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OOLD SCHOOL: THE MONDAY NIGHT WARS  
RAW vs. Nitro: Year One 
Final Edition / August 7, 2003

by Rick Scaia
Exclusive to OnlineOnslaught.com

 

[Note from the present day: it was an annual tradition, first at WrestleManiacs and then at WrestleLine, for me to publish a RAW vs. Nitro retrospective every September to commemorate the start of the Monday Night Wars on September 4, 1995.  Then, WCW went out of business in 2001, and the tradition died.  But here, on our usual sanctioned "OOld School" day, we're gonna go back and revive it!

My detailed final edition of the the Monday Night Wars feature will be published in serial fashion over the next few Thursdays.  The publication schedule means that the final parts will be posted here at OO on Thursday, September 4: the exact 8 year anniversary of the beginning of the RAW vs. Nitro battle!

I've been meaning for almost two years now to publish this feature at OO, and having a weekly throwback column has finally motivated me to dust it off, reformat it, and present it here for posterity.  It has been polished and corrected a bit since 2001 -- most references should be current, though I refused to change "WWF" to "WWE" at any point along the way -- and should stand as my "final word" on the Monday wars.  Enjoy.]

Year One:  The Battle is Joined
September 4, 1995 - August 26, 1996 (Part Two of Eight)

YEAR ONE MONDAY NIGHT WAR SNAPSHOT 
Click Here for Head-to-Head Ratings Chart for Year One
Head to Head Battles: 42 
Nitro Wins: 26
RAW Wins: 14 
Draws:
Nitro Average Rating: 2.8 
RAW Average Rating: 2.6 
Unopposed Nights: 10
(six for RAW and four for Nitro) 
Highest Head to Head Rating: 3.6 for Nitro
(on March 18, 1996) 
Largest Margin of Victory: 1.3 for Nitro
(on August 12, 1996) 
Longest Winning Streak: 10 weeks for Nitro
(spanning June 17-August 19, 1996)

Eric Bischoff was only granted a 90-day test run for his Monday Nitro experiment.  Turner executives were as wary of his chances for success as anyone else.  However, Bischoff was quietly position his show to be a headlines-grabbing success rather than an also-ran.  And that's why 90 days turned into five and a half years.

The first piece of the puzzle was scheduling Nitro's debut for September 4, 1995, when Monday Night RAW was pre-empted for US Open tennis. The wrestling audience would be all his for that first night. Bischoff also began stocking his cabinet with talented, well-regarded workers who would appeal to the "hardcore" audience fostered by the WWF on Monday nights. Thanks to a working agreement with New Japan Pro Wrestling, it was easy for Bischoff to arrange to sign Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, Eddie Guerrero, and Sabu (NJPW regulars who had been working for ECW, domestically). This helped to bolster WCW roster, which had been filled up by "Friends of Hogan" and others who were proven ratings death (if you don't remember Dave Sullivan or the Shockmaster, just thank your lucky stars and move on).

But it wasn't the fortuitous unopposed debut or the stacking of the talent roster that made Nitro's launch so noteworthy and successful. Bischoff's masterstroke was the signing of Lex Luger away from the WWF. He completely stole Lex right out from under Titan's proverbial nose. Luger had been in the process of renegotiating his WWF deal, and had verbally agreed to continue with Titan; with that in mind, the WWF taped several weeks of programming with Luger inserted back into a key angle with Davey Boy Smith. On September 2 and 3, WWF weekend programming heavily hyped that angle, which was to set up the already-taped events for September 11's RAW. Also on the weekend of the 2nd and 3rd, Luger wrestled as scheduled on at least one WWF house show.

But on Monday night, September 4, Lex Luger appeared on the scene at the live Nitro held at the Mall of America. He was just 24 hours removed from being an active WWF performer, and his interview denigrating the WWF and his subsequent involvement in the Hulk Hogan vs. Sting main event not only had the effect of shocking the entire wrestling world (which assumed Luger to be under contract to the WWF) but also catapulted Luger back to main event/world title status after being a mid-card flop in the WWF. This was the first "Holy Shit" moment of the Monday night wars, and it turned popular opinion around 180 degrees: now everybody knew that Nitro was for real, and that Bischoff had a plan to compete with the WWF.  The unopposed Nitro debuted with a 2.9; without an established fan base, WCW pulled a rating as strong as anything the WWF had been capable of with the already-entrenched RAW!

The WWF scrambled, calling in many of their key talents to tape new footage on the rooftop of Titan Towers on Thursday of that week. While RAW was already taped, they were able to excise portions of the show that had featured Luger, and gave the show a facelift (including a new opening sequence and more). They were caught off-guard, almost as badly as fans, but acted quickly to stay competitive. On September 11, in the first ever head-to-head battle, Nitro scored the win by a 2.5 to 2.2 margin. On September 18, RAW returned the favor with a 2.5 to 2.4 win; the WWF also won week three before dropping week four to Nitro. Unthinkable just weeks before, the reality of the situation was that WCW evenly split the first month of the Monday Night War against the WWF! The shows continued to trade the momentum, rarely scoring a winning streak of more than 2 weeks in a row, for the rest of calendar 1995.

"Holy Shit" moment #2 also came early on in the battle, as Eric Bischoff made it clear that the rules governing fair play and exposing of the business were to be different than in the past. As the play-by-play announcer for Nitro, Bischoff regularly ridiculed the WWF product, and gave away their taped TV results. While the direct mention of the competition was shocking and the delivery of their taped TV results was even more unprecedented, these behaviors didn't turn the tide strongly in WCW favor.  As it turned out, fans were split: some thought it was cool to diss the competition, others thought Bischoff crossed an invisible line (which Titan never crossed, even when WCW was taping 3 MONTHS of TV ahead of time).

"Holy Shit" Moment #3 occurred over the Christmas holidays in late '95, when Madusa -- who was the WWF Women's Champion under the name Alundra Blayze, and had wrestled for the Fed as recently as November's WWF Survivor Series PPV -- appeared on Nitro and threw her WWF Women's Championship belt in a trash can. Some secretly suspected that the reason Madusa decided to jump ship, rather than remain with the WWF, was because she did not want to face Aja Kong (a brutally stiff women's wrestling legend recently imported by the WWF from Japan). But while that suspicion lingered among the small percentage of smart fans, the wrestling populace at large just took the development at face value: as another case of a WWF wrestler jumping off a sinking ship to appear on the hottest new show in wrestling.

Overcoming the mounting number of attention grabbing moments on Nitro, the WWF was hitting its stride with a steady build to a loaded WrestleMania 12 PPV. WM12 marked the culmination of many long-standing storylines, and kept fans' attentions.

Along the way, Titan did their best to pepper RAW with a few "Holy Shit" moments of their own. One key show in November, 1995, saw Kevin "Diesel" Nash apparently break out of character to run down the WWF and Vince McMahon in a quasi-shoot moment. That was the beginning of Nash's return to popularity, as he was once again a cool heelish guy, instead of the watered down babyface champion into which Titan had foolishly turned him. On the same show, Shawn Michaels -- recently returned to action after a parking lot beating in Syracuse, NY, left him with a legit concussion -- mysteriously "passed out" in the ring during a match with the late Owen Hart. Fans had been well briefed on the very real concussion Michaels had suffered, and everybody thought the incident was a legit relapse. It was not until late on Tuesday and into Wednesday that word got out that the entire episode was an extremely well-worked angle.

After WrestleMania 12 passed, the WWF was red hot. Unfortunately, a major contributor to one of the hottest storylines of all -- Diesel, who was feuding memorably with WWF Champ Shawn Michaels -- would be leaving the promotion in May, along with Scott "Razor Ramon" Hall. Titan scored big numbers in April after WM12, running off 4 consecutive head-to-head wins over Nitro, and then banged absolutely huge numbers in May, while Nitro was pre-empted for the NBA play-offs.

And then, on Memorial Day '95, everything changed. Hall -- unnamed at the time and in street clothes, but sporting his faux Razor accent -- crashed Nitro, entering the arena through the crowd, and got on a house mic. He called out WCW, saying that "if they want a war, they got a war." The insinuation was that Hall was there representing the WWF in a battle against WCW. The insinuation wasn't quite accurate (and may not even have been legal, as indicated by the fact that, some years ago, WCW settled a lawsuit with WWF over the matter out of court), as Hall was a signed employee of WCW at the time. But the fans ate it up. RAW won the Memorial Day ratings battle, but the next week, Titan lost a full ratings point as the wrestling world stood up and took notice of the huge defection and latest "Holy Shit" moment.

Hall kept appearing, and promised that others would be joining him in his battle against WCW. Kevin Nash appeared in mid-June, powerbombing Eric Bischoff through a table in his debut interview. And then, in July, Hulk Hogan turned heel and joined Hall and Nash in forming the NWO, a fictitious organization that would attempt to decimate WCW over the coming months and years.

The WWF, left with the Ultimate Warrior to supposedly fill Diesel's shoes, and pushing Ahmed Johnson as the upper-mid-card replacement for Razor Ramon, scored a ratings win on June 10, 1996. They would not be able to claim a victory again for nearly two years.

WCW was running at full-power, adding more WWF mainstays -- like Sean "Syxx" Waltman and Ted DiBiase -- to the NWO as the summer went on, bolstering the image that WCW/NWO was the place to be. In the meantime, the Ultimate Warrior bolted from the WWF after a miscommunication, while Ahmed Johnson suffered a very serious kidney injury, leaving the WWF grasping at straws.

Year One of the Monday Night War started out ultra-competitive... then for a while, it looked like RAW had taken a decisive edge. But in the end, WCW turned the first 52 weeks of their head-to-head battle with the WWF juggernaut in their favor, winning the final 10 consecutive weeks of the war, and positioning themselves for a monstrous Year Two.

MILESTONES AND MINUTIAE: The first 3.0 rating in the Monday night wars was garnered by WWF RAW on January 8, 1996.... WCW Nitro upped the ante by expanding to two hours (9pm-11pm) on May 27, 1996; RAW remained a one hour show airing at 9pm.... RAW and Nitro combined for a 5.0 rating for the first time on October 2, 1995; they first combined to exceed 6.0 on February 19, 1996....

Continued in "RAW vs. Nitro: Year Two"....

OO Monday Night Wars in Review
Intro --/-- Year One --/-- Year Two --/-- Year Three
Year Four --/-- Year Five --/-- Year Six --/-- Conclusion

E-MAIL RICK
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