Your eyes do not deceive you and no this isn’t a wild fantasy, I can reluctantly confirm that this is in fact actually happening right now. 22 years ago today, WCW debuted its brand new television show Nitro and as is now so well documented, the rest is pro wrestling history. Nitro played a pivotal role in changing the wrestling industry forever and in many ways, its impact is still felt for both good and bad. In order to commemorate this momentous occasion, I’ve decided to take my dreadful Report Card format into a time machine (the WWE Network Vault section) in order to take a look at the first ever episode a whole 22 years later.
Just to set the scene a little first, this was a quite fascinating time in the industry. WCW had now been in the Hulk Hogan business for over a year and the results had been…interesting. Hogan had helped as an attraction and arguably shifted the perception surrounding WCW however his arrival’s impact on the product’s quality is debatable. There had been some ups and downs so far but Hogan was now in the midst of an infamous feud opposite the Dungeon of Doom and wackiness was quickly oncoming. The promotion certainly wasn't without its bright spots though overall and Bischoff clearly had an overarching vision which in many ways, was the most important thing.
Meanwhile, in the then WWF it was a questionable period to say the least. At this point we are just a week removed from SummerSlam 1995, an event headlined by Diesel’s title defense against…Mabel. Elsewhere Shawn Michaels was really just getting started as a babyface and The Undertaker was wrestling Kama. This was arguably the most bizarre roster the WWF has ever had but that’s another discussion for another day and today the focus is World Championship Wrestling and their first shots fired in the Monday Night War. With with that in mind, let’s head to the Mall of America!
Why are we going to the Mall of America you ask? Because it’s “The only building big enough to hold the debut edition of WCW Monday Nitro!” Or at least that’s what Eric Bischoff is saying. I guess I’ll take his word for it.
DISCLAIMER: any wild predictions I make that you disagree with have already been proven completely wrong in the coming weeks, months and years anyway so don’t worry too much. Basically, take everything you read from this point forward with a grain of salt as its credibility is preposterously low.
Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger
We start proceedings with Jushin Liger vs. Brian Pillman and while it’s quite well known that this is how the first ever Nitro began, it still can’t be understated how cool it was and is too see Liger up first here. 22 years later and Jushin is only months removed from his last ever Best of Super Juniors tournament. That really highlights his famed longevity and his spot here in 1995 gives some insight into WCW’s openness to using foreign talent, an ideology that would become even more prevalent as the years went by. Nonetheless, the match got started with some smooth grappling sequences before Liger hit the cartwheel kick because he’s awesome.
There was an odd moonsault spot in which Pillman had to stall a little but he saved it with his facial selling and this is a bigger topic I’ll delve into more in a moment. Unsurprisingly, Liger looked super quick and he even put on the always cool Romero Special. He then hit his big dive from the apron to the floor and the crowd responded with “USA” chants. Tremendous. Things were really picking up down the stretch here with the pair nailing a superplex, paying homage to Sasha Banks’ 2017 classic with Alexa Bliss.
This really was a lot of fun down the stretch with some great false finishes including Liger’s powerbomb and frankensteiner and the people really were into this now. The finish eventually came with Pillman getting the pin via victory roll and the pair shook hands afterwards. As always, awesome to see Liger.
As you can probably tell from my write-up on Liger, this was a very fun match even if not technically flawless. On a couple of occasions, Pillman’s offense wasn't the cleanest, especially his head-scissors and hurricanrana but his overall energy is just super infectious. One of Pillman’s most famous traits is his ability to up the intensity in an instant just with his body language. He showed that in spots here too, most specifically when he cornered Liger and threw some quite violent chops, all whilst getting a little wild in his facial expressions.
Pillman had some really neat moments as far as flashy offense here too and hit a great dive from the top rope to the floor. Steve ‘Mongo’ McMichael responded to this as only he could, “that’s it kid. Give it to him. Give it to him the way he wants it!” Thanks Steve. There was also a great spot in which Pillman caught Liger with a dropkick out of the air as well as a tornado DDT for a nice false finish. Pillman getting the win was cool and made sense but regardless of result, this match has become famous in history.
I’ve seen some people almost question this match’s reputation due to it looking a little sloppy at times to modern eyes. However, it has to be understood that this match was something completely new to the casual wrestling fan that this show was aimed at. The audience watching this show wasn't watching the G1 Climax or the Super J Cup and that’s why it stands out so much for people still to this day. It also should always be noted that the more innovative someone’s style is, the more it often ages. These guys were pushing the envelope and that process has continued which makes this match less impressive now. Other styles age better but that doesn’t make them nearly as historically important. Either way, super fun opener between two great performers.
We now get some footage of Eric Bischoff interviewing Hulk Hogan about PASTAMANIA brother. I can’t even recap this level of insanity. It was awesome though.
Time for a quite iconic WCW matchup now as ‘The Nature Boy’ takes on A MAN CALLED STING. First things first, though, Lex Luger is apparently here and Eric Bischoff is very angry. I mean granted Lex is really just standing there doing nothing wrong but he’s the enemy so you can understand Eric’s rage. In all seriousness, I actually like the way they did this appearance as it felt spontaneous and very much symbolic of what made Nitro such an exciting show in its first couple of years. Now onto the match.
I think everyone loves how these two always approach each other with the forever intense lock ups and then Sting inevitably just manhandling him. Time for a very cold take friends: Ric Flair is real great at selling. Regardless, he would get on top briefly before begging off again and the people are absolutely loving this. A big crossbody over the top rope to the floor soon followed and I always loved when Flair would pull something like this out as it elevates the opponent when he mixes up his offense like this.
Flair simply couldn’t stay on offense though and continued to bump really hard as always but fear not because the greatest wrestler of all time (Sorry ‘Cien’) is here….ARN ANDERSON. He’s currently just standing around looking cool though as Flair feeds one more big Sting onslaught after trying to catch some quick wins. Arn’s presence distracted Sting though and Flair took advantage with a chopblock and the figure-four leg lock. Sting fired up and the people exploded but the match was thrown out due to Flair’s fragrant cheating which enrages ARN who enters the ring very upset. Thisleads to him and Flair brawling like only manly men can. This ruled and was a really spirited showing from both men. Arn was there too.
From what I can tell, opinions seem to be divided on Sting’s spot in history but I have to say that personally, I thoroughly enjoy what he was doing bell to bell at this time and think his matches age really well. It helps of course that he has such an immense presence and charisma because in many ways, that aspect never really ages. I always enjoy the way that Sting worked rapidly when on offense but still always paused just enough to maximise each individual flurry. In my mind that’s one of the main reasons the audience always reacted so strongly to him.
Well that and when he’d do those awesome spots where he’d just stand up after suplexes in order to hit clotheslines and go crazy. Speaking of such, these two hit another superplex here and whilst I’m all for paying tribute to Sasha and Alexa, this seemed a little excessive if I’m being honest. Overall though, what a fun match between two guys just made for each other.
Scott Norton has is here apparently and is bullying ‘MONGO’ or at least he was before Randy Savage showed up and a verbal exchange ensued. This was wild and completely insane but also kind of great because Macho being crazy is always awesome. Bischoff looked very worried and then sent us to a video package promoting the soon debuting Sabu….yes that Sabu.
Gene Okerlund now announces the winner of the WCW Harley Davidson sweepstakes after some wisecracks before moving to a video promoting the arrival of Mr. Wallstreet AKA Mike Rotunda AKA IRS aka the greatest professional wrestler in the history of earth.
Big Bubba Rogers
Main event time folks as Big Bubba Rogers challenges Hulk Hogan for the WCW Heavyweight Title. If you know me (you don’t) you would know that I’m a Ray Traylor superfan so you can imagine my excitement about him becoming champion here tonight in the Mall of America. Early on Bubba did that weird thing he does where he just explodes and stomps his feet a ton for no real reason. He really is incredible. He’s taunting the people and beating Hulk up here as I’m beginning to get very excited. Every time he’d begin to struggle he would just punch Hulk in the face too, a quite brilliant tactic honestly.
He was dominating and the Traylor superfan in me was suddenly enthralled but some holes began to appear in THE BOSS’ gameplan. Oh well, at least his selling was good here and by “good” I mean obscene, outrageous and hysterical. He quickly got back in control again regardless and everything was going great until his punches became useless as Hulk “hulked up” and pinned him with the leg drop. I’m now distraught.
It’s fair to say that this was a quite interesting time in Hulk’s career both as far as his look and his booking but I’m not so much of a snob that I can’t enjoy a good old fashioned Hulk Hogan match and frankly, none of us should be. ‘Mongo’ certainly isn’t a wrestling snob and he’s actually very excited, even prognosticating some kind of “MALL DRAGGING” by ‘The Hulkster’. The reasons I love Hulk Hogan matches at this point are mostly just all of the little wacky brother moments he has along the way. A good example here is his response of “I’ll never give up” when the referee dared to ask him about submitting.
I don’t want to forget ‘Mongo’s continued greatness here though as he next claimed that “Hulk is too much of a technician” for Bubba….how tremendous. I’ll also always pop for Hogan punching people in the face and I especially love him using his babyface manager Jimmy Hart in order to flagrantly cheat. Wonderful! He mostly sold in this match before the Hulk up finish, it is what it is and at the end of the day, this audience loved it and so did I.
‘The Hulkster’ is celebrating which leads to The Dungeon of Doom arriving (oh no) but LEX LUGER is here for the save and after clearing the ring, the pair are suddenly back to back and then nose to nose. Hogan is very angry and these two men are going back and forth verbally before we go to a break. When we return Gene is in the middle of them with a microphone and Luger explains that he’s here to take the WCW belt from Hogan. Lex is pretty fired up right now and this is kind of awesome. Sting and Macho are watching on as Hogan fires back with his own brother-filled outburst. He absolutely loses his mind at this juncture and the pair shake hands in agreement of a match against each other next week.
I really have no idea what the consensus was back in 1995 but I have to say that in my mind, this is a perfect example of what to do when debuting a new major wrestling show. Consider what was achieved here for a second. They opened with a match that spotlighted a fresh and innovative approach which showed the promotion’s openness to all styles from across the globe. They then had Sting vs. Flair, a match between superstars that were synonymous with WCW and then in the main event they had a Hogan title match against a familiar face. We even had a big surprise with Lex and went off the air knowing next week’s huge main event.
The show had a really unique look, feel and atmosphere too which really, was just the icing on the cake. A thoroughly enjoyable 45 minutes and a credit to Bischoff’s overall vision with Nitro, a show that would undeniably change the wrestling business forever.
Please comment your thoughts below or just tweet me abuse @JoeHulbert5 like many others already do.
See you all back at Full Sail!