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Monday Nitro (09/04/95)

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Dan Hey: Here we are then: the premiere episode of Monday Nitro, the show that would kick start the Monday Night Wars and almost put WWF out of business. It’s broadcast live from the Mall of America, which Bischoff puts over as “the only building big enough to host the first edition.” That’s true: it is a huge building, but it’s also a mall, which to some extent detracts from the magnitude of the occasion. Especially when the camera zooms out so that you can see the shops, restaurants, and other mall users going up and down the escalators. Hosts are Eric Bischoff, ex-NFL star Steve ‘Mongo’ McMichael, and Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan. Bischoff tries to stir it up between Mongo and The Brain. He also points out that Hulk Hogan will be in the main event.

 

Jushin Liger vs. Brian Pillman
These two had a legendary match a few years back at SuperBrawl II, so it seems like a good choice for the opener. Nitro would soon get ahead in the Monday Night War due in part because of WCW’s willingness to showcase cruiserweights from around the world in the opening and mid-card spots. Pillman is still very much considered in the cruiserweight bracket, though he’s only a couple of months away from becoming the ‘Loose Cannon’.

Both guys go right at it, aiming for a fast pace with lots of high-flying moves, but Liger doesn’t quite connect with a moonsault crossbody – he hits it a little low down Pillman’s body, and Pillman seems unsure where to position himself. Botches and moves not being hit cleanly is often a problem in the cruiserweight division. This is followed by Pillman whiffing on a top rope hurricanrana, which Heenan calls him on. Why draw further attention to it? The commentary team are putting over Nitro as much as the match, and Bischoff’s earlier pot-stirring seems to work when Heenan and Mongo start exchanging barbs. Mongo cannot last in a battle of wits with the Brain, who is genuinely one of, if not the sharpest and wittiest guys ever to grace WWF and WCW’s broadcast teams.

Liger puts Pillman in the surfboard, which gets both the commentary team and the fans excited. The action is really picking up now after a couple of early moves going slightly awry. Both competitors take a tumble to the outside and the crowd chant “USA!” A little harsh on Liger perhaps; I mean, it’s not as if he’s been built up in the typical evil foreigner role that wrestling loves so much. Pillman gets crotched on the top rope and barely kicks out of a superplex. The action is now fast and furious. Powerbomb by Liger for two. Liger is hitting some big moves, but Pillman keeps kicking out. Pillman hits a few back as selling goes out of the window in exchange for a frantic finish. Pillman rolls up Liger for a win and they shake hands. Overall, this was a great inaugural match for the show.
Final Rating: ***¼

 

We cut to a pre-recorded interview with Sting filmed at the mall earlier in the day. He puts himself over against his opponent tonight, ‘Nature Boy’ Ric Flair. What a match to have on the first ever Nitro! Sting said nothing of interest here.

 

Mean Gene Okerlund shills the WCW Hotline for all the backstage gossip.

 

Back in the arena, Eric Bischoff talks up Nitro as the culmination of a weekend of events at the mall. Cut to a pre-recording of him interviewing Hulk Hogan and ‘Pasta Mania’. Yes, the Hulkster is hocking pasta at the mall. He’s really fanatic about pasta here, and I wonder if he’s forsaken his deeply Christian values and converted to a Pastafarian of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. “I’ve eaten so many Hulkaroos and Hulkayous, I kinda feel sorry for Big Bubba Brother!” Right. Hogan puts over his Pastamaniacs and threatens to run wild on Big Bubba Rodgers in the main event (see: Quote of the Night). This was mental.

 

WCW United States Championship
Sting (c) vs. Ric Flair
Bischoff says that this match could main event anywhere in the world. He’s right. And indeed it has, several times in fact, and perhaps it should’ve been the main event here too. It’s clear that WCW is going all out to put Nitro over as a big deal by having two of its biggest stars go at it for a secondary title in the mid-card spot. Before the match even starts, Lex Luger shows up in the aisle! Bischoff wants him “outta here” – he’s a WWF guy, you see. He’s also scheduled to wrestle on WWF’s Raw next Monday night in a pre-taped show. Heenan points out that he’s entitled to go to any mall he wants. WCW really declared their intentions here by poaching the WWF star. Luger is better suited to WCW, though, as his all-American hero gimmick in WWF was pushed down the fans’ throats ad-nauseum before Vince McMahon got cold feet about his title push.

[For the full story on this, read Titan Sinking]

The match itself doesn’t quite live up to the classics that these guys have previously had, but the crowd are still wild for it and pop everything that Sting does. Sting no sells Flair’s punches and chops in the corner and the crowd go mad again. This level of buzz starts to change my initially sceptical mind about the venue. Flair goes up to the top rope but is crotched and Sting hits a big superplex. ‘Double A’ Arn Anderson heads to the ring now. He’s got a match with Flair at Fall Brawl, although Heenan thinks that they’ve patched their difference up. They haven’t. AA attacks Flair while he has Sting in the figure four, causing the DQ. They brawl down the aisle and Flair bails. The lack of a clean finish hurts the rating a little bit, but this was a big match to put on mid-show and the crowd loved every minute of it.
Final Rating: **½

 

In the ensuing chaos, an irate Scott Norton approaches the commentary team, shoving Bischoff and getting in Mongo’s face. This brings out the ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage to confront Norton. They want to fight right here and now, but Bischoff and a host of WCW officials tell Norton to leave. The match will take place next week. They’re obviously going for the “anything can happen on Nitro” angle, as well as making sure that they put as many of their biggest stars on the show as possible, something that didn’t always happen in the first few years of Raw.

 

Next, we cut to a vignette for Sabu, who’s a newcomer to the company but well known to ECW fans for his table breaking antics and hardcore style . The special effects on the video are nauseating.

 

Back in the ring, Mean Gene congratulates the winner of WCW’s Harley Davidson sweepstakes. Mike Hill has won a 1995 Harley Davidson Soft Tail. Well done, Mike. Bischoff shills WCW Saturday Night, where Dirty Dick will face Johnny B. Badd, and Macho Man and Sting will team up to face the Bluebloods, plus an update on Fall Brawl: War Games.

 

Promo Time: Michael Wallstreet
Mike Rotunda has jumped ship. He references the WWF’s current tagline: ‘The New Generation’ and calls it, “Nothing more than the few generation.” Witty. He then puts over the old generation of stars in WCW and counts himself among the likes of Hogan, Flair, Sting, and Savage. Not quite, mate. He then references the IRS (as he wrestled under the name Irwin R. Schyster, otherwise known as I.R.S. in WWF) saying that the IRS will be watching him, which sounds strange because it’s as if he’s suggesting that he will be watching himself. He’ll be the only one. There’ll be no I.R.S. gimmick in the WWF now that he’s gone, even though they did replace the performers portraying Doink and Max Moon, and would do the same in a few years with Diesel and Razor Ramon. Another point to note here is that Wallstreet’s jacket is sporting a glittery gold dollar symbol, similar to ‘Million Dollar Man’ Ted Dibiase’s. The whole promo was essentially here to have a barely-disguised dig at the WWF.

 

WCW World Heavyweight Championship
Hulk Hogan (c) vs. Big Bubba Rodgers
Rodgers is wearing a suit and tie, reminiscent of Mr. Hughes’s first WWF run. Rodgers is, of course, the former Big Bossman from the WWF, having already gone through a couple of gimmick changes since his arrival in WCW (The Boss – a poor imitation of his WWF character, which received a symbolic castration when Commissioner Nick Bockwinkle took away his nightstick – and The Guardian Angel). Hulk Hogan is still massively over in 1994, even though he’s past(a) his best years. He’s also feuding with the awful Dungeon of Doom stable led by Bill Bailey look-a-like Kevin Sullivan. So many big-named stars in the company now, yet these buffoons are in the title picture. Hulk will be going into War Games against the Dungeon.

Bubba puts Hogan in a headlock and stamps his feet in a ridiculous piece of theatrics, while Mongo and Heenan continue to exchange insults on commentary. Mongo then calls Hogan “too much of a technician” to let Big Bubba take the advantage. I’m not sure that “technician” is the word you are looking for, Mongo. Rodgers’ selling continues to be over the top and theatrical, and after running in to successive big boots in the corner, the spaghetti-legged former law man hits the matt. Hogan mounts him and hits successive punches to the head, which the crowd count along with, but referee Randy ‘Pee Wee’ Anderson intervenes by pulling Hogan off by his hair. It was really aggressive on the part of the referee and totally uncalled for – he’s not got that much of it left!

Rodgers takes over after utilising one of Hogan’s favourite “technical” moves, a poke to the eye. Mongo then asks where the Dungeon of Doom’s Kamala is from, channelling the spirit of another ex-NFL commentator, Art Donavan, having already asked “whereabout in the sticks” Big Bubba is from moments after the right announcer said “Cobb County, Georgia.” Big Bubba is in control but stops to grab Jimmy Hart by the lapels, and Hogan nails him with a “technical” punch, as Heenan calls Nitro “explosive, dangerous, and anything you want.” They go back in the ring and Bubba hits the Bossman Slam for two. Hulk Hulks Up, and the leg drop wins it clean. Rodgers was just fodder here.
Final Rating: **

 

After the match, the Dungeon of Doom head to the ring to attack Hogan. Luger comes out for the save and they clear the ring, showing how useless the Dungeon are – it was five on two!

 

Hogan and Luger nearly collide in the centre of the ring and subsequently square up to one another. Sting and Savage head out to try and calm them down. Notice how they weren’t required to help fend off the Dungeon’s attack moments ago? These four guys could take on the five members of the Dungeon at Fall Brawl and it would be the most lop-sided match in the history of War Games – in favour of Hogan’s team. Anyway, the chaos in the ring leads to…

 

Confrontation: Lex Luger vs. Hulk Hogan
Mean Gene comes into the ring and shoves a microphone into Hogan’s face. Hogan tells Luger that he has no business being here and to go back to where he came from. That’s rich really, as Hogan became a massive star in the place where Luger came from, while Luger was in WCW for years before him. Lex tells the Hulkster that he’s here for the title and wants to get it on with the big boys, having grown tired of playing with little kids. Hogan tells him that he doesn’t have to wait until next month or next week before agreeing to put the title on the line against him next week. So he does have to wait until next week, then… This segment gave Lex something to do and promotes the big title match for next week, where Nitro will be head-to-head with Raw for the first time.

 

THE NITRO RECAP:

 

Most Entertaining: Hulk Hogan, for his python pasta-fuelled promo alone.

 

Least Entertaining: Big Bubba Rodgers. Horrible selling and theatrics.

 

Quote of the Night: “What you gonna do in the Mall of America, brother, when Hulk Hogan, Pastamania, and all of my Pastamaniacs run wild on you?” – Hulk Hogan.

 

Match of the Night: Jushin Liger vs. Brian Pillman.

 

Summary: The inaugural episode of Nitro was action-packed and quite entertaining, especially for a show with a run time of approximately forty-seven minutes. Three matches featuring some of WCW’s biggest stars and two titles on the line really summed up the direction that they wanted to promote the show: big names, wrestling action, and a direct challenge to Raw. I’m still undecided as to effect that the venue had on the show. Having said that, my local mall is the Trafford Centre in Manchester, and if they put a show on only half as good as this, then I would probably be talking about it positively twenty years from now. Overall, a decent start to Nitro’s six-year run against Raw. It also probably helped that it ran unopposed this week.
Verdict: 53

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