The Monday Night Wars were the most important factor during the 1990s boom period experienced by professional wrestling. Monday Night Raw ultimately won the war, and as a result, WWE gets most of the credit for the success of this time frame. While the WWE Attitude Era was filled with incredible moments that helped Raw win the war, it was the debut of WCW Monday Nitro that acted as the first shot fired. Nitro was the brainchild of former WCW President Eric Bischoff, who informed Ted Turner the only way his company could possibly compete with the then-WWF would be a prime time cable show to combat Raw. Turner earned his millions in part through owning multiple TV networks, so it turned out all Eric had to do was ask, and Nitro was born.
WCW Monday Nitro lasted six years on TNT, and just like any other wrestling show, it had its ups and downs. At Nitro’s peak, it was able to defeat Raw for 84 consecutive weeks, bringing Vince McMahon to points of near bankruptcy. Less than two years after Nitro took over the wrestling world, though, the same show was reaching all-time low ratings, earning half as many viewers as Raw, if that. WCW was infamous for having a constantly rotating cast of writers, and while some of those writers were capable of greatness, others were far more prone to wrestle crap. Nitro is thus unforgettable for both fantastic and horrible moments, both of which remain unforgettable to fans more than a decade after the show went off the air. Keep reading to learn the 8 best and 7 worst moments in Monday Nitro history.
15. Nitro Debuts
WCW Monday Nitro debuted for TNT on September 4, 1995, broadcast live from the Mall of America. While the first several years of Raw were often rather low-key, Nitro started things off with a bang. The opening match featured two of the most exciting wrestlers in the country at the time, Brian Pillman and Jushin Thunder Liger, and the other matches were loaded with future Hall of Famers, including Sting, Ric Flair, and Hulk Hogan. In addition to the WCW superstars on hand, there were also a variety of shocking debuts, from arm wrestling champion, Scott Norton, to the much more notable WCW return of Lex Luger.
Nitro proved from the very beginning that it was going to be “Must See TV” for wrestling fans. At the time, Raw had a reputation for being a show where not a lot happened, and by giving fans a cavalcade of legends, unexpected surprises, and great matches, WCW was exhibiting a high-quality program wrestling fans had been dying for. On top of that, the Mall of America remains one of the most unique atmospheres to ever hold a wrestling show, and it was a sign Nitro would be changing the landscape of professional wrestling in just about every way possible.
14. Worst – Vince McMahon Buys WCW
After six years of ups and downs, Nitro aired its last episode on March 26, 2001. The final episode of the show was an unforgettable moment in wrestling history, as Shane McMahon announced he purchased WCW under his father’s nose, an event simulcast on both Nitro and Raw. While this moment has ultimately gone down in WWE history, looking at the final Nitro from beginning to end is a less satisfying affair. The show was broadcast from Club La Vela in Panama City, Florida, but the unique setting was just about the only Nitro trademark the company was able to provide.
Vince McMahon micromanaged the final Nitro as much as he could, receiving more airtime on the show than virtually any WCW wrestler. He and William Regal made repeated shots at WCW and their fan base, cutting off Tony Schiavone and Scott Hudson as they tried to give their farewell addresses to the fans. As shocking and memorable as the simulcast was, it had nothing to do with WCW, and in fact featured Vince repeatedly mocking the wrestlers who built WCW to nearly defeat him. In all truth, WCW ended not with a bang, but a whimper.
13. Lex Luger Wins the WCW World Championship
Even when WCW was at its best, there were several overarching criticisms of the company that led to wrestling fans choosing WWE in the end. One of the biggest problems was that WCW never let the good guys win, instead giving week after week of the evil nWo destroying all of the babyfaces. This trend was at its worst during the first year of the nWo’s existence, when there was enough of an argument to be made in favor of this sort of tactic in order to make the nWo look strong. Nonetheless, viewers gradually grew tired of Hollywood Hogan and his cronies chickening out of matches while somehow keeping the WCW World Championship the entire year.
August 4, 1997 was a historic Nitro for at least two reasons (which the company tried to turn into three). The first reason is that this would be the start of Nitro’s expansion to a 3-hour show over a 2-hour show. The made up reason was that it was Nitro’s 100th episode; in fact, it was episode 99. The third and most important reason was the main event of Lex Luger challenging Hogan for his title, made historic by the fact Luger actually won by making Hogan submit to the Torture Rack. The victory remains the high point of Luger’s career, despite the fact he went on to lose the title back to Hogan in only 5 days.
12. Worst – Bischoff Can’t See The Warrior
The Ultimate Warrior will always be a controversial figure in sports entertainment history. Regardless of how kind the wrestling world has been to Warrior in reaction to his untimely death, there’s also the few months Warrior spent in WCW, which has no redeeming value and discredits the legacies of everyone involved. Warrior joined WCW in late 1998 to feud Hollywood Hogan in a reprise of WrestleMania VI, which was a simple enough idea that may have worked, had it not been for the fact Warrior been completely out of wrestling shape and unable to work even the most basic match.
Hogan and Warrior’s feud wouldn’t reach its absolute nadir until Halloween Havoc, when they actually entered the ring and had worked in of the worst matches of all time. The Nitro’s leading up to this event were pretty horrible too, though, especially whenever WCW tried to present Warrior as having vague magic powers. The least logical of these powers was witnessed on October 5, 1998. Warrior had the ability to appear in mirrors only to Hogan, and the fans, and the announcers, but not Eric Bischoff. It was as confusing as it sounds, and served as a sign Warrior had passed his expiration date in the business well before he got in a WCW ring.
11. Best – Chris Jericho’s 1,004 Holds
One of WCW’s strong suits was giving the more creative wrestlers microphones and letting them do whatever they wanted with them. Chris Jericho is a fantastic in-ring talent, but his true contributions to the industry may well be his hilarious promos, which have been a staple of his career ever since WCW first gave him the opportunity to shine as a star. Jericho has wrestled more than 25 years now, and is responsible for endless comedy classics, but fans will always remember the moment that truly put him on the map.
In 1998, Jericho was a rising talent in WCW, winning the Cruiserweight Championship on several occasions, but had yet to have a feud that heavily connected with the fans. He finally entered one when he started challenging and mocking Dean Malenko, an amazing technical wrestler who boasts knowledge of 1,000 submission holds. Jericho has never been one who allows himself to be bested, so he claimed he knew 1,004 holds, and brought the gigantic list of maneuvers with him to Nitro on March 30th in order to prove it. The entire list is a great laugh for wrestling fans, especially those familiar with the armbar, and the only real drag of the promo is the fact Prince Iaukea was the one to break it up.
10. Worst – Rick Steiner vs. Chucky
There was a time when Rick Steiner was considered one of the best technical wrestlers on the planet, especially whenever he was in a tag team with his brother, Scott Steiner. Unfortunately for the Steiner family and fans of WCW, the Steiners reputations took a dramatic nosedive shortly after they broke up as a team for the first time in 1998. Scott would have his ups and downs since then, but Rick experienced a series of down notes before fading into obscurity. While some fans might think the worst moment was Rick giving half of the WCW Tag Team Championships to Judy Bagwell, there was actually an even dumber moment in the Dog Faced Gremlin’s career.
The Child’s Play series of horror films and particularly their anti-hero star Chucky have earned their status in pop culture lexicon through their repeated box office successes and millions of fans worldwide, but that doesn’t mean they have anything to do with wrestling. Chucky especially couldn’t possibly step into a wrestling ring. Puppeteers can make him carry a knife in a movie, but in real life, a wrestler would step on him and his head would pop off. This didn’t stop WCW from having Chucky appear on Nitro in video form on October 12, 1998, to mock Rick Steiner for no particular reason. Fans were already turning out in droves, and a bizarre, absurd segment with no possible payoff was nothing but a great excuse to watch Raw that night.
9. Best – La Parka Surprises Randy Savage
“Diamond” Dallas Page was one of the most surprising success stories in pro wrestling, not getting his start in the industry until he was in his late 30’s. DDP was able to rocket to fame despite his advanced age thanks to his extreme work ethic and dedication to always getting better at his craft, but another thing that played a huge role in his popularity exploding was Page’s 1997 feud with “Macho Man” Randy Savage. Savage and Page feuded the majority of the year, resulting in dozens of exciting matches, passionate interviews, and shocking moments, but many fans would agree the biggest surprise came on July 7, 1997.
Six days before Page and Savage were again set to do battle in a tag match at Bash at the Beach, Savage had a match on Nitro against La Parka. La Parka was a dancing cruiserweight skeleton, which may sound silly on paper, but it allowed him to stand out in the Lucha libre scene at the time. It also meant La Parka wore a full body suit, masking DDP’s identity throughout the match. At first, the match seemed like a straightforward squash for Savage, and fans went absolutely wild when DDP hit him with the Diamond Cutter and revealed who he really was.
8. Worst – The April 10, 2000 Reboot
The fact that WCW went out of business means virtually every wrestling fan understands the company made some serious mistakes throughout its run. However, some fans may not realize just how bad some of those mistakes were, or more likely, when exactly the worst of those mistakes took place. Fans and critics generally agree WCW was actually getting better near the very end of Nitro’s existence, but the damage of the year prior was so severe there was no point in trying to save the company. Things were already starting to get really bad through the end of 1999 and the first few months of 2000, which caused Vince Russo and Eric Bischoff to take drastic measures in order to try and right the wrongs.
The idea of rebooting the company and starting from scratch may have seemed okay on paper, but WCW executives weren’t thinking things through when they gave this idea the green light. All championships were vacated, storylines were thrown away, and tournaments were set to take place at the upcoming Pay-Per-View, as opposed to any matches fans were interested in seeing. The idea was to create a clean slate, but what they ended up with was a huge mess.
7. Best – The Sting Army
WCW had plenty of positives in their favor while they were on top of the wrestling world, and the big ace up their sleeves was Hollywood Hogan vs. Sting. DDP and Randy Savage were wrestling the feud of the year in 1997, but it was Hogan and Sting who fans wanted to see finally step into the ring, which they did at Starrcade. The less said about the payoff the better, but the build to that match was phenomenal, and one of the greatest moments occurred on the October 13, 1997 episode of Nitro.
Sting’s character had gone through serious changes over the past year, and at this point, he was an almost superhero-esque beacon of justice hell-bent on destroying the nWo. All of Sting’s friends had abandoned him and/or betrayed him, and yet he kept fighting, knowing Hollywood Hogan had to be stopped. Sting dropped from the rafters, crawled out of the ring, and snuck in from the crowd, always one-upping the nWo with the power of surprise. This night, he stole their tactic of wearing his masks, walking to the ring with an army of men in Sting masks. Hogan and his allies easily took out the fake Stings, but the crowd jumped to their feet when the real Sting was revealed and it seemed like WCW could actually win the war.
6. Worst – Vince Russo Wins the WCW World Championship
Spoiler alert: David Arquette winning the WCW World Heavyweight Championship is not on our list, as the match in which he won the belt aired on Thunder. The nature of WCW means there was more than one absolutely atrocious champion, though, and Vince Russo may have actually been worse, in that there was no benefit of publicity or logical storytelling to justify his egotistical decision to give himself the title. Russo was never a professional wrestler, and was merely a writer for WWE and WCW, who was given far too much power in WCW, and the power all went to his head.
Russo gives himself lots of credit for giving Booker T the World Championship a few months before he gave it to himself, but moves like Russo’s title win cheapen the accomplishments pretty severely. Russo defeated Booker T for the championship on September 25, 2000, in an extremely convoluted WarGames inspired match. The match itself was too confusing to claim it really hurt Booker in the long run, but the sight of Russo walking out with the title was bad enough for most fans to give up on the promotion once and for all.
5. Best – The Four Horsemen Reunion
Ric Flair is often cited as the greatest wrestler in the world, both by himself and millions of fans worldwide. This is especially impressive considering most of the best years of his career occurred in WCW, which, as this list shows, wasn’t always the most respectful company towards its most talented wrestlers. Flair was one of the worst victims of WCW mistreatment, walking out of the company in 1991 and again coming very close to doing so in 1998. Flair spent several months off throughout 1998 instead, and his return to the ring on September 14, 1998 went down in history as one of the most emotional moments on Monday Nitro.
The episode was filmed in South Carolina, not far from Ric’s native North Carolina, and fans were loudly chanting “We Want Flair” all night long as a result. Throughout the night, the announcers were promising a reunion of the legendary Four Horsemen, which occurred near the end of the show. Arn Anderson one by one introduced past Horsemen and promised they were about to raise hell, ultimately bringing Flair to the ring to a standing ovation after he had worked the crowd into a respectful frenzy. Flair had tears in his eyes from the start, and went on to deliver one of his career best promos on Eric Bischoff for daring try to destroy his legacy. The ensuing Bischoff-Flair feud had the suffered the usual pitfalls WCW was known for, but this sublime moment will forever be etched in fans minds as the night Ric Flair came home. Wooo!
4. Worst – The KISS Concert
It’s impossible to give a consensus answer on what the worst moment in Nitro history was, but despite the fact that we’re only calling this one the second worst; it might be fair to say that fans sent the message they believed this was the lowest the show could ever get. On August 23, 1999, the “main event” of Monday Nitro was a mini-concert/one song performance by the hard rock band KISS. KISS is a very popular band with thousands of fans worldwide, but apparently the Venn Diagram of KISS fans and wrestling fans has a very slim midsection because the KISS concert was reported as the lowest rated segment of the show’s six-year run.
The big problem about the KISS concert was that it had absolutely nothing to do with wrestling. At roughly the same time on Raw, Triple H was defeating Mankind to win his first WWE World Championship, a moment that would go on to become one of the most significant in company history. For whatever reason, WCW felt fans would prefer to rock and roll all night than watch status quo shattering wrestling.
3. Best – Goldberg Wins the WCW World Championship
Certain wrestling fans who weren’t alive and watching Nitro at the time, look back at the career of Bill Goldberg and wonder what the fuss was about. Goldberg wasn’t the greatest wrestler in the world; in fact, his matches were almost all squashes where he was presented as an indestructible superhero. Nonetheless, wrestling fans connected with Goldberg unlike any other superstar in WCW. WCW was regularly accused of piping in loud Goldberg chants, and they may have in the beginning, but before long Goldberg was unquestionably their top star, and in fact, the first true star WCW had created practically the entire decade.
The night Goldberg defeated Hollywood Hogan for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship has been criticized as often as Goldberg himself, but this, too, is something irrelevant to any fans who experienced it when it happened. Goldberg was already the WCW United States champion on July 6, 1998, and things felt as though it was only a matter of time before he conquered the entire wrestling world. The nWo was still going strong after two years of dominance, and fans were starting to feel genuinely bored with their antics. Goldberg was the monster who finally destroyed evil, and though evil eventually regrouped and stunned Goldberg long enough to destroy the company, Da Man’s moment in the sun is one wrestling fans can never forget.
2. Worst – nWo Monday Nitro
Even when WCW was at its absolute best, it was capable of producing some of the worst wrestling shows on the planet. Case in point, nWo Monday Nitro, a one-time special episode that took place on December 22, 1997. The ultimate showdown between Sting and Hollywood Hogan was only five days away, and WCW decided to utilize a promised massive audience anticipating the ultimate payoff show by broadcasting an amateur construction crew setting up a stage. The idea was that the nWo were tired of working on a show with the letters WCW everywhere, so they beat up the production staff and demanded everyone wear their letters, instead. They then destroyed every piece of the set that included the letters WCW and replaced them with the letters nWo.
If this had happened during a commercial, or before the show went to air, it could have served an actual purpose by making fans angry at the heels. Instead, it took an entire half hour for the show to become nWo-style, and viewers turned to Raw in droves. Despite the fact it was the go-home show for WCW’s biggest Pay-Per-View in history, it was actually one of the closest ratings battles between Raw and Nitro in years, due to the fact zero wrestling fans had an interest in construction. The only real payoff was Eric Bischoff giving Hollywood Hogan dozens of gifts, another thing fans had no interest in, making the night a bust in every way possible.
1. Best – Scott Hall Invades WCW
“You know who I am, but you don’t know why I’m here.” May 27, 1996, was the day the Monday Night Wars truly began; when Scott Hall jumped the barricade during a nothing match between Steve Doll and The Mauler in order to give his debut speech. Through his fake thick Razor Ramon accent, Hall declared that if it was a war WCW wanted, they were about to get one, and the face of wrestling was never the same.
Like many of the moments on this list, its hard to explain to newer fans just how shocking, exciting, and unexpected this moment was. It genuinely felt like WWE and WCW were either working together to create a brilliant angle, or that WWE wrestlers were actually invading WCW, and thus were about to destroy it. Either way, what it meant was that WCW became the hottest wrestling show on the planet, and it stayed that way for the better part of two years. The nWo went on to be the angle that placed the company on the map, but also shattered it to pieces, as egos and a lack of restraint caused the idea to blow up in Ted Turner’s face. For the one magical evening when it began, though, it truly seemed like WCW could win the war they had started.