This week Throwback Thursday, by way of the WWE Network, celebrates the 18th anniversary of one of the most controversial moments in pro wrestling history: “The Fingerpoke of Doom”!
By the start of 1999 the “Monday Night Wars” had shifted in favor of the World Wrestling Federation, with World Championship Wrestling winning only seven head-to-head nights after the April 13, 1998 ratings win for RAW, the WWF’s first since June 10, 1996. Though WWF was firmly in control of the “Monday Night Wars” the ratings were, more often than not, very close.
In an effort to regain the lead in the ratings Eric Bischoff resorted to old tricks. On this night, up against a pre-taped addition of RAW, Bischoff decided to give away the results of RAW‘s main event, Mankind’s WWF Championship victory over The Rock. As a result, hundreds of thousands of viewers flipped to RAW to see the angle. To make matters worse the promised Goldberg/Nash rematch was replaced with the infamous “Fingerpoke of Doom”, a blunder that confirmed the worst suspicions coming out of Starrcade ’97 that WCW couldn’t and wouldn’t deliver on the most basic of promises. WCW’s rapid decline, in hindsight, can be traced back to this night. WCW would reach a 5.0 rating only two more times, on January 11 and 25, 1999 before the free-fall took hold and the shift to Monday Night RAW was complete.
Milestones are a mess for this edition of NITRO. Some are complete, others are missing entirely, and still others only mark the finish of the match. Viewer beware!
As for context, it’s nearly complete. Though WCW Thunder is currently not on the Network as of this writing all previous editions of Monday NITRO, Clash of the Champions, and all prior PPV events are available for you to enjoy right now!
WWF Monday NITRO #173 (WATCH)
Date: January 4, 1999 – Location: Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Georgia
Attendance: 38,809 – Rating: 5.0 (4.9 million homes)
Commentators: Tony Schiavone, Larry Zbyszko, Mike Tenay, Bobby Heenan, & Eric Bischoff – Interviews: Jimmy Baron & “Mean” Gene Okerlund
CHAMPIONS AT THE TIME
WCW World Heavyweight Champion: Kevin Nash
WCW United States Heavyweight Champion: Bret “Hitman” Hart
WCW World Tag Team Champions: Rick Steiner & Kenny Kaos
WCW World Television Champions: “Big Poppa Pump” Scott Steiner
WCW Cruiserweight Champion: Billy Kidman
A vignette highlighting Kevin Nash’s win over Goldberg two weeks prior at Starrcade ’98 opens the show. In the arena Tony Schiavone welcomes us to the show and hypes the big Goldberg/Nash WCW World title rematch as the NITRO Girls perform their opening routine. As the pyro goes off (and with it some balloons and confetti) Tony hypes Ric Flair being in control of WCW and Hollywood Hogan making his first WCW TV appearance since “retiring” on the Thanksgiving ’98 edition of the Tonight Show with Jay Leno to run for President of the United States.
Tony throws to Jimmy Baron who is with the grand prize “NITRO Party” winner in a luxury box in the Georgia Dome. The fan and his friends are jacked to be there and can’t wait to see the Goldberg/Kevin Nash rematch and for Goldberg to reclaim the gold.
— Singles Match (WATCH – 4:39)
Glacier vs. Hugh Morrus w/Jimmy Hart
This match is just window dressing for the commentators to talk about anything other than the match. It’s not terribly bad but it’s not good either. In the closing moments Glacier ducks a charging Morrus who knocks Jimmy Hart from the apron. Moments later Morrus wipes out Glacier with a beautiful lariat setting up the No Laughing Matter moonsault for the win at 2:46.
WINNER is Hugh Morrus w/Jimmy Hart (Pin, 2:46)
After the match we head to the announce position where Tony Schiavone, Mike Tenay, and Larry Zbyszko talk about the show to come. Next we see footage of Ric Flair challenging (in one of his craziest promos) and defeating Eric Bischoff from the previous week’s NITRO to gain control of WCW for 90-days.
Finally we get the usual NITRO opening, after which Arn Anderson and Ric Flair, accompanied by Flair’s three kids, arrive to the arena. In the ring “Mean” Gene introduces Ric Flair, who is applauded by “WCW employees” as he walks from the back into the arena. On the way to the ring “Mongo”, Chris Benoit, and Dean Malenko (on crutches), join the arriving party.
Flair puts over WCW and talks about the “tyrant”, Eric Bischoff running the show. Flair calls out Bischoff and tells “Easy E” that the “easiest thing to do” would be to fire him but that’s not what he’s going to do. Flair then orders Bischoff to work with Schiavone at the announcer’s table and tells him he’s cutting his salary in half since Bischoff “won’t be visible on TV anymore.”.
We see footage of Bischoff firing Randy Anderson next, after which Flair calls out Randy Anderson, as Schiavone gives Bischoff a hard time at the announcer’s table, and rehires “Pee Wee” at double the salary. Flair thanks everybody who helped him, including Randy Savage, before booking himself in a handicap match against Curt Hennig and Barry Windham at the upcoming Souled Out ’99 event. “That means I kill one of you or you kill me,” Flair says. “And that’s the way it’s going to be.” David Flair interrupts and asks to be Ric’s partner which Ric denies at first until Arn Anderson convinces him otherwise.
Before we got to break we see a visibly bored Bischoff being instructed by both Schiavone and Zbyszko.
— Singles Match (WATCH – 31:10)
Booker T vs. Emory Hale
This was the late Emory Hale’s fourth televised match in WCW and next to last for the year. Hale is green and sloppy in this one but it doesn’t last long. In a flash Booker T hits his beautiful missile dropkick for the pin at 1:01.
WINNER is Booker T (Pin, 1:01)
After a break we get more NITRO Girls as Tony sells future events. At the announce table Bischoff still sits bored as Tony and Larry try to get him to work, threatening to report Bischoff’s behavior to Flair. This is the last we see of the announcer’s desk for a long time though they continue to play up the angle.
— Singles Match (WATCH – 34:35)
Norman Smiley vs. Chavo Guerrero, Jr. w/Pepe
Though the commentators (surprise!) talk about everything but the match this one is pretty good, a story of Chavo’s speed being no match for Smiley’s power and experience. Smiley’s arrogance leads to Chavo taking over, despite a major botch, and reversing Smiley’s chickenwing into a sunset flip for the pin at 4:02. After the match Smiley attacks Chavo and takes him out with the Smiley Slam before breaking Pepe.
WINNER is Chavo Guerrero, Jr. (Pin, 4:02)
— Singles Match (WATCH – 41:29)
Chris Benoit vs. Horace Hogan
Luckily this is nothing more than a glorified squash. Hogan gets a few decent moves in, including a dangerous suicide dive that could have seriously hurt Benoit, but it’s Benoit who makes quick work of Hogan, winning with the Crippler Crossface at 3:59.
WINNER is Chris Benoit (Submission, 3:59)
After replays we jump to the back where the police are arresting Bill Goldberg, claiming they have a warrant for his arrest. Goldberg cuts a promo on the cops about doing “nothing but positive things for this community” and telling them he isn’t going anywhere. The cops tell Goldberg in no uncertain terms that he’s going downtown, handcuff Goldberg, and take him away.
Coming out of a break they’re still removing Goldberg from the building when they pass an arriving Hollywood Hogan. As they load Goldberg in the squad car Kevin Nash appears and argues with the police about taking Goldberg away. As Nash walks back to the building Nash confronts Hogan for laughing at Goldberg. Hogan says he’s a “law and order politician and I believe in a man doin’ his time if he’s guilty. And he’s guilty.” As Hogan enters the building we see Elizabeth giving a statement to the police.
— Singles Match (WATCH – 51:19)
Perry Saturn vs. Chris Jericho w/Ralphus
Jericho’s music is his WWE music here, for those keeping score. Like the other matches the commentators spend more time on the fluff than the match. As for the match, it’s pretty decent. Jericho gets the upper hand before for his arrogance to gets the better of him, leaving the door open for Saturn. Saturn hits a slew of his best moves until Jericho pulls the referee into Saturn’s springboard forearm. Jericho punts Saturn in the plums, hits the Lionsault, and attempts to apply the Liontamer when the referee wakes up and calls for the bell at 5:46 to give the match to Jericho via DQ. After the match Saturn goes ape in the ring as the referee leaves with Jericho.
WINNER is Chris Jericho (Disqualification, 5:46)
Next we go to the “local police precinct” where Goldberg is being booked for aggravated stalking of Miss Elizabeth who is in an adjacent room being interviewed. After a break we get a NITRO Girl calendar promo followed by a NITRO Girl routine as the commentators talk about Goldberg’s charges. We go to NITRO Party winner’s luxury box where all hell is breaking loose, for the moment, as the fans chant “jail break”.
Back at the “police station” Elizabeth is being interviewed by police where she talks about Goldberg following her everywhere she goes.
After a break we get a long Latino World Order promo with Eddie Guerrero way ahead of his time giving orders and partying with the ladies as the rest of the LWO are left cold.
— “Cruiserweight Texas Tornado Match” (WATCH – 1:10:36)
WCW Cruiserweight Champion Billy Kidman & Rey Mysterio, Jr. vs. Psychosis & Juventud Guerrero
This was said to be a “tornado” match but it’s anything but. The commentators, meanwhile (you guessed it!), talk about everything but the match for most of it. Though this is a great little action-packed tag team match, it drags in the same way of most cruiserweight matches. Late in the match Kidman accidentally drops Mysterio, Jr. with a missile dropkick which leads to Psychosis hitting the guillotine legdrop on Rey for the pin at 7:37.
WINNERS are Psychosis & Juventud Guerrero (Pin, 7:37)
Again we return to the police station where Goldberg continues to be questioned. Goldberg says he and Elizabeth are in the same company, hence they’re around the places, including the Obake gym that Goldberg co-owns. Goldberg wants to leave but the cops tell him they’ll have to check things out first.
After a break “Mean” Gene brings out WCW World Heavyweight Champion Kevin Nash to talk about Goldberg’s arrest. Nash says Goldberg “got screwed” at Starrcade ’98, and that Hogan is behind the “trumped up charges”. Nash then asks Flair to give him Hogan as a “warm-up” and that Goldberg will be back for the main event tonight. Ric Flair comes out, shakes Nash’s hand, and gives Nash the match with Hogan.
Next we see the exact same Goldberg/Nash vignette that opened the show before going back to the police interview with Elizabeth, who is growing more flustered by the moment as she checks and re-checks her watch.
Back from break and Gene is in the ring this time to interview Hollywood Hogan, whose music is overdubbed but can still be made out! Hogan says he planned to officially retire from wrestling and announce his vice-presidential pick tonight but that Goldberg being arrested and Kevin Nash spreading lies about him changed his mind. Hogan says that if Flair says Hogan will wrestle, he’ll do it and give his fans a “retirement match”.
Tony follows the segment by playing up the fact that NITRO is live. “If you’re even thinking about changing the channel to our competition, fans,” Schiavone says, “do not. Because we understand that Mick Foley, who wrestled here one time as-as ‘Cactus Jack’, is going to win their World title. Oh! That’s gonna put some butts in the seats. Eh!” Moments later, out in TV Land, hundreds of thousands of viewers, who were giving NITRO the edge that night, tuned over to Monday Night RAW. The rest, as they say, is history.
After yet another break we see a WCW MasterCard ad featuring Diamond Dallas Page followed by footage of Chris Jericho trying to influence the referee prior to Jericho’s match with Perry Saturn.
— WCW World Television Championship – “Grudge Match” (WATCH – 1:34:27)
Konnan vs. Scott Steiner(c) w/Buff Bagwell
Steiner comes to the ring and does his usual shtick before Konnan enters. Steiner gets in “K-Dawgs” face before Konnan attacks Bagwell and gets the match going. Again Schiavone talks about Foley winning the WWF title, saying, “I mean, that’s gonna be their World Champion. HA! HA!” The match, meanwhile, is what it is. Though Konnan gets in a few moves late this one was all Steiner. In the end Konnan goes for the Tequila Sunrise when Bagwell jumps in the ring which causes the DQ at 4:02. After match Bagwell and Steiner beat the bejabbers out of Konnan until Steiner puts Konnan in the Steiner Recliner as the nWo referee calls for the bell. Steiner grabs a chair and batters “K-Dawg” from head to toe with it.
WINNER and STILL WCW World Television Champion, Scott Steiner w/Buff Bagwell (Disqualification, 4:02)
After a break and a Souled Out ’99 promo Wrath comes to the ring and says he’s got no competition and calls out anybody in the back when out comes Bam Bam Bigelow.
— Singles Match (WATCH – 1:44:59)
Wrath vs. Bam Bam Bigelow
This match is a battle from the opening bell with the guys fighting in and out of the ring. Eventually, with the fight totally out of control and the referee knocked down the bell rings at 4:56 for a no contest. After the match the two brawl up the aisle and ramp all the way to the back, careful not to touch the NITRO set.
NO WINNER declared (No Contest, 4:56)
The detectives continue to interview Elizabeth whose story has unraveled. The police poke holes in her story and begin to patronize her in a way that, in 2018, feels very uncomfortable. The cops tell Elizabeth that falsifying a report is a felony and Elizabeth suddenly backs out and changes her story as she continues to smile and check her watch.
After a break the NITRO Girls dance as Tony and “Brain” talks about the Elizabeth/Goldberg fiasco while Tony sells some tickets. We go to the announce position for the first time since the first hour where we see Bischoff sitting bored while Tony talks about Goldberg getting back to the building for the match with Nash.
— Singles Match (WATCH – 1:58:39)
Brian Adams w/Vincent vs. Diamond Dallas Page
This one is sloppy at times and very slow. Eventually Vincent tries to interfere but DDP makes short work of him. Then, out of nowhere, DDP hits a sort of tornado Diamond Cutter from the middle rope for the pin at 6:27!
WINNER is Diamond Dallas Page (Pin, 6:27)
After replays we return to the “precinct” where Goldberg is banging the back of his head on the wall as the police inform him that Elizabeth was lying and that they are releasing him. Goldberg looks at the police officer and says, “Take me to the Dome!”
— WCW World Heavyweight Championship – “Grudge Match” (WATCH – 2:10:06)
Special Guest Ring Announcer: Michael Buffer
Hollywood Hogan w/Scott Steiner vs. Kevin Nash(c) w/Scott Hall
Hogan keeps miming that he’s going to break Nash in half while Nash chills out with Hall in the corner. The crowd, despite there being no Goldberg, are pumped for this match. At this point in 1999 Nash/Hogan was still, believe it or not, a big money match, especially since Hogan hadn’t worked a match since Halloween Havoc ’98 and Hogan/Warrior II. Nash mocks Hogan’s shirt tearing shtick and the two pace around one another until both men stop. Nash shoves Hogan before Hogan pokes Nash in the chest. Nash flops to his back as the referee counts the 1-2-3 at 1:40. This marked the end of Kevin Nash’s first (of an eventual five) WCW World title reign at 8-days and was Hogan’s fifth (of an eventual six) WCW World Heavyweight title win.
WINNER and NEW WCW World Heavyweight Champion, Hollywood Hogan w/Scott Steiner (Pin, 1:40)
After the match Nash, Hogan, Steiner, and Hall celebrate in the ring as Goldberg arrives. Goldberg runs from the front door to the ring in mere seconds and takes out all four members of the New World Order until Hogan gloms Goldberg with the World title. Goldberg counters and spears Hogan to the mat as Lex Luger runs in to help Goldberg. But as Goldberg lifts Hogan for the Jackhammer Luger attacks Goldberg, joining the nWo in the process. The rest of the nWo beat down Goldberg and lifts Goldberg into Luger’s Torture Rack as Bischoff mocks the scene on commentary.
Goldberg is eventually handcuffed to the ropes as Elizabeth and Buff Bagwell arrive. Hall pulls out the stun gun and zaps Goldberg with it over and over again. Goldberg’s shirt is torn off and Hogan tags Goldberg’s back “nWo 4 life” for good measure. Hogan then tags the WCW World title “nWo” as Nash looks into the camera and says, “Can you say ‘deja vu?'”. The show ends with the newly-reformed New World Order celebrating in the ring.
Though those involved in the incident from Hogan to Nash to Eric Bischoff continue to deny the impact of this edition of NITRO and the “Fingerpoke of Doom” on the eventual demise of World Championship Wrestling, the link is, unfortunately, undeniable.
Had it been done at the height of the nWo and WCW’s dominance this clever and creative finish wouldn’t have mattered. But in early 1999 the “Fingerpoke of Doom” proved the naysayers right and all but handed the keys to the kingdom to Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation.
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I’ve said it before elsewhere and I will say it here. This was the real beginning of the end of wcw. Not Starcade 97. After the fingerpoke of doom wcw never beat wwe in the ratings and wouldn’t come close! Kevin Nash said this was supposed to eventually lead to Hogan losing the title to Goldberg again? Why? Goldberg should have just kept the title at Starcade and whoever they had end the streak, could have done it in a smarter way. Alas!
How many times does the finger poke of doom have to be reviewed?!? 🙁
Hello Max! I don’t know about other sites and writers but this was the first time I’ve ever reviewed the “Finger Poke of Doom” on WDN or anywhere else. If it wasn’t for the anniversary I doubt I would have even gone near it. I mean, you have to sit through the rest of the show just to get to it, and that’s just as bad as the main event itself. Just sayin’. This entire edition of NITRO is a “Finger Poke of Doom”… in my eye.
Thanks for reading Max and leaving your thoughts. Take care!
Wow the “finger poke of doom” brings back so many bad memories of WCW in its decline. Wasn’t Nash the head Booker at the time? Making Goldberg loose his title at Starcade was bad enough in the way it happened but this was an absolute disgrace between Nash and Hogan. And the whole thing with giving the WWE results with Foley winning the title away is the best dumb thing that WCW ever did.After all these years I think thats so awesome how they pretty much cut their own promo on themselves and got people to change the channel to see Foley win. They were so stupid by doing that. What a bunch of idiots.
Hello Brandon Vendetta! I don’t believe Nash was booker by this time. Nash would become booker later that spring, if memory serves me right, but he was not yet in that role.
I don’t think ending “The Streak” was all that bad in hindsight. I mean if this “Finger Poke of Doom” actually led to a prolonged Goldberg/Hogan program where Goldberg had to go undefeated to get Hogan again, a second “streak” against the nWo (including a revenge win over Nash), with the payoff being Bash at the Beach at the Georgia Dome I think we’d be calling this bit of booking genius. I don’t think the story could have been sustained until Starrcade ’98. In wrestling, in my eyes, it’s not about the booking in the moment, it’s the next few steps that matter. A flub can be fixed the next night while a great angle can be destroyed by a lousy followup. In this case they dropped the ball that very night when they beat down Goldberg, which shouldn’t have happened until the next week at the earliest. It felt like three weeks of TV angles crammed into three hours.
As far as giving away the results, was just stupid. I’ve always felt bad for Schiavone because you can tell that he doesn’t even want to be talking about it. Tony took the heat for that for too long. It was a dumb thing to do and I’m glad it finally blew up in their face. I think to say they were idiots for doing it is an understatement!
Thanks for reading Brandon Vendetta and taking the time to leave your thoughts. Have a good one!
Nash was definitely the booker by this point. He started booking in November ‘98. So him winning the battle royal at World War 3, beating Goldberg for the Title at Starrcade and then laying down for Hogan on Nitro all falls under his watch.
The timing of the last two reviews is funny since I said that Starrcade 97 I felt was the “turning point” & this Nitro was definitely the “point of no return” for WCW.
Hell D.p. I was thinking the same thing when I was putting the “schedule” together. I almost went with the Foley title win on RAW instead, but in the end I figured I’d revisit this edition of NITRO with a fresh set of eyes (having not seen the entire episode in well over ten years) and see if it was really as bad as I remembered it. And, it was.
Thanks for reading D.p. and taking the time to leave your thoughts! Take care!