Throwback Thursday: WCW Monday NITRO #1
Tomorrow marks the 20th anniversary of the debut of the single most important and influential wrestling program of the last two decades: WCW Monday NITRO on TNT.
To celebrate, Throwback Thursday on WrestlingDVDNetwork.com is looking at the moments and matches that made up the debut edition of WCW Monday NITRO from Sept. 4, 1995.
Wrestling fans today may have a hard time appreciating just how revolutionary WCW Monday NITRO was. While the WWF had been floundering as a result of scandals and trials, content to sustain the WWF by catering to children, WCW, after key acquisitions and modest re-branding, was on the verge of a boom. With their wrestling-based product WCW was simply treading water on Saturday nights, looking for a way to take advantage of the WWF’s recent woes. At last Ted Turner, tired of being number two in pro wrestling, agreed to go head-to-head with Vince McMahon on Monday nights and let the chips fall where they may. Emanating live from the largest shopping center in the country and featuring 3 main event matches NITRO took the proverbial rule book and torched it. It was clear that WCW, once the laughing stock of pro wrestling, was finally firing on all cylinders, ready to make their first real charge at the WWF since 1987.
Context is a bit of an issue on the Network as things stand. Aside from PPVs and Clash of the Champions no prior WCW TV is currently available to watch. The nearest programming to the debut of NITRO is the Aug. 6th Clash of the Champions XXXI.
WCW Monday NITRO on TNT #1 (WATCH)
Sept. 4, 1995 – Mall of America, Bloomington, MN
Attendance: 2,000 approx. – Rating: 2.5
Commentators: Eric Bischoff, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, & Steve “Mongo” McMichael
Interviews: Mene Gene Okerlund & Eric Bischoff
CHAMPIONS AT THE TIME:
WCW World Heavyweight Champion: Hulk Hogan
WCW United States Heavyweight Champion: Sting
WCW World Tag Team Champions: Bunkhouse Buck & Dick Slater
WCW World Television Champion: The Renegade
— Single Match (WATCH)
Jushin “Thunder” Liger vs. “Flyin'” Brian Pillman
This marked the rematch of one of WCW’s greatest PPV matches of all-time from SuperBrawl II. Liger, however, was coming off a badly broken lower leg suffered in September of ’94 while the late Brian Pillman was heavier than ever in the midst of a transition away from the light-heavyweight division to a mid-card contender. While Pillman is represented well in the Network archives, Liger appears in less than 10 matches (including NXT Takeover: Brooklyn). Though both men were in much different places in Sept. 1995 than Feb. 1992 this match is still a classic and easily one of the best TV matches of the decade. In the end Pillman blocks a German suplex and rolls Liger up in a victory roll for the 1-2-3 at 6:54. After the match Pillman helps Liger up and the two shake hands.
WINNER is “Flyin'” Brian Pillman (Pin, 6:54)
Next is a promo from WCW U.S. champ Sting about the upcoming title match against Ric Flair. After a break we get a “Hulk Hogan’s PastaMania” inspired promo/infomercial from a “PastaMania” clad “Hulkster”. This one was odd, even for WCW.
— WCW United States Heavyweight Championship (WATCH)
“Nature Boy” Ric Flair vs. Sting(c)
Sting had won the U.S. title at Great American Bash over Meng in the semi-final “finals” of a 16-man tournament while Flair was coming off a bitter war with Randy Savage that consumed much of 1995. Just as the bell rings Lex Luger, who had worked a WWF house show the previous night in St. John’s, New Brunswick, walked out briefly before being escorted off screen. Arn Anderson, scheduled to face Flair at Fall Brawl ’95, comes to ringside and, after Flair refuses to release the ropes with Sting in the figure-four leglock, for which Flair is disqualified, enters the ring, pulls Flair off the ropes, and starts brawling with him. While not a classic Sting/Flair match it’s fun while it lasts.
WINNER and STILL WCW United States Heavyweight Champion, Sting (Disqualification, 8:44)
After the match Scott “Flash” Norton gets into it with Randy Savage after which a vignette for Sabu airs. Back from break we get a promo from Michael “V.K.” Wallstreet (a.k.a. Mike “I.R.S.” Rotundo) full of WWF knocks from “New Generation” quips to talk of the “IRS”.
— WCW World Heavyweight Championship (WATCH)
Big Bubba Rogers vs. Hulk Hogan(c) w/Jimmy Hart
The first main event in NITRO history is a fun yet basic Hulk Hogan babyface match. At the time Hogan was embroiled in a goofy angle with Kevin Sullivan’s “Dungeon of Doom”, heading for a “WarGames” match at Fall Brawl ’95, while the late Big Bubba Rogers was just meandering in the mid-card. Because of their history the work here is solid and very much an ’80s WWF-lite match. Hogan takes much of the punishment before “Hulking-up” and finishing off Rogers with a picture-perfect atomic leg drop for the pinfall victory at 7:09 to retain the Heavyweight Championship.
WINNER and STILL WCW World Heavyweight Champion, Hulk Hogan w/Jimmy Hart (Pin, 7:09)
After the match the “Dungeon of Doom” hit the ring and beat down Hulk Hogan. Luger makes the save, touches backs with Hogan, and the two nearly come to blows. Sting and Randy Savage try and calm things down before the promos begin. After bashing the WWF (“I’m sick and tired of playing around with kids.”), Luger challenges Hogan to a title match which he accepts for the next week. A minor scrum continues in the ring as Bischoff, Heenan, and “Mongo” wrap up the show.
Upon seeing the first episode of NITRO Vince McMahon, whose RAW was pre-empted due to the U.S. Open, remembered thinking, “Whoa. This is real competition.” The debut NITRO was more a canary in the coal mine than a death knell for the WWF; a hard slap of reality that the fan-base McMahon felt so in tuned with for so long was now a mystery. There is no question that the debut of NITRO and, more importantly its success, changed the course of wrestling history. 20 years later we are all still living in a post-NITRO world. Three-hour RAWs, PPV quality matches on free TV, and live weekly wrestling is the direct result of NITRO’s influence. Before NITRO World Champions were rarely on TV much less wrestling in competitive title matches. Today the presence of the World Champion on TV is expected, taken for granted by fans who’ve grown up in a post-NITRO world. Like Dusty Rhodes and Jim Crockett, Jr. had done with CCTV and the “Supercard”, Eric Bischoff and WCW changed the way wrestling was produced, viewed, consumed, and enjoyed on television seemingly overnight. 20 years later NITRO feels as fresh today as it did on Sept. 4, 1995.
That’s it for this weeks TBT on WDN. As always, thank you for reading. If you are a subscriber take a look at the show, see it for yourself, and let me know what you think below. And feel free to share your memories of the debut of NITRO and what it meant to you as a fan.
Until next week, see ya at ringside!