Today is the 20th anniversary of WCW Nitro debuting on our screens. To mark that occasion, Craig – who was never a WCW fan back in the day- goes back in time, thanks to the WWE Network, and takes in the debut of a show he’s never seen in its entirety before.
I should say off the bat, I’ve seen bits of this show. I’ve seen the excellent Pillman match and I’ve also seen the debut of Lex Luger – who hasn’t. But in one sitting I’ve never watched this – or indeed any – episode of Nitro from start to finish. And at 45 minutes it won’t take me long – 45 minutes in fact – to put that right.
It’s 4 September 1994 and we’re at the Mall of America in Minneapolis for the first ever WCW Monday Nitro. Handling the announcing duties for the first show are Eric Bischoff, Bobby Heenan and the debuting Steve McMichael – who looks like how Sting looks now…
We’re introduced to the commentary team to begin with and Bischoff teases Heenan over remarks he’d made about Mongo McMichael before announcing that WCW Champion Hulk Hogan is in action in the main event. We then cut to the opening encounter.
Match 1: Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger vs “Flyin” Brian Pillman
Liger is representing New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) here and as he showed recently at NXT TakeOverBrooklyn, can still cut it at 50 so a 30 year old Liger should be great and 1995 Brian Pillman is still very very good so this was always going to be excellent and a cracking way to kick-off Nitro History eh?
The pair had previously fought at SuperBrawl II but owing to Pillman being on the shelf, there was no chance until now for a rematch. The SuperBrawl match-up is well worth watching too, whilst this Nitro match was good they just seemed to click much better on PPV.
Liger gets an early nearfall with a moonsault as Bischoff hits with the WCW is “where the big boys play” chat, a soundbyte we’d hear a lot… Pillman takes the surfboard before falling to the outside where Liger connects with a senton off the apron. Liger gets a superplex for 2 but his follow up dive is met with a dropkick, which the commentary highlight is usually an offensive move rather than a defensive one. We hear the card again as Liger gets a two with a super rana. Liger goes to the well once too often and Pillman counters another rope move with DDT for a 2 of his own. They switch standing and Pillman rolls him up for the win.
What a great way to kick of Nitro and the use of cruisers was a good way of showing that Nitro was going to be a very different product indeed to Raw.
We get a backstage video package featuring a clip from Sting in which he states that no one can apply the Scorpion Deathlock at him, firing a shot across the WWF’s bow with Bret Hart using the move.
More backstage tomfoolery as Eric Bischoff catches up with Hulk Hogan who is at his Pastamania restaurant. Let that sink in… a pasta restaurant. Hogan states he’ll defend his gold on Nitro tonight because he has “pasta-mania running through his brain.” Yup…
Match 2: WCW US Champion Sting vs Ric Flair
Great way for WCW to showcase straight of the bat that they would have big names and big matches on Nitro.
Early into this one Lex Luger nonchalantly strolls out to the surprise of virtually everyone as only a select few knew that his WWF contract had expired. It’s a defining moment of what would become the Monday Night Wars. Sure, its impact isn’t on par with Hall and Nash appearing on Nitro but it is still big and an “anything can happen on Nitro” moment.
As for the match itself, its power versus experience – basically what their entire feud was. Flair sells well for Sting and makes him look good whilst at times cheating to gain the advantage himself – what you’d expect. Arn Anderson, who was feuding with Flair at the time, makes his way out. In the end, it’s Sting that’s distracted by double A and that allows Flair to slap on the figure four but cheats using the ropes for leverage and when he doesn’t let go of the ropes the ref calls for a DQ.
Post-match, Arn attacks Flair, which shocks Heenan who said they’d patched their differences up. Scott Norton then comes out to complain about him not appearing on the show and threatens Steve McMichael but Randy Savage runs out and challenges Norton for a match there and then but Bischoff won’t allow it and we cut to clips of Sabu, who will be appearing next week on Nitro.
Another video package, this time of Michael Wallstreet – Mike Rotunda. He rubbishes the new generation – the WWF’s tag line at the time, and references the IRS – a nod to his gimmick in the WWF.
It’s main event time now.
Match 3: WCW Champion Hulk Hogan vs Big Bubba Rogers
A standard title match on TV for Hogan but its 1995 and world title defences were nowhere near as common as they are today.
We get some Hogan heel antics like chocking with a t-shirt and eye-gouges before he runs into a sideslam but Bubba doesn’t go for a pin. That allows Hogan to Hulk up, point at his opponent, hit a big boot and the leg drop and there we have it.
More post-match tomfoolery as Dungeon of Doom hit the ring and attack Hogan before Luger makes the save. That eventually leads to a confrontation between the pair until Sting and Savage hit the ring as peacemakers. Luger tells Hogan he’s here for the title and Hogan offers him a title shot next week and that, there, is the first episode of Nitro.
Overall: A very good show that’s aged quite well. Good solid opener, star power in the Sting vs Flair match and a world title defence from Hulk Hogan. Not bad going all in all. The fact that you had three such big names competing on the first show gave Nitro a special feel. They also benefited from being unopposed that week which undoubtedly helped.
Anyway, I’m off to watch episode two…
* Brian Pillman pinned Jushin Liger at around the 7-minute mark with a roll up
* WCW US Champion Sting fought Ric Flair to a no contest
* WCW World Champion Hulk Hogan (w/ Jimmy Hart) pinned Big Bubba with the legdrop at the 7 minute mark. Afterwards, Kevin Sullivan, Zodiac, Meng, and Kamala attacked Hogan until Lex Luger ran out and made the save. Luger and Hogan eventually went face to face before WCW US Champion Sting and Randy Savage joined Hogan and Luger in the ring.