Happy Wednesday Everyone!
Earlier in the year I posted a list of what I considered to be my favourite moments from the 30 year history of WWF/E Monday Night Raw. I quite enjoyed that so I thought I’d do a similar list for Raw’s main rival during the “Monday Night War” Era, in the form of WCW Monday Nitro. Nitro was, at one stage, a colossal ratings success, winning the famed Ratings War™ for 83 weeks in a row until the company began combusting under the weight of its own ineptitude.
Nitro was actually on the air for less than six years, but a lot of memorable moments took place during it’s time on the air, from Ric Flair stealing Randy Savage’s woman and spending his alimony, to the nWo crushing all before them, to Sting going from Surfer Dude to brooding Crow in the rafters, to Diamond Dallas Page becoming one of wrestling’s most unlikely heroes, all the way up to Bill Goldberg’s meteoric rise to the top of the wrestling world.
As always with these lists; this is just my own subjective opinion and isn’t supposed to be some kind of objective declaration of the greatest Nitro Moments. I know for most of you that will be obvious, but this is the internet, so I feel it’s probably best to clarify for those easily riled amongst us. Please feel free to share your own favourite Nitro moments in the comments section!
We did 10 to 6 last week, so we’ll finish up with 5 to 1 this week.
Number Five – 13th January 1997
DDP Turns Down The nWo
Diamond Dallas Page had started out in WCW as an oversized manager and eventually made the switch to being a regular active wrestler in the early 90’s. DDP made this switch quite late on in life and there was little expectation that he would ever really make it big, even when taking into account support from the likes of Dusty Rhodes and Eric Bischoff. However, DDP was a mentality monster and worked super hard to improve in the ring, to the point that by the end of 1996 he was a solid worker who could have a good match with most opponents.
All DDP was missing was that one big angle or storyline to kick his in-ring career into a higher gear, and he got it in the January of 1997. The nWo had started recruiting more members to its ranks, with the likes of Buff Bagwell, Big Bubba and Michael Wallstreet all wearing the Black and White shirt to varying degrees of success. However, one wrestler that founding members Scott Hall and Kevin Nash were especially keen to recruit was DDP, especially as both had previous connections with him during prior stints in WCW.
On the 13th of January 1997 it looked like Hall and Nash had finally got their man, as they offered DDP an nWo shirt and he appeared to accept. However, DDP then threw the shirt in their faces and decided to remain loyal to WCW, thus getting him over huge as a babyface in the process. Seeing someone openly reject the nWo for WCW not only made DDP as a character look bold, but it also finally gave the beleaguered WCW fans something to feel good about. Not only had DDP been getting gradually more traction as both a wrestler and a character, but now he’d hitched his wagon to the home team and suddenly they had more of a fighting chance against the outside force.
This isn’t only a great segment in isolation but it also represented a bit of swing in the WCW Vs nWo war, as one of the cooler characters on the show decided they might just prefer WCW over the marauding bad guys. This combined with Giant already jumping back to WCW, Lex Luger getting some traction with some big wins, and Sting finally picking WCW’s side in the spring, led to WCW feeling like a brand that was actually worth supporting again after months of #LolNwoWins finishes up and down the card. It’s also the moment that established DDP as a superstar forever more, and an eventual WWE Hall of Famer no less.
Number Four – 6th July 1998
Goldberg Dethrones Hogan
We can argue all we want about whether it was a good idea to hotshot this Title change onto Nitro instead of saving it for pay per view (it wasn’t) but what we can’t deny is that this was one of heck of a moment. Goldberg would already have been over like rover on this show seeing as the event was taking place in his adopted hometown of Atlanta in the epic Georgia Dome. However, once Goldberg was inserted into the Main Event against Hollywood Hogan, he got a megastar reaction and the crowd went utterly ballistic when he smashed Hogan with the Jackhammer to win the belt.
This was actually a pretty great show long storyline from WCW, as Hogan opened the show saying that he’d only defend the belt against Goldberg if Goldberg could defeat his stablemate Scott Hall first earlier in the show. Hall carried Goldberg to one of the better matches from the early stage of his career earlier in the show and Goldberg duly got his hand raised, leading to the big one taking place later in the night.
Hogan actually did a really good job structuring the match with Goldberg as well, as Goldberg got to shine on Hogan in the early stages and even managed to kick out of the vaunted Leg Drop of DOOM. Hogan only managed to get any offence in thanks to cheating and, though he was distracted in the finish by Karl Malone and DDP scuffling with Curt Hennig, it came across as Hogan being punished for his own wicked schemes due to Hennig coming down to the ring first, thus it gave Hogan an “out” for losing whilst not weakening Goldberg’s victory.
You can argue the merits of blowing such a big match like this on TV, but it was certainly captivating television, and if they’d actually been prepared to go all in on Goldberg as the top guy then this could have been a great launching pad to a series of lucrative matches. Alas though, WCW would do what they usually did and blow it, but at least we got a great moment out of it where Goldberg looked like the biggest thing in wrestling, if only for a couple of hours.
Number Three – 27th May 1996
You Wanna War?!?!
Scott Hall coming out of the crowd on the 27th May 1996 Nitro will be spoken by future generations of wrestling fans as one of the most important moments in American Wrestling history. WCW had been holding its own in the Monday Night War™ and the feud between Ric Flair and Randy Savage had been doing great business on the road, but they needed that one last thing to really push them over the edge into the top spot of the American Wrestling landscape. Once Hall showed up on Nitro, WCW had that last piece of the puzzle and they rode it all the way to the top…and then back down to the bottom again.
What made Hall’s appearance so great was that it came completely out of the blue and had a realistic feel to it. Hall said it himself when he grabbed a mic “you all know who I am, but you don’t know why I’m here”. This was undoubtedly true, as Hall had not only previously wrestled in WCW but he’d also been a big star in the WWF for the past 4 years, so most of the fans in the arena and watching at home would be able to recognise him. Hall’s anti-WCW promo suggested that he had just walked off the WWF’s TV to cause a ruckus in a rival promotion, something he extenuated by stating that WCW now had a war on its hands.
WCW may have botched things with the nWo in the long run, but for a long while they got things spectacularly right, with this angle being a great example of that. Hall showing up and putting the promotion on notice turned a run-of-the-mill Nitro into one of the most memorable nights in the show’s brief history to that point. Hall’s performance here was really great, as he came across as both smarmy, imposing and angry all at the same time, laying the ground nicely for what was due to follow. If you’re a wrestling fan and you haven’t seen Scott Hall’s first invasion of Nitro, then that’s something you need to fix.
Number Two – 4th October 1999
Owen Hart Tribute Match
Chris Benoit is understandably a controversial figure in wrestling history these days due to the way his life ended, and I cannot fault anyone who can no longer glean any enjoyment from his wrestling career as consequence. However, this match with Bret Hart at the Kemper Arena remains one of the best matches I’ve ever watched and I still enjoy watching it to this day. The fact the bout was done in tribute to Owen Hart, one of my personal favourite wrestlers of all-time, probably goes some way to softening me on it despite the crimes of one of the participants.
I still have vivid memories of watching this match, although I had to wait a few months for it to be aired on WCW Worldwide here in the UK before I could watch it as I didn’t have satellite/cable television at the time and months old Worldwide episodes on Channel 5 was the only way I could keep up with WCW here in my homeland. I wasn’t what you would call fully “smart” at the time, but this was one of the earliest matches I can remember where I watched it knowing it was a good match, although terms like “work rate” weren’t something I was fully familiar with yet.
Interestingly Bret originally wanted to put Benoit over in this match, thinking it would be a fitting tribute to his brother for him to use the opportunity to give a rising star the rub. However, WCW vetoed that and said that Bret should win so as not to put a downer on things, and with hindsight that was probably the right call. I know I would probably have been pretty sad to see Bret lose his brother’s tribute match in my markier days, and I imagine others would feel the same.
Not only was this a fitting tribute to Owen’s memory in the arena where he tragically fell, it was an excellent technical wrestling bout where the two wrestlers involved were given all the time they needed in order to put on the best match they could. It was both uplifting and upsetting, and one of the more heartfelt moments in Nitro history (pun not intended. Okay….maybe partly intended…)
Number One – 14th September 1998
Ric Flair Returns
Ric Flair and Eric Bischoff had a pretty notable tiff in the spring of 1998, when Flair decided to attend his son’s wrestling meet rather than an episode of Thunder. Flair claimed that he had given advance notice that he needed the episode off, but Bischoff cried foul and it led to a very nasty period of legal wrangling between both Flair and WCW’s representatives. This was such an almighty mess that Flair ended up getting removed from the WCW/nWo Revenge Video Game, thus denying us the chance of having Flair do battle with the likes of Lodi and Yuji Nagata. The cads!!
Flair sat tight until the autumn when he got the itch to wrestle again, leading to a settlement and much fanfare for his Nitro return on the 14th September 1998 in Greenville, the site of many of his previous triumphs. This show not only represented the return of Flair but also the reformation of The Horsemen, as Arn Anderson cut an excellent promo prior to Flair showing up where he welcomed Mongo McMichael, Chris Benoit and Dean Malenko down to the ring in suits.
One aspect of this segment that was so great was Anderson pretending that the promo was done before Flair had appeared, before “remembering” and introducing Flair to one of the loudest reactions in WCW history. An emotional Flair then cut one of the better promos of his life, targeting Bischoff with a number of insults before upping the ante and daring Bischoff to fire him. The only downside to this segment was that they cut to commercial before Flair had been able to really tear Bischoff a new backside, but you sometimes have to leave stuff on the table I guess eh?
I know there’s a sentiment in certain sections of the internet that it was really all about the nWo when it came to WCW’s hot period and that Flair’s contributions were overhyped due to traditionalists who were too much in love with his 80’s NWA peak. However, I think segments like this show how big a star Flair still was to the WCW audience even way into the 90’s, and my enjoyment of this particular moment is only matched by my bafflement in how poorly a job WCW did in following it up.
Flair and the rejuvenated Horsemen could have been a banner act for WCW going into 1999 and they could have used it as a way to shoot the younger stars up the ladder finally, but soon they were beaten and humiliated by the nWo and within 6 months or so they were already being primed for a Heel turn. To watch this segment you couldn’t believe that the best WCW would get out of it would be a Bischoff Vs Flair match on the Nitro after a much worse one at Starrcade, but that really was as good as things got, and what could have been a great bit of business ended up fading into the ether. That kind of sums WCW as a whole up doesn’t it?