Ranking the Greatest WCW Nitro Matches Ever 20 Years After Last Broadcast

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistMarch 26, 2021

Ranking the Greatest WCW Nitro Matches Ever 20 Years After Last Broadcast

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    Credit: WWE.com

    Over the course of Nitro's five-and-a-half-year run, WCW produced some of the best wrestling to air on Monday nights, thanks to a roster of driven young names like Rey Mysterio and Billy Kidman, and wily superstars such as Sting and Diamond Dallas Page.

    In fact, there were almost too many to count.

    On the 20th anniversary of the revolutionary show willed into existence by Ted Turner and produced for much of its existence by Eric Bischoff, it's time to celebrate some of the matches that helped define WCW's side of the Monday Night Wars.

    Ranked according to in-ring quality with a few instances of epic storytelling sprinkled in, the countdown is a small taste of an enormous library and represents a sample of the things that helped make Nitro destination programming for fans between 1995 and 2001.

10. Rey Mysterio and Billy Kidman vs. Raven and Perry Saturn (April 5, 1999)

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    There were few teams more dynamic than Rey Mysterio and Billy Kidman during the Nitro years. Two cruiserweights who formed a friendship and would go on to be pillars of the division, they meshed well stylistically and became a decorated tandem, capturing WCW tag team gold in March 1999. 

    Raven and Perry Saturn set aside their previous issues and challenged for the titles on the April 5 edition of Nitro and dominated the action, working over Kidman until a hot tag to Mysterio ignited a red-hot final stretch.

    The match was a fantastic display of tag team wrestling from a company that lost its way in that regard during The Outsiders title reigns. And it came to a head when Chris Benoit and Dean Malenko interfered, laying out Saturn and allowing the underdog champions to continue their reign.

    A strong way to kick off this countdown.

9. Goldberg vs. Hollywood Hogan (July 6, 1998)

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    There are much better, more traditional wrestling matches in Nitro's history, but none were as satisfying or historic as Goldberg's trouncing of Hollywood Hogan in the main event of the July 6, 1998 episode.

    Hogan was the insufferable heel champion you wanted to see get his ass kicked, while Goldberg was the unstoppable force who tore through everyone else on his path to the top.

    On that night in Atlanta, Goldberg first retained his United States Championship with a victory over Scott Hall, then made the dreams of all WCW fans come true by bowling over Hogan and pinning him clean in the middle of the ring for his first world title.

    The match remains one of the landmark moments in Nitro history, even if it would have made more financial sense being saved for pay-per-view.

8. La Parka vs. 'Macho Man' Randy Savage (July 7, 1997)

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    One of the best-booked surprises in WCW Monday Nitro history occurred on July 7, 1997. At the height of the Diamond Dallas Page-Randy Savage feud, Macho Man found himself scheduled for a singles match against cruiserweight La Parka.

    On paper, it seemed a cakewalk for the all-time great Savage. The man behind the Macho Madness never could have imagined what eventually went down, though.

    Savage toyed with his overmatched opponent before setting up for the top-rope elbow that had vanquished many a Hall of Famer.

    Then, it happened.

    La Parka got his feet up, caught Savage square in the jaw, and followed with a Diamond Cutter. The crowd erupted and the luchador removed his mask to reveal it was actually Page.

    The match itself was nothing to write home about, but the storytelling and reveal helps earn its way onto our list purely for the fact that it is more memorable than many straight-up wrestling matches.

7. Rey Mysterio vs. Dean Malenko (July 8, 1996)

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    WCW brought back light-heavyweight wrestling in 1996 with the return of its Cruiserweight Championship, and no two competitors were more instrumental in getting that division off the ground than Dean Malenko and Rey Mysterio.

    The July 8, 1996 episode of Nitro, from Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida featured Malenko defending his title against a familiar foe.

    Malenko dominated the match despite bursts of energy from Mysterio and several quick near-falls. He suplexed Mysterio on the floor, toyed with him back inside the ring and appeared to be well on the way to a successful title defense. 

    The challenger fought back and delivered a springboard moonsault, but Malenko answered right back with a gutbuster from the top rope. Perhaps overconfident, he lifted Mysterio off the mat, interrupting a referee's count. It proved costly.

    Rey reversed a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker into a hurricanrana, grabbed the legs and pinned Malenko to win the title in the first great cruiserweight division match in Nitro history. 

6. Juventud Guerrera vs. Billy Kidman (September 14, 1998)

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    One night after cutting ties with Raven, under whom he served as an oily misfit in The Flock, Billy Kidman battled Juventud Guerrera in a fast-paced Cruiserweight Championship match on the September 14, 1998 episode of Nitro.

    Kidman stunned the world and proved there was far more to his character, first catching Guerrera in mid-flight with a sit-out spinebuster and then climbing the ropes and delivering the Shooting Star Press for the stunning upset.

    The crowd was invested in Kidman's story and genuinely wanted him to win, resulting in a raucous reaction to his victory. 

    This was a great coming-of-age story and new star-making booking on a show that wasn't necessarily known for it previously.

5. Brian Pillman vs. Jushin 'Thunder' Liger (September 4, 1995)

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    At SuperBrawl II in 1992, Brian Pillman and Jushin "Thunder" Liger tore the house down in one of the greatest WCW matches of all time. Hoping they could recreate the magic, Eric Bischoff booked the rematch on the debut episode of Nitro on September 4, 1995.

    While it could never live up to the impossibly high standards of the first encounter, the two men still set the bar high for every Nitro match that would follow it. 

    The grappling, the high-flying and the clean victory by Pillman provided fans with a look at an alternative style to the big, jacked-up heavyweights who were prominent everywhere else and laid the foundation for what would become the cruiserweight division.

    Were there better matches within that division over the course of Nitro's history? Sure, but as the first match in the show's history and a precursor of things to come, Pillman and Liger absolutely earned their way onto this list with what was still an excellent pro wrestling match. 

4. Goldberg vs. Raven (April 20, 1998)

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    Goldberg makes his second appearance on the countdown, something few would have imagined considering his name and "greatest matches" don't typically go hand-in-hand. Yet, for all of the criticism the former WCW champion takes, there is no denying his role in another Nitro classic. 

    For months, Raven was the cowardly heel who benefited from his own made-up rules and his cronies in The Flock. He would win matches with underhanded methods, drawing the ire of fans, and captured the United States Championship on April 19, 1998 at the Spring Stampede pay-per-view.

    His reign would be short-lived, though, as he ran into the unstoppable force of Goldberg just 24 hours later.

    The rookie powerhouse punished Raven, tossing him around the ring and ringside area before bowling over each member of The Flock. Thrown back to the wolves as he attempted to make a run for it by fans tired of seeing him escape sticky situations, the heel had no one left to turn to.

    He ate a Spear and then the Jackhammer, and Goldberg captured his first championship.

    The booking of the match was flawless, telling a story fans could invest in and resulting in a red-hot crowd. 

3. Mysterio vs. Psychosis vs. Juventud Guerrera vs. Blitzkrieg (April 19, 1999)

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    Four of the most creative and dynamic cruiserweights in the world battled in a nonstop match in which nothing was held back in pursuit of the WCW Cruiserweight Championship. 

    The spotfest showcased the incredible talents of Rey Mysterio, Psychosis, Blitzkrieg, and Juventud Guerrera and proved that, while the company was in a nosedive financially, there was still talent driven to perform at the highest level.

    Mysterio won to retain the title, but all four competitors demonstrated why they were the heart and soul of a WCW that had otherwise lost it.

2. Bret Hart vs. Chris Benoit (October 4, 1999)

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    When Bret Hart addressed WCW fans shortly after the passing of his brother, Owen, there was a very real sense among them that they would never see The Hitman back inside the squared circle.

    Then came the October 4, 1999 episode of Nitro, at the Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Missouri, the site of Owen's untimely passing. 

    On the night, Bret donned the pink and black once more for a match with family friend Chris Benoit, in what would be a tribute to The King of Harts. What resulted was a brilliant match between two of the best technical wrestlers to ever lace a pair of boots.

    At 32 minutes, it is one of Nitro's longest matches but also one of its best.

    Back-and-forth action ultimately gave way to Hart trapping Benoit in the Sharpshooter for the submission win.

    However, the real winners were the fans, who witnessed a classic match under the saddest possible circumstances. Still, it was a reminder of Hart's passion for the sport, which definitely diminished when he arrived in WCW, and proof of Benoit's greatness between the ropes.

1. Sting vs. Diamond Dallas Page (April 26, 1999)

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    The greatest match in WCW Monday Nitro history came on April 26, 1999 when Sting challenged Diamond Dallas Page for the WCW world title.

    Taking exception to the way Page won the gold at the Spring Stampede pay-per-view 15 days earlier, Sting looked to wrest it from a DDP in transition from people's champion to heel. With a red-hot crowd watching on from the Fargodome in Fargo, North Dakota, the icons of the Monday Night Wars tore the house down.

    They brawled into the stands, up the aisle and back into the ring. DDP favored low blows and a core-based attack while Sting continuously fought from underneath, catching his rival with an unintentional, yet well-placed low blow.

    The near-falls were dramatic and the fans hung on to every move, enhancing the match and the heat surrounding it.

    Late, Sting tried for a backslide but DDP caught him with another low blow, sinking as far as he could in an attempt to cling to the title he worked so hard to capture.

    He tried for a Diamond Cutter out of the corner but Sting held onto the ropes. Using Page's momentum against him, The Icon grabbed him by the head, tucked it under his arm and felled DDP with a Scorpion Death Drop to pick up the win and the title.

    This fantastic match was an indicator of Page's desire to produce as champion and a reminder that Sting could still go when he was not bogged down by aging legends uninterested in delivering the best in-ring content possible.

    And that crowd! Without them, who knows if this match would have been as extraordinary as it proved to be.

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