Venue: Mall of America (Bloomington, MN)
Commentators: Eric Bischoff, Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan, & Steve ‘Mongo’ McMichael
Despite having many of their competition’s former stars and the corporate backing of billionaire Ted Turner, World Championship Wrestling struggled to compete with the longstanding dominant force in professional wrestling: the World Wrestling Federation. Running out of ideas Eric Bischoff, then the company’s President, presented Turner brass with an idea: a weekly live show on Monday nights to directly compete with the WWF’s flagship Monday Night Raw. Although many believed it was a fool’s errand, Turner agreed and on September 4, 1995 WCW debuted its first-ever episode of Monday Nitro live on its new home TNT during a week where Monday Night Raw was pre-empted due to the U.S. Open tennis championship. This gamble would eventually pay off and not only did it raise the profile of WCW, it led into one of pro wrestling’s boom period.
But while we know Nitro’s impact on a broad scale, I want to dive deeper and see how the shows themselves hold up. I want to see what stories really stand the test of time, which matches deserved to be remembered, and most importantly I want to relive the rise (and, sadly, fall) of my favorite wrestling company. This is #everyNITROever and there’s no other way to begin than the first episode, aired live from the Mall of America in Bloomington, MN. Let’s do this.
- WCW World Heavyweight Champion: Hulk Hogan
- WCW United States Champion: Sting
- WCW Television Champion: The Renegade
- WCW World Tag Team Champions: Buckhouse Bunk & Dick Slater
- Brian Pillman vs. Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger (**1/2)
- Sting [c] vs. Ric Flair for the WCW UNITED STATES CHAMPIONSHIP (**1/2)
- Hulk Hogan [c] vs. Big Bubba Rogers for the WCW WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP (*3/4)
Eric Bischoff welcomes the home audience at ringside alongside Steve ‘Mongo’ McMichael, former NFL great turned wrestling commentator (later turned wrestler). Their love fest is interrupted by Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan and we immediately get a ‘WEASEL’ chant from the crowd. Heenan puts over Mongo’s football cred and plays nice, despite Bischoff trying to snitch him out for the things he said the night before. Once a jerk always a jerk.
‘Flyin’ Brian Pillman vs. Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger
WCW wanted a banger of an opening match for the first episode of Monday Nitro and on paper there was no better way to start their dynasty off with a match between Pillman and Liger. These two blew everyone’s minds back in 1992 at SuperBrawl II and this is the return bout.
Pillman and Liger trade wristlocks, Liger transitioning into a headlock. Liger whips Pillman in the corner and connects with a cannonball kick. Liger floats over Pillman and hits a moonsault for a two-count, Pillman waiting for what felt like thirty seconds for the move to actually happen. Liger with a chop, Pillman catches Liger with a headscissors and lays in with a series of chops. Liger reverses an Irish whip and catches a charging Liger with a big boot, trying to follow up with a hurricanrana but it’s messy and awkward. Pillman doesn’t get the pinfall and moves to a seated abdominal stretch. Liger with a drop toehold into the inverted surfboard as the crowd pops. Pillman catches Liger (sorta) with a headscissors, Liger sends him out to the floor and flattens him with a cannonball from the apron. Liger tries to suplex Pillman back in but Pillman reverses it and dumps him out to the floor, then follows up with a top rope plancha. Pillman back to the top, Liger crotches him and connects with a superplex for the 1…2…Pillman barely gets his shoulder up. Liger tries another plancha but Pillman counters with a dropkick on the way down and covers for the 1…2…NOPE. Liger counters a backdrop with a Liger Bomb for the 1…2…Pillman manages to kick out once more. Liger brings Pillman to the top and connects with a hurricanrana for the 1…2…PILLMAN KICKS OUT AGAIN. Liger wants to do it again but Pillman fights him off and connects with a tornado DDT for the 1…2…LIGER KICKS OUT. Liger goes for a German suplex but Pillman counters with a roll-up for the 1…2…3!
Brian Pillman defeated Jushin Liger via pinfall with a roll-up (6:52)
- It feels almost unfair to compare this one to their SuperBrawl II meeting as that match took place under a different creative team and got way more time to flesh out a story. This one was fun, a short sprint that unfortunately had some ugly move executions, but it wasn’t the same. But hey it was a fast-paced way to start the show and I can’t be mad at that. (**1/2)
Pillman raises Liger’s arm in triumph after the match in a show of respect.
Cut to a pre-taped promo from Sting from earlier in the day, who isn’t at all concerned about facing Ric Flair tonight.
After a commercial break we then cut to footage earlier in the day of Hulk Hogan hanging out at his ‘PastaMania!’ restaurant in the Mall of America. Bischoff squeezes through the loads and loads of kids wanting to hang out with the Hulkster. Hogan feels sorry for Big Bubba tonight because he’s hyped up on Hulkaroos and whatnot, BROTHER.
WCW United States Championship
Sting [c] vs. ‘The Nature Boy’ Ric Flair
The bell rings and ‘The Total Package’ Lex Luger shows up out of nowhere in the aisle, distracting Sting and Flair for the first minute or so. It’s one of the biggest surprise in the Nitro Era and is still effective now, as he had been part of the WWF as recently as over the weekend. That’s what happens when you don’t make sure you’ve got iron-clad contracts in place, folks, and it’s a harbinger of company jumping that’s to come.
Sting and Flair get their head in the game and the match begins proper, the former taking the early control and sending the latter out to the floor via dropkick. Flair takes advantage of the 10-count to catch his bearings, then goads Sting into a test of strength so he can poke him in the eye. Love it. Flair lays in with a series of chops and a right hand, but Sting stops feeling them and regains control with a gorilla press slam. Sting ducks a back elbow and Flair connects with a crossbody that sends both men out to the floor. Flair with a chop, Sting with the no-sell so Flair pokes him in the eye instead. Flair charges at Sting, who picks him up and slams him through the ropes back into the ring. Flair dodges a Stinger Splash attempt but Sting stops short of hitting the buckles and adjusts, hitting a bulldog instead. Sting charges at Flair who catches him with a back elbow and it’s time for the ‘Nature Boy’ to take control as we go to commercial.
Back live Flair drops Sting with a chop and heads to the top (OH NO). Sting, to the shock of nobody, slams him off. Sting with another military press slam but Flair kicks out of the pinfall attempt. Arn Anderson makes his way ringside as Sting misses a splash from the top turnbuckle. Flair connects with a delayed vertical suplex but Sting gets right back to his feet and connects with a series of clotheslines. Flair gets sent to the apron and Sting drops him with another clothesline. Anderson, who has had issues with his best friend Flair leading into this show, just watches and keeps his cards close to his chest. Sting seats Flair on the top turnbuckle, Flair rakes the eyes but Sting still climbs. Flair shoves him off then jumps off to try a hip toss but Sting blocks it. Flair goes for the pin, Sting bridges out and rolls Flair up with a backslide for the 1…2…nope. Sting brings Flair to the top turnbuckle and connects with a superplex, hitting it way better than Liger did on Pillman the match before surprisingly. Sting gets distracted by Anderson, and Flair clips his leg en route to the Figure Four Leglock. Sting endures and tries to turn it but Flair holds the ropes to keep it. Flair keeps grabbing the ropes and Anderson enters the ring as the ref calls for the bell after Flair won’t let go of the ropes I guess?
Sting [c] defeated Ric Flair via DQ to retain the WCW UNITED STATES CHAMPIONSHIP (8:45 shown)
- Sting and Flair can have a good match in their sleep at this point, and pretty much do so with some fun spots thrown in. But the match itself took a backseat really to the goings on outside the ring, with Luger making his surprise appearance and Anderson showing up to tease attacking somebody. There are better Sting/Flair matches without a doubt but this isn’t bad, it would just be forgettable if it wasn’t on the first-ever Nitro. (**1/2)
Anderson takes his goofy jacket off and attacks Flair as the crowd goes wild. Flair bails to the back and Anderson returns to the ring to grab his jacket. It looks like it cost maybe twenty bucks tops man, you can leave it.
While Sting is announced the victor Scott Norton shows up at ringside to get in McMichael’s face. Randy Savage shows up and gets in Norton’s face and challenges him to a match. Neither man want to wait, and Savage starts goading him from the ring. Norton wants in but is held back by WCW security and Bischoff threatens his job if he disobeys.
Cut to a vignette hyping up Sabu, one of the faces of ECW who is now one of WCW’s newest signees. Given the hardcore nature of Sabu’s style this is a really odd fit but hey let’s see what happens. I honestly don’t remember much about his run so I doubt it leads to anything.
We go back to the ring where ‘Mean’ Gene Okerlund congratulates the winner of the WCW Harley Davidson sweepstakes. It’s a guy from Alabama, WHAT A SHOCKER. Bischoff then hypes this Saturday’s edition of Saturday Night where Sting & Randy Savage will take on The Blue Bloods in tag team action. I wish I could see that but the WWE Network has yet to put up Saturday Night episodes past 1989. I’M WAITING, GUYS.
Cut to a pre-taped locker room promo from Mr. Wallstreet (WWF’s Irwin R. Schyster), who vows to become a real player in WCW. This was Mike Rotundo’s final gimmick in WCW before leaving for the WWF to become I.R.S., but it looks tweaked here to be more Ted DiBiase than Michael Douglas. Also there’s no York Foundation so WHAT’S THE POOOOINT?
WCW World Heavyweight Championship
Hulk Hogan [c] [w/ Jimmy Hart] vs. Big Bubba Rogers
Hogan headlining the first-ever Monday Nitro is a no-brainer, and he’s facing a guy he’s got chemistry with in Big Bubba (Rogers). Hogan’s feud with The Dungeon of Doom is still going at this point which is fun from an ironic ‘so bad it’s good’ way but terrible when it comes to execution. The Dungeon of Doom were THE WORST.
Hogan and Bubba with some basic stuff to start, Hogan knocking over Bubba with a shoulderblock though it looked like he was supposed to stay on his feet to put over his size. Bubba cheap shots Hogan during a test of strength, jabbing at him in the corner and hitting a splash in the opposite corner. Hogan blocks a buckle shot and sends Bubba into the padding as the crowd counts along. The ref forces separation, opening up Bubba to poke Hogan in the eye and regain control, following up with a backbreaker. Heenan brings up The Dungeon of Doom so now we can’t pretend they don’t exist for this episode, aw man. Hogan catches a charging Bubba with a big boot, knocking him out on his feet. Hogan pushes him to the mat and lays in with a series of rights. Bubba regains control and rips Hart’s jacket from his body, distracting him long enough for Hogan to belt him with more right hands. Hogan rolls Bubba in and chokes him with Hart’s discarded jacket while Hart distracts the ref. WHAT A HE-oh wait he’s a good guy. Hogan with a corner clothesline and a scoop slam followed by a series of elbowdrops. Bubba catches Hogan with a scoop slam but misses a corner splash. Hogan runs right into Bubba’s Boss Man Slam for the 1…2…Hogan kicks out and HULKS UP leading into the Big Boot leading into the Big Legdrop and Hogan retains.
Hulk Hogan [c] defeated Big Bubba Rogers via pinfall with the Big Legdrop to retain the WCW WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP (7:07)
- Despite being short this one felt like it dragged a little bit as Hogan’s limited moveset didn’t exactly make for an interesting watch. Bubba was a good opponent for him though, selling Hogan’s moves in an exaggerated way to put him over even more (not that Hogan needed it but you know what I mean). I may have not liked it personally overall but the crowd was crazy into it there’s that at least. (*3/4)
The Dungeon of Doom (The Taskmaster, The Shark, Kamala, Meng, Zodiac) try to attack Hogan but in runs Lex Luger to help the champ run them off. Hogan and Luger start arguing as Sting and Randy Savage hit the ring to try and cool things down.
Hogan, Luger, Sting, and Savage are still in the ring after a commercial break. ‘Mean’ Gene enters the ring to see what’s happening. Luger says he’s here to take the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. Hogan tries to talk but Luger cuts him off, saying he’s been down the same road Hogan has been and he’s sick of playing with kids, he’s here to play with the big boys (EAT IT WWF, LOLOLOL). Hogan says he’s going to remain champion and says Luger doesn’t have to prove anything to him. Hogan tells Luger to shake his hand and he’ll put the title on the line against him next week on Monday Nitro. They shake hands to confirm this, then a shoving match breaks out before Sting and Savage once again get involved.
Cut to the announce table where Bischoff, Heenan, and McMichael (with his dog Pepe, dressed as the devil) hype next week’s show. And that’s the first episode of Monday Nitro, y’all.
Overall Thoughts: A good episode that flew by and established that Monday Nitro was not to be missed, with competitive matches and the surprise appearance of Lex Luger. A solid opening salvo, now they just have to keep it going. We’ll see how they do, guys.
- Best Match: Sting vs. Ric Flair
- Worst Match: Hulk Hogan vs. Big Bubba Rogers
- Best Moment: Lex Luger makes his surprise return to WCW
- Worst Moment: Hulk Hogan shills Pastamania, BROTHER