I know I already wrote something today but I could not let this day pass without talking about a subject near and dear to my heart. It was fifteen years ago this very evening that my life changed forever. It was fifteen years ago tonight that the final episode of WCW Monday Nitro aired on TNT.
When I first started watching pro wrestling in 1989 the first thing I saw was the WWF. My brothers watched before I became a fan and then when I started to watch they started watching less. I don’t know what that is all about but regardless that’s what happened. For awhile I watched the WWF exclusively, I didn’t know there was another company out there. Hey, I was 8 years old what do you want?
I don’t remember when exactly but one Saturday night my brother informed me that wrestling was on. This was my first experience with the NWA or as it would soon be known, World Championship Wrestling. For some reason, I think the first episode I watched featured a tournament match for the United States Tag Team championship. I can tell you that it had to be in very late 1989 or early 1990. I know this because the first major show I watched was ‘Clash of the Champions X’ on February 6, 1990 so I was already watching the weekly TV by then.
It was on that Clash show where I was introduced to the man who would become my favorite wrestler of all time. I didn’t know it at the time but one of the things that Sting would be famous for was the fact that he never left WCW to go to the WWF. Ric Flair may be the company’s most iconic figure but even he left for awhile.
I don’t know what exactly it was for a now 9-year-old me but WCW held more appeal than the WWF. Sure, I loved the WWF and was a huge Hulk Hogan fan and Demolition is still my favorite tag team ever. But if given the choice between the two I would have rather watched the WCW product. That remained true all the way up to the bitter end even when I knew the WCW product was atrocious.
WCW actually impacted my life in a way not connected to pro wrestling. It was thanks to WCW that I became a fan of the Atlanta Braves. As both WCW and the Braves aired on TBS, I often found myself watching baseball while waiting for wrestling to start. Or after wrestling, I would watch baseball. The Braves became my team thanks to all the time I would spend watching TBS.
Yeah, I had merchandise. I had WCW trading cards. I had the WCW Galoob Action Figures. One of the best pro wrestling matches I ever had with my figures was a 45 minute war between the WWF Hasbro Rick Rude figure and the WCW Galoob Tom Zenk figure. I didn’t care that the WCW figures were essentially molded statues, they came with title belts and that was cool.
In 1997, we finally got pay-per-view access in my area. The first pay-per-view I ever got to order was Starrcade 1997 headlined by Hollywood Hulk Hogan Vs. Sting for the WCW title. As Sting was my favorite wrestler and as I hadn’t seen him in the ring in over a year I couldn’t have been more excited. Then the match happened and unfolded in a most depressing manner.
In September 1995, WCW launched Nitro. It started one of the most fondly remembered periods in wrestling history. The Monday Night Wars fundamentally changed what people expected to see on a wrestling television show. Some of these changes have been for the better and others have demonstrated to be for the worse but it was still a fun time to be a fan. I remember many sad Tuesday mornings in class. I was a freshman in High School and that was vexing enough. But I was mostly sad because on Tuesday that meant I had to wait until Saturday before I could watch more wrestling. Oh, how times have changed. I can’t recall the last time I couldn’t wait to watch more wrestling.
Being a WCW guy, Nitro was my program of choice. When Eric Bischoff would give away WWF results on his television program I would call my friend Wade, who I knew was watching Raw and share the spoilers with him. I don’t know if I did it to prove a point that Nitro was better or if I did it because I couldn’t believe what I had just heard and needed to share it with someone else immediately.
There was another time, in September of 1996 that Nitro made me pick up the phone and call Wade. This moment has been edited off the version that appears on the WWE Network today. It was an announcement that WCW would be coming to Sioux Falls on Sunday, October 20, 1996. I couldn’t believe it, finally, I could go to a WCW event. I had never been to a wrestling show at all despite the fact that in 1990 the WWF held a card at the South Dakota State Fair and I was actually at the fair that night but didn’t attend the wrestling show.
In May of 1996, Scott Hall showed up on Nitro. Once again, the wrestling world was about to change. People talk about the WWF’s Attitude era as being the boom period for professional wrestling in the late 1990s but that never happens if the nWo doesn’t happen first. When Hulk Hogan turned heel at Bash at the Beach in July of 1996 I had to wait until the next night on Nitro to find out what had happened. No pay-per-view access and no access to this strange technology called The Internet.
There were other highpoints along the way. The rise of Goldberg. Cruiserweight matches that were unlike anything I had ever watched on a wrestling show previously, I didn’t get lucha or ECW then either. WCW was even nice enough to debut a new show, called ‘Thunder’ on my birthday: January 8, 1998. More wrestling during the week? How could I possibly say no to that?
But the tide turned in 1998 and I knew it. Remember, I had very little access to The Internet at this point. So I didn’t really understand things like the ratings battle between Raw and Nitro. For me it was enough that I had two wrestling shows to flip between on Monday night. I didn’t have a clue about all of the business implications of what I was seeing. But I did understand that the WWF was now pretty cool thanks to Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock. While I still watched more Nitro than Raw I couldn’t deny that I found the WWF product to be very compelling.
I don’t know when the decline of WCW really began. Some say it was at Starrcade 1997 when Sting really didn’t beat Hogan for the title. Others say it was actually in 1994 when Hogan first arrived from the WWF. Some say it was actually at Starrcade 1998 when Goldberg was defeated by Kevin Nash. The decline started before Vince Russo was hired away from the WWF to book WCW but his arrival definitely made a bad situation worse. But the fact is that I didn’t care.
When I got to college in September of 1999 I had Internet access around the clock. That’s when I started to learn about all that was really happening in the wrestling business and what kind of financial shape WCW was in at the time. I also got to listen to WCW Live, WCW’s nightly Internet program that pre-dated podcasts by several years. It was also around that time that Wrestling Observer Live debuted on the Internet website eyada.com. I didn’t know it back then but that show would serve as an introduction to a couple of guys who I would call friends in the future. One of them was a frequent guest who went by the name of Karl Stern. Listening to Karl and remembering him from that show years later, made me check out his own podcast where I first heard the man with a deep voice and a girly laugh…the one and only Ric Gillespie, AKA Dic Lesbian. Indirectly, Wrestling Observer Live introduced me to Karl, Ric, Euan Taylor, Art Shimko, David Wills, Mark Danger and Alan Lee. Those names might not mean much to you but consider how long a list that is because of one radio show.
WCW was truly horrible in 2000 but I still watched. I hoped it wuld get better and I prayed it would get better but it just never got better. I was still a die-hard. I ordered some truly aweful WCW pay-per-views in 2000 especially when I was home for the summer. I always had friends over so they could suffer through them with me. WCW was dying but I still didn’t believe that it was really going to go out of business. I’d seen tough creative periods in the company before and by this time I knew how disasterous a year 1993 had been and how the company had really been a mess since Ted Turner purchased it in late 1988.
Then in January 2001 the company was sold to Fusient Media Ventures. I remember listening to Eric Bischoff on Wrestling Observer Live talk about things that the company would be changing when Fusient took control. I remembered having some hope that the turn-around would be a reality. Then it happened.
The news came out late in the evening. Nitro and Thunder had been canceled. The Fusient deal was in jeopardy and would eventually fall apart. Then news came out that Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation was purchasing the company and select WCW contracts. I couldn’t believe it was all over but it was all over.
When I realized what was going to happen I made two purchases. I found a website that sold replica WCW title belts and bought the world title. I also went to WCW’s own merchandise store and ordered a WCW t-shirt. I bought a lot of merchandise from the WCW online store but wanted at least one shirt that was just a WCW shirt as opposed to a shirt from a specific wrestler.
On Monday March 26, 2001 I got a notice in my mailbox at college that I had a package to pick up. I made the walk to the post office where there were two things waiting for me. The first was the WCW shirt and the second was my replica belt. I took both items up stairs and showed them to the director of Resident life whom I knew was a fan. Then I killed a few hours until the final Nitro.
I still remember that show. The final match between Sting and Ric Flair. Vince McMahon appearing all over the program. The angle where it was revealed that Shane McMahon had bought WCW out from under the nose of his father. By the way, this is when I knew that the WCW invasion of the WWF was going to be a misserable failure. It is easy to say that in retrospect but I knew it that night as sure as I have ever known anything. I was proven correct but would have been much happier to be wrong. As that Nitro show marched on for the last time, I shed tears. I loved this company, even through the bad times and knew that my life as a fan ws going to change for ever.
After WCW died I watched Raw on Monday night mostly out of habit. I wanted to see what would happen with the WCW talent and as I said I was completely disappointed by the whole thing. I didn’t turn away from wrestling for good and never have. I always hoped I would find a replacement for WCW but it wasn’t to be. I tried TNA and other Indie groups that I could find online or DVD. It just wasn’t the same and I know now that it never could have been.
I lost my favorite wrestling promotion the day WCW died and could never get it back. Even when we wrote about wrestling in the late 2000s I much preferred to write about UFC and other MMA groups. I wrote about wrestling because it was good for traffic but I had pretty much walked away from the WWE product by that point.
I still think about WCW today. I think about the legacy the company has left behind. People remember WCW largely for the dumpster fire it was at the end. I certainly understand that mentality. However, I also don’t think it is entirely fair. I believe WCW’s actual legacy is far more complex. WCW left a mark on the wrestling business that still exists to this day.
When people complain about the WWE style being the same up and down the card, I think about Nitro. I think about how that program featured wrestlers who had a wide range of styles. No, the matches didn’t always work but they couldn’t be called formulaic. This is why I’m enjoying the retro Raw and retro Nitro reviews on the Bryan and Vinny Show over at F4WOnline.com.
There is some question as to whether or not TNA has ever been as bad as WCW was and to that I say yes. The reason is simple. TNA had WCW to learn from and made all of the same mistakes that WCW made. That is worse than WCW making so many mistakes on its own. There is that old question, who is the bigger fool, the fool or the fool that follows him? In my mind, the fool that follows him is the bigger fool and that is why I believe TNA has been worse than WCW. They should have known better but didn’t.
But I still think about WCW in very real ways. On Saturday night, if I happen to notice the time at around 5:05 central, I still think it is time for wrestling. It was a part of my life for so long that I can’t help but associate that time of day on that day of the week with that show.
I will watch WrestleMania next weekend. I am interested in NXT and will not miss seeing Sting enter the WWE hall of fame. I’m not excited for the main show itself but I’ve not been excited about the WWE product in ages. The death of WCW changed my relationship to professional wrestling forever and I can’t get it back. That is why I think of WCW on this day. March 26, 2001 changed my life forever, I just didn’t know how profound a change it would be at the time. I still miss my wrestling company.