It’s hard to believe, but it’s now been more than 12 years since the last ever episode of WCW Monday Nitro aired on television screens and the once-untouchable company was purchased for a paltry sum by its main competitors.
The end of the ‘Monday Night Wars’ signalled the beginning of a new era; an era that would see World Wrestling Entertainment dominate the professional wrestling market with little in the way of mainstream competition. It also marked the end of perhaps wrestling’s finest period – as it is only really with the benefit of hindsight that we can truly appreciate how spoilt we were as fans of the sport between 1996-2000.
‘The Best of WCW Monday Nitro Vol. 2′, available to buy on DVD and Blu-Ray from 29 April at WWEDVD.co.uk, follows on from 2011′s first volume which, in many ways, capitalised on the success of 2009′sThe Rise and Fall of World Championship Wrestling. While on the face of things it would appear that producing three boxsets dedicated to the same organisation in such a short space of time is overkill, the reality is that WCW offered up such outstanding output – and had such an incredible talent pool at its disposal – that this second volume is more than welcomed, and really is a case of (almost) all killer, and very little filler.
Hosted by Diamond Dallas Page, who hilariously manages to get a DDPYoga plug in within the first two minutes (BANG!), this three-disc set includes a multitude of bouts and memorable angles that were missed from the first edition. Page is the perfect host for such a set, looking back at what he describes as the show that was “king of cable television for two years” by offering memories, quips and anecdotes between clips that add additional personality to this trip down memory lane.
Kicking off where it all started, the first match on the set sees Sting battle Ric Flair from the very first episode ofNitro, which is strangely set in the Mall of America (complete with spectators watching from moving escalators!) and is best remembered as the moment when then-WWF star Lex Luger made a shock return. The shocking moments continue with Madusa, fresh off a run as Alundra Blayze in the WWF, binning the WWF Women’s Title live on WCW television, in the first sign that the war was on. As Page observes, this pivotal moment in the start of the ‘Monday Night Wars’ may well have had an influence on the outcome of the infamous Montreal screwjob two years later.
Arn Anderson faces off against ‘American Made’ Hulk Hogan in a rare, interference-filled clash between the two, which is designed solely to prolong Hogan’s feud with Flair. A very strange promo from Hogan and Macho Man Randy Savage follows after, which just illustrates how dated WCW’s product was in the very early days of Nitro.
Another rare clash sees The Steiner Brothers vs The Road Warriors in a terrific battle of the power houses with a surprise ending. This is followed by action from the newly-created cruiserweight division, with a great back and forth match between Dean Malenko and Jushin Liger which sadly sees all eyes turned towards the ringside antics of Ric Flair. Juventud Guerrera also takes on Rey Mysterio Jr in a strong contest between the two, which illustrates just how phenomenal Mysterio was in his younger days, while DDP faces Jeff Jarrett in a sluggish affair.
The quality of WCW’s output increases significantly following the formation of the new World order, with the set offering clips of the growth of the faction and the return of Sting as the avenging Icon. Scott Hall takes on Ric Flair in a great main event between two veterans of the sport, while Kevin Nash‘s heavyweight domination of Rey Mysterio makes for uncomfortable viewing. A strangely-booked bout between Randy Savage and La Parka offers up a big surprise at its conclusion.
A treat for wrestling historians is the inclusion of Bill Goldberg‘s quiet debut against Hugh Morrus, as is a short bout between DDP and Chris Jericho, both of which show the first signs of the amazing characters that Goldberg and Jericho would go on to become respectively. A huge six man tag match pitting original nWo members Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash against Sting, Randy Savage and The Giant is a true demonstration of WCW’s claim to be ‘where the big boys play’, and highlights just how incredibly over Sting’s ‘crow’ character was with audiences during the period.
Speaking of ‘The Icon’, a terrific World title match between Sting and DDP is also included, which features one of the longest Collar & Elbow tie-ups you are ever likely to see, as well as a surprisingly clean finish. Goldberg’s first US title opportunity against Raven still makes for extraordinary viewing fifteen years on, but sadly, the quality of some of the boxset’s later bouts goes downhill from this point on, in line with WCW’s creative issues.
After much hype about the arrival of Bret Hart to WCW, the first that we see of him is as a ‘spare part’ at ringside in the corner of Hulk Hogan and The Giant against nWo Wolfpack members Kevin Nash and Lex Luger. Indeed, it is the breakdown of the renegade heel group, and the frequent face and heel changes between the company’s biggest stars, that makes for disjointed viewing as the set progresses – with the nWo entrance theme, in particular, becoming incredibly annoying by the third disc due to its sheer repetition. That’s not a knock on the box set though; it’s merely representative of how much of WCW television was weighted towards the new World order angle towards the end of the decade.
Scott Hall, by now clearly struggling with his personal demons, faces Bam Bam Bigelow in a disappointing ladder match with an explosive ending, while Bret Hart and Rowdy Roddy Piper have a brawl for the US title that sees Hart playing against type as cowardly heel, and is not a patch on their classic Intercontinental title match atWrestleMania VIII. Keeping with the theme of disappointing WrestleMania rematches, Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan compete for the WCW World title in another meandering affair between the two dated veterans.
Moving through the final year of the company swiftly, Bret Hart and Bill Goldberg team up to defend their tag team titles against Kevin Nash and Scott Hall in one of Hart’s final matches with the company (ironically, it was partner Goldberg that would accidentally hand Hart his career-ending injury just weeks later), Sting faces off against Vampiro in a ‘House of Pain’ match, the future ‘Hurricane’ Shane Helms flies around the ring with Shannon Moore and, coming full circle, US Champion Booker T challenges World Champion Scott Steiner in a ‘clash of the champions’ in the final ever episode of Nitro, taking place during their annual spring break event in Panama City, Florida. It’s a bittersweet end for a show that saw audiences go from overwhelmingly-vocal and large, to disinterested and relatively minute, in an incredibly short space of time.
As WCW’s flagship show, Monday Nitro‘s output was, at times, very patchy, but WWE have done an excellent job of trawling through the annals once again, pulling together an excellent selection of bouts and clips that paint a good picture of why the show was so dominant for so long. The formation of the new World order, the repackaging of Sting and the sheer amount of young talent on the company’s roster all helped to make WCW programming truly compelling for several years – but ultimately, the creative success of the nWo, and the heel group’s dominant booking at the expense of younger talent, was also the company’s undoing ultimately. Still, there’s no denying that both WCW and the WWF were at their very best when competing head to head with one another, and the premature end of Nitro was a huge loss for fans of the sport. This essential purchase serves as a poignant reminder of just how good we had it for a few incredible years.