise, complete with Eric Bischoff feigning that he was invading from a rival promotion… an interesting tactic given what would follow less than a year later.
When the match finally gets going, we see a LOT of press slams from Sting, as that seems to be his favourite tactic. Press slams and hiptosses. Flair uses a thumb to the eye to cheat his way back into things, but after taking some chops, Sting fired back with another press slam, only for Flair to take himself and Sting to the outside with a crossbody.
The pair trade shots on the floor, before Sting uses… yep, a press slam to take Flair back into the ring. Had this been twenty years later, that’d have been an apron bump instead.
Back inside, Sting misses a Stinger splash as we go to commercial, which explains why Flair didn’t immediately capitalise. After commercial, Flair’s on the top rope and gets taken down with, yes, another press slam as Arn Anderson appears at ringside. There’s more back and forth as Sting appears distracted by Anderson, but in the end Double A gets involved as he attacks both men as they tried to fight off a Figure Four leglock, and this is going to be a no-contest. They’ve had much better outings, and I’m going to make it a mission to look at some of those this year! **¼
After the match, Arn and Flair go at it as they fight to the back, before Scott Norton makes a surprise appearance at ringside. He gets into it verbally with the commentary team, until “Macho Man” Randy Savage makes the save.
The next two segments were pretty rudimentary: a spectacular video package promoting Sabu as “coming soon”… featuring footage of already-taped matches. After that, there’s an in-ring segment with “Mean” Gene Okerlund, who announces the winner of a sweepstake. Seriously, that’s it.
We then get plugs for the upcoming WCW Saturday Night show, with Johnny B. Badd vs. Dick Slater, and a tag match between the Blue Bloods (Bobby Eaton & Steven/William Regal) and the pairing of Sting and “Macho Man” Randy Savage. Imagine WWE plugging, say, Main Event or NXT like this on Raw…
Another video package, in the form of a sedate introduction to Mr. Wallstreet – another jumper from the WWF! He’d debut in next week’s Nitro as VK Wallstreet, after dropping a massive reference to his old WWF gimmick.
Finally after the myriad of non-wrestling stuff, we’re told Randy Savage vs. Scott Norton will be on next week’s Nitro, and it’s now time for the main event.
WCW World Heavyweight Championship: Big Bubba Rogers vs. Hulk Hogan (c)
Bubba’s shirt’s already popped open as the match starts, and it’s typical Hulkster fare. Bubba kicks and punches away at Hogan, but the tables turn as the “ram the head into the turnbuckle” spot is reversed.
Bubba hits a backbreaker, but runs into some big boots, because… Hulkster. Bubba goes after Jimmy Hart at ringside, and Jimmy’s coat ends up getting used as the babyface Hogan uses it to unsight Bubba for some punches in the corner. Another comeback from Bubba sees him hit a Bossman slam for a two-count, and the end came from there as Hogan Hulked up, and won with a legdrop. Typical Hogan fare, but at least it worked at the time. *¾
After the match, the Dungeon of Doom – who were feuding with the Hulkster at the time – ran in… only for Kevin Sullivan, Kamala and the Zodiac to be fought off. Hogan had pretty much done the job himself, just as Luger ran in to help him out. Hulk and Lex end up face-to-face with Macho Man and Sting joining them to play peacemakers, and after a commercial break, we have an in-ring confrontation with “Mean” Gene to set-up a title match between the two next week.
As a debut show, it was certainly a refreshing change from the typical wrestling TV show. Up until this point, wrestling TV shows were almost always entirely squash matches and pre-taped promos to build up to the next PPV. The format of big names facing each other was something different – especially with a PPV-quality match-up being given away on free TV.
Whilst the wrestling was too short to be any good, this was a breath of fresh air and certainly put the cat among the pigeons – and set the touchpaper for a period in wrestling that left one hell of a legacy.