Category Archives: WCW Monday Nitro
The first and last word in the wrasslin’ business, Vincent Kennedy McMahon. (Image courtesy of Twitter@VinceMcMahon)
On Monday night, March 26, 2001. Vincent Kennedy McMahon the be-all and end-all of professional wrestling. 17 years after nearly monopolizing the industry, he had actually done it. In 1984, he had replaced the longtime National Wrestling Alliance wrestling show on Ted Turner’s WTBS with World Wrestling Federation broadcasts. But the deal was rife with contractual and fan contention.
His quasi-monopoly lasted about eight months, from July 14, 1984 until the night before the first WrestleMania aired (March 30, 1985). But now, thanks in no small part to the implosion of World Championship Wrestling, the company Turner started from the remnants of the bankrupt Jim Crockett Promotions, he now owned the entire wrestling industry.
WCW was in business for nearly six years before they ever actually turned a profit. When they finally struck paydirt, it was because they had Hulk Hogan, the longtime WWF Champion as its front man. Hogan joining WCW gave the company the mainstream focus it had long lacked, and Time-Warner would give him whatever he wanted… as long as Turner was running things.
With the presence of top former WWF stars, WCW actually broke Vince’s chokehold on the business. In 1995, Turner requested WCW EVP Eric Bischoff present a show to go against WWF’s flagship Monday Night Raw. By 1996, WCW Monday Nitro was actually beating the WWF in every major statistic, from TV ratings to ad sales to live event attendance.
Initially, the Nitro introduction was seen as an attempt to splinter a dwindling wrestling audience. Ironically, it had the exact opposite effect; the audience actually grew. Both WCW and the WWF had something different to offer fans. In other words, the wrestling audience had variety to choose from, which made both companies work harder to compete for ratings and revenue.
While conflict between companies is good for fans, such a thing within a company is not. With the increasing margin of victory for WCW, egos began to rise. Many wrestlers also picked and chose when they’d win and lose, leaving the creative process in the air often just until airtime. And even then, matches began to end without a decisive or satisfactory ending. Bischoff completely lost control.
In addition, the establishes stars also refused to help promote the younger talent, despite fans’ interest. With the exception of former NFL player Bill Goldberg, nobody emerged from WCW as a fresh face, even as the old faces kept getting older. The WWF, on the other hand, was constantly giving new stars a chance to shine. After all, their new top stars were one new faces, too.
By the end of 1999, WCW was on its last legs. America Online was about to merge with Time-Warner, and neither company wanted anything to do with WCW, which had went from profiting $35M in 1998 to losing $12M in 1999. By hiring longtime WWF creative head Vince Russo, and putting the WCW belt on comedian David Arquette, the boat just continued to sink.
In 2000, Ted Turner, WCW’s greatest advocate, was forced from his Chairman position due to the Time-Warner/AOL merger. WCW was immediately put up for sale. Vince made an offer in October, but having just signing a TV deal with the National Network (later Spike TV), he couldn’t have two shows on two companies. Then in 2001, Turner TV Chief Jamie Keller refused to air WCW shows.
And so, on Monday, March 26, 2001, Vincent Kennedy McMahon made his coronation speech. It aired on both live broadcasts of Monday Night Raw and the final Monday Nitro. Three days prior, he bought 24 WCW wrestler contracts, and WCW’s 30-year video library, for a mere $3M, a price many wrestlers could actually afford.
WCW is not necessarily remembered for its classic matches. In truth, even during the supersexual “Attitude Era, the WWF had better , if only because of comparison between the two companies. But at its peak, WCW gave the wrestling audience variety, and kept both companies on point through competition. At worst, fans wanted WCW to return to greatness, not implode.
But implosion is often how one-party rule sets in. And more times than not, the winner loses a part of itself as well. And people start to move on or even rebel. Just look at the WWE ratings and buyrates in 2014 compared to 1999, and the growing UFC audience.
The very people who seem to want a monopoly in something are seldom happy if/when they actually get it. The challenges don’t end. They only begin at that point. And the challenges come internally, and externally.