Things the WWE and TNA Can Learn From the Very First Monday Night Nitro
It is hard to believe that nearly 15 years after the first official, competitive programming on Monday Nights, we are rapidly approaching a second storm known as The Monday Night War.
With both the WWE and TNA gearing up for the war to begin, now is as good a time as any to take a look back at September 4, 1995, the first clash in the weekly, episodic series of events known simply as The Monday Night War, and how the business has changed since then.
Live from the Mall of America, World Championship Wrestling pulled the ace out of their hat, debuting WCW Monday Nitro without opposition. Never forget: the original Monday Night War started without a true test of show-against-show mentality. Eric Bischoff intelligently selected Nitro to debut during one of the World Wrestling Federation’s postponed programs from the USA Network.
In present day, you would not see the USA Network take the WWE programming off in favor of their original staples. Despite the fact that the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show and the U.S. Open Tennis tournament once took prominence, they are no longer USA’s golden treasure.
The show itself was booked perfectly from top to bottom. Fans all over the world likely forget or dismiss what it was to have a one-hour wrestling program, and for that, perhaps we need a lesson. 2010 is all about the two-hour, drawn-out wrestling program that periodically expands to a three-hour marathon. Plots drag and wrestlers are showcased in all sorts of wacky and unnecessary outings.
But in the one-hour era, wrestling fans were treated to a fully loaded program week-in and week-out. If you really want to know what the best television program currently running is, you should tune into WGN on Thursday nights.
Nitro debuted with two trusted, time-tested performers: Japan’s Jushin Thunder Liger, and WCW’s own Flyin’ Brian Pillman. Both had become masters of their craft and were high-flying daredevils from the generation that bridged the gap between Jimmy Snuka and Jeff Hardy. Liger’s skills and technical attributes combined with Pillman’s look and intensity would have made for a great opening contest on pay-per-view, much less on television.
Wrestling was the name of the game here. From the early stages to the closing bell, these two men put on a show that would help define a great era for in-ring action. Say what you will about the state of WWE and TNA in regards to their booking, but you most certainly cannot knock the in-ring quality of the present as opposed to the past. There is no comparison; wrestling “in the ring” is as good as it has ever been.
Eric Bischoff recognized that this distinct style of wrestling would help get his product out there, but there was one element that the first 15-20 minutes of the programming had been missing: chaos. Wrestling fans all over the world have learned over time that the best possible TV comes from absolute chaos. Cue Lex Luger.
Just one week earlier, Luger had appeared at WWF SummerSlam to make the save for then WWF Champion Diesel. He was still incredibly popular and despite his recently inauspicious inactivity for the company, it was believed that he was signing a new contract.
Despite what everyone had been told, Luger jumped ship back to his most successful playground, WCW. During the second contest of the night, a classic match between Sting and Ric Flair, Luger appeared at ringside and shocked the wrestling world.
Literally no one, not even Vince McMahon, could have predicted that Luger was going to walk down that aisle that night. His appearance solidified the unpredictability of live, televised wrestling while also planting the seeds for more defectors in the weeks, months, and year to come.
Furthermore, it was one of the most talked about events in wrestling for years to come and would signal that WCW was indeed ready to make the jump to the big stage. The best for Luger, and Nitro, was yet to come, but we’ll get back to that in just a short while.
Luger’s appearance during the Sting/Flair match was one sign of imminent chaos, but he wouldn’t have a true impact until later that evening. Sting and Flair would instead perform their usual routine until another surprise lit up the Mall of America.
Arn Anderson, a lifetime Ric Flair-sympathizer and member of the Four Horsemen, interfered in the contest in what looked to be a double team effort on the Stinger. But then, out of nowhere, Double A attacked Flair, much to the delight of the audience.
He sent the Nature Boy back to the locker room, and then set his sights on Sting in the ring. Was it a triple threat? Had Anderson finally snapped to the point that he wanted all the glory over the greatest feud in WCW history? We wouldn’t find out, because more chaos followed just seconds later.
As Anderson circled the ring, another WCW newcomer leapt over the guardrail and began pushing Eric Bischoff and Bobby Heenan around. One of Japan’s most notable U.S. born talents, Scott “Flash” Norton was an incredibly imposing bull with a lot of in-ring ability. Norton had made his WCW rounds before, but now, he was a legit threat to the locker room.
Norton went toe-to-toe with Randy Savage in what looked like an impromptu brawl before Bischoff threw it to a video package for an even more unpredictable character, Sabu.
What happened with Anderson and Flair? Or Savage and Norton? This was the glory of Nitro during its debut. You truly wanted to know what exactly was going on as the minute by minute carnage unfolded. Neither the WWE nor TNA has been able to capture that kind of magic thus far, and in going head-to-head, perhaps now would be as good a time as any to figure out the right blend of mayhem and poetry.
A few promos later (including one from another “newcomer,” Mike Rotundo as Mr. Wallstreet), it was time for the main event: Hulk Hogan vs. Big Bubba Rogers. The next ten minutes were spent in your typical Hogan-style match, with the Hulkster again emerging on top. As Hogan celebrated, the Dungeon of Doom hit the ring in an attempt to take out Hulkamania, until Lex Luger returned to clean house.
After assisting Hogan, Luger came face-to-face with the WCW champion in a moment we had never seen before. Hogan and Luger had never competed against one another, and just as it all hit a boiling point, Nitro took another commercial. Perfect. The suspense mounted to the point that you just had to stay glued to the television for six more minutes, anticipating the conclusion like a western melodrama from the 1950’s. As sure as The Lone Ranger was going to save the day, Luger was going to challenge Hogan.
And that, my friends, is how its done. In one hour, WCW had given us an incredibly good product that was live and unpredictable, but also, they managed to hype the next week's following show, giving you ample reason to tune in. Savage would fight Norton, Hogan would fight Luger, and both Wallstreet and Sabu would debut. No resolution? No problem, we can keep you interested with new and more outlandish stunts, and if only because we have competition to conquer.
Perhaps this is the only time-tested strategy to consider as the Monday Night Wars reignite. For more than seven years, the WWE hasn’t needed to promise anything to get you to tune in. In fact, they usual promise minimal interest because there isn’t any reason to give you more. You have no choice. Now, fans once again will have the choice, and maybe, just maybe, WWE or TNA will provide us with the kind of program that we received on September 4, 1995.
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