By the mid-90s, professional wrestling was becoming stale with the story-lines and gimmicky characters. Creators were trapped in the 80s and an angle can only be recycle so many times.
Wrestling needed a change and there were three seeds planted in the mid-90s to accommodate.
Monday Night RAW
Wrestling programs have traditionally been aired on Saturdays, with pay-per-views airing on Sunday night.
But, Vince McMahon was not always willing to follow tradition and had a plan to air a prime-time show on another night.
The decision was to air the show on Monday, since that day has always been associated with high ratings.
To avoid facing off with Monday Night Football, McMahon waited until the NFL '92 season was over and aired the first show on January 11th 1993 in the Manhattan Center in New York City.
The show was aired for one hour on the USA network and featured four matches.
- Yokozuna squashed Koko B. Ware
- Steiner Brothers defeated The Executioners
- WWF Intercontinental Champion Shawn Michaels defeated Max Moon
- Undertaker defeated Damien Demento
Like other ideas in the past, McMahon put a lot of stake in the success of this show. Like most ideas, Vince was successful.
RAW was an alternative to the tape shows aired on Saturdays, which were squash matches. RAW was to become a weekly Saturday Night Main Event-type program which featured a hand full of quality matches. Story-lines were to plan to be enhanced on RAW and pay-per-view cards were to be promoted on RAW.
You didn't want to miss a weekly show because you didn't know what you were going to miss. Must see TV.
For two years, WWF was able to own Monday night wrestling and even held their own during the football seasons.
McMahon notched another link on his belt, as RAW accomplished everything that was planned and more.
Wrestling on Monday night has become a staple of American culture same as football on Sunday and it also started on a cold January night in 1993.
Paul Heyman Takes Over ECW
The ECW that we know and loved, was initially called Eastern Championship Wrestling. ECW was a member of the National Wrestling Alliance.
Guided by head booker "Hot Stuff" Eddie Gilbert, ECW was the biggest promotion under the NWA banner and enjoyed some success with the veterans Eddie brought into the promotion.
But after having disagreements with owner Tod Gordon, Paul Heyman (aka Paul E. Dangerously) replaced Gilbert in September of 1993.
Little did anyone know at the time, but this hiring would have a tremendous impact on wrestling for the next six years.
To me, Heyman was one of the most important wrestling personalities in the last two decades. His vision and ability to execute his plans is one of his strongest traits.
You may not like him and agree with everything his says, but you do respect him. That's exactly why Gordon brought him in.
To compete with a limited budget and resources, Heyman focused on the strengths in hand. He couldn't compete with the "Big Two" with theatrics and high salaries. Instead, Heyman concentrated on providing entertaining matches and created wrestlers that the average fan was able to relate to.
First thing on Heyman's and Gordon's agenda was to remove ECW from NWA. They wanted to open eyes and raise eyebrows with this departure. On the expense of NWA, they wanted withdraw in controversial fashion, which would draw national attention.
During the summer of 1994, a tournament was held to crown the new NWA Heavyweight Champion. The belt was vacant, for almost a year with the departure of WCW, and this tournament was key in resurrecting the NWA.
Former NWA President Jim Crockett was able to book ECW to hold a tournament to find a new champ.
The finale was between Shane Douglas and 2 Cold Scorpio. After Douglas won, Shane took the NWA World Title threw it on the floor and declared that he's the ECW World Heavyweight Champion. Stating that he did not want to be champion of a "dead promotion" that "died seven years ago".
Heyman stated years later that the NWA was old-school and old-school wasn't hip anymore.
With this event, Eastern Championship Wrestling seceded from the NWA and became Extreme Championship Wrestling.
ECW goal was to bring unorthodox style of wrestling and controversial story-lines.
Hardcore wrestling was born thanks to the mind of Paul Heyman.
Eric Bischoff Is Promoted To Executive Vice-President
WCW was trying to find their new identity in the early 90s. The created minds assigned to accomplish this were either not qualified and/or were stuck with the 80s mentality of promoting shows.
Wrestling was heading to another renaissance, similar to the mid 80s, and Ted Turner wanted to be a part of it. Turner wanted to not only be on top of professional wrestling, but to beat Vince McMahon.
In 1993, Turner's dreams were moving forward after replacing Executive Producer Bill Watts with Eric Bischoff.
Due to his quick success, Bischoff was promoted to Executive Vice-President a year later, which gave him control of the entire company.
The following is some of the plans to success Eric brought to WCW:
- Hogan, Savage and other WWF stars are hired
Bischoff's first order of business was convincing Turner and the other management that they needed to increase the payroll.
Hulk Hogan's WWF contract ran out after 1993 and, due to the pending anabolic steroid case against the WWF, his relationship was soured with McMahon.
Perfect timing for Eric to convince Hulk Hogan to sign with WCW. This signing was huge for Bischoff, it was equivalent to the Miami Heat signing Lebron James.
This signing was huge and instantly changed the wrestling landscape. You may not love Hogan because of his predictable matches and limited skills, but you totally respect what he accomplished by helping to get wrestling mainstream.
He instantly helped with the pay-per-view buy rates and merchandise sales.
Let's face it, Hogan's time with the WWF ran its course by 1994. A change was needed and Bischoff offered new ideas to promote Hogan and his competitors.
Hogan instantly won the WCW World Title by beating Ric Flair and feuded against Vader and Kevin Sullivan's stable the Dungeon of Doom.
The stable consisted of former WWF stars Kamala, Shark (aka Earthquake), Zodiac (aka Brutus Beefcake), and Meng (aka Haku).
Besides Hogan, Bischoff big signing was "Macho Man" Randy Savage.
Savage formed an alliance with Hogan and feuded against Avalanche (who changed his name from Shark) and Ric Flair.
- Monday Night Nitro
In 1995, after the WCW turned a profit for the first time ever, Bischoff convinced Turner to give him a prime-time slot on TNN to directly against RAW. Initially the time slot was only for a hour but increased to two in '96 (eventually three hours in '98) due to the high ratings.
To be different than RAW, each Nitro show was live, compared to RAW, which was live every other week.
Bischoff would often give the RAW results on Nitro for the shows that were taped.
One instant backfired, I was watching RAW and Bischoff mentions that there will be a title change in the WWF. Mankind, who formerly wrestled in WCW as Cactus Jack, was about to win the WWF title. About a million people, including myself, changed the channel to see the win.
Besides airing live shows, Nitro aimed for the 18-34 male demographics. Yes, I remember the beautiful Nitro girls dancing each week. While the WWF catered to the "PG" group with their cartoon-ish characters like Doink The Clown, Duke "The Dumpster" Droese, and Bob "Spark Plugg" Holly.
- Cruiserweight Division = Lucha Libre and Japan
Bischoff re-established the lightweight division and renamed it to Cruiserweight.
Some of the most exciting wrestling matches on the PPV cards were from this division, with the likes of future world champs Rey Mysterio Jr, Eddy Guerrero, and Chris Jericho.
Mexican high flyers like Mysterio Jr, Psichosis and Juventud Guerrera dazzled fans with their non-stop action and high flying aerobics.
Even wrestlers from the Far East competed, like Japanese greats Ultimo Dragon, Shinjiro Ohtani, and Jushin Thunder Liger.
Adding these global names with North American stars, like Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, and Alex Wright just showed how deep this division was under Bischoff.
Heading To The Late 90s
The setting was set, the plans were drawn, and us wrestling fans were sensing the excitement in wrestling in general heading into the second half of the decade.
Next time we will discuss the rise of ECW, Monday Night Wars, and the "Attitude Era".