We are all aware that WCW’s Monday Nitro telecast helped shape the way we currently view professional wrestling on television. It was a show that almost pushed the rival WWF on the brink and sparked the infamous Monday Night Wars. The show itself wasn’t years in the making, but a split second decision by WCW owner Ted Turner over an idea by Eric Bischoff. The birth, the planning and the stories of that first Monday Nitro are all interesting, to say the least, and is the focus of today’s piece.
It all began during a meeting with Ted Turner in Atlanta, Georgia in which Bischoff was discussing international licensing for WCW programming. Ted Turner, who was by no means a fan or friend of WWF owner Vince McMahon looked at Bischoff and asked: “What will it take to beat Vince McMahon?” Taken aback, Eric Bischoff thought for a second and said: “Give me and WCW a prime time slot.” Within seconds, Turner got on the phone to his TNT executives and ordered two hours of scheduling be opened up for WCW programming. Just like that, WCW Nitro was conceived.
Realizing that they had to move fast, Bischoff gathered all of his production and creative teams to brainstorm what this show was going to be. WCW booker Kevin Sullivan thought that it wouldn’t be a great idea to present a show identical to the WWF’s Monday Night Raw. In his words, it would be like comparing a Mercedes Benz (WWF) to a Ford (WCW) but if they created a show like a Harley Davidson, a totally unique concept, it just might work.
It is rumored that the working title for the new show was called ‘Head to Head.’ Terry Taylor was the main person in charge of gathering new talent for the program. He reached out to several wrestlers who were creating a buzz on the international and independent scene. Taylor offered deals to the likes of Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, Sabu, Eddie Guerrero and Al Snow. Al Snow was also being heavily courted by the WWF at the time. Snow saw how WWF gave him the red carpet treatment by having a private plane fly him in and have a limousine pick him up and drive him to WWF headquarters. He was the only one to turn down WCW’s offer.
The others signed with WCW but some weren’t completely sold on their offers. Eddie Guerrero originally turned WCW down but was eventually convinced when he received a 90-day contract with guaranteed money. If for nothing else, Guerrero was guaranteed to get paid regardless if used or not and could leave after three months if things didn’t pan out.
The Mall of America in Minnesota was chosen as the venue for the very first show. Eric liked it because he wasn’t convinced he could sell out an actual arena at the time. At least with the Mall of America, he was guaranteed on television to have the appearance of many people gawking at his product. Add to that, Hulk Hogan had just opened up a restaurant in the mall called Pastamania, so the venue made sense from different perspectives.
Why was Nitro chosen as the official title of the show instead of Head to Head? According to some rumors, Nitro was a name that was going to blow up the way we viewed wrestling and would help burn Raw. As for the announcers for Monday Nitro, Eric Bischoff chose himself as the lead voice. Not because he was the most talented announcer but because he knew exactly how he wanted the show to sound like while watching. Steve ‘Mongo’ McMichael was chosen because he brought a legitimacy to the broadcast as a former NFL Super Bowl champion and had the potential for crossover appeal. Nancy Sullivan aka Woman was given an audition to also announce on the show but the role was ultimately given to Bobby Heenan.
The official press conference for the debut of Monday Nitro was held in New York City in which was no coincidence was Vince McMahon’s backyard of New York City. It was held at the Harley Davidson Cafe (Get it?) and featured WCW stars Hulk Hogan, Sting and Randy Savage. There were plans to have Mike Rotundo, who was most recently with the WWF as Irwin R Shyster (I.R.S.), interrupt the press conference to be WCW’s first shot against the WWF but ultimately was scrapped.
As for the show itself, it was done live on September 4th, 1995 and went unopposed by WWF. Only three matches took place of the live card which featured Flyin’ Brian versus Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger, Sting versus Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan versus Big Bubba Rogers. Originally the plan for the main event was to be Hogan versus Paul Orndorff but that was eventually changed. There was also a dark match which featured the American Males (Scotty Riggs and Marcus Bagwell) taking on Bunkhouse Buck and Dick Slater. According to Scotty Riggs, he, Bagwell and Alex Wright took turns using one of the men’s bathrooms at the mall to have sex with different women in the stalls while one was appointed as a lookout.
The most memorable part of the first Nitro telecast was the appearance of Lex Luger. Luger, a former NWA/WCW employee was (at the time) employed by the WWF. However, his contract had expired and was working on nothing but a handshake agreement between himself and Vince McMahon. Lex Luger’s good friend Sting knew this and brokered a meeting between Lex and Eric Bischoff. According to Eric, he had zero interest in bringing in Lex Luger but saw the potential of it being shocking and signed him. The one thing Bischoff requested was that Luger not give his notice to the WWF. That way, his appearance would remain a surprise to everyone. Only a couple of people knew that Luger was going to appear on the first Nitro.
All in all, the very first Monday Night Nitro was a success and ultimately led to an impressive 84 weeks consecutively as the top pro wrestling show on prime time television.