Editorial Columns

Looking Back at the Final WCW Monday Nitro

Iain Oliver looks back at the final episode of WCW Monday Nitro.

19 years ago tonight, the last WCW Nitro aired from Panama Beach, Florida.

“Because you have got to grab your competition by the throat and you’ve got to squeeze the life out of your competition. Just like I did to WCW.” 

Vince McMahon, Cleveland Ohio: Monday Night Raw / WCW Monday Nitro, Monday March 26th 2001.

The historical episode came just days after it was announced that Vince McMahon and the WWF had bought-out WCW, and McMahon made his presence felt immediately within his latest purchase by appearing via simulcast from RAW in Cleveland, Ohio in the opening segment of the show, gloating that he now owns his competition. 

With this announcement, the Monday Night War was over and Vince could not be prouder. He strut around the ring at the end of the night, giving fans the chance to voice their approval (or disapproval) over whether WWF should sign some of WCW’s top talents. The crowd cheered for Hulk Hogan, Buff Bagwell, Booker T, Scott Steiner, Sting and Goldberg, but booed Lex Luger, as Vince asked them for positive or negative reinforcement with a thumbs up or thumbs down.

Vince even went as far as to basically fire Jeff Jarrett on air (on RAW), obviously holding a grudge McMahon told the live WWF crowd he was “G-doubleO-doubleN-doubleE… Gone!”. Vince was so proud of his achievement that he made the whole show revolve around himself. Throughout the night we saw him backstage in various segments. He was celebrating with Trish Stratus, berating Michael Cole for his ridiculous questions, and belittling WCW along with William Regal.

“WCW is going on the shelf, it’s going nowhere, WCW is buried… WCW will remain buried, just like anybody in this arena or anyone in the world that gets in my way. Every single one of you, when you try to compete with me, and that includes my son Shane, every single one of you will be buried. Just like WCW is buried.”

Vince McMahon, Cleveland Ohio: Monday Night Raw / WCW Monday Nitro, Monday March 26th 2001.

His aforementioned popularity contest was part of the show-closing segment that has lived long in the memory of fans around the world. It is well remembered as a top moment in the Monday Night Wars for many reasons (see my multi-part journey through the most memorable moments from the Monday Night Wars), but it is mostly remembered as the starting point for ill-fated Invasion storyline that had so much potential, but eventually lost so much steam that it was prematurely stopped months before the original planned ending.

Vince told us that Time Warner was begging him to buy WCW and sign the contract, so in a way to kick-start, the Invasion McMahon promised to sign the contract the following Sunday at WrestleMania 17. But in the first of many twists in the WWF vs WCW story, Shane McMahon appeared live at Nitro in Florida and announced that he had signed the contract and was now the “owner” of WCW.

“And dad, just like WCW did in the past, when it kicked your ass in the past- and it will again. That is exactly what is going to happen to you this Sunday at WrestleMania.”

Shane McMahon, Panama Beach Florida: Monday Night Raw / WCW Monday Nitro, Monday March 26th 2001

The circumstances surrounding Vince and the WWF becoming the new owners of WCW have been well documented, but in short: Jamie Kellner (the new chairman and C.E.O of Turner Broadcasting Systems) in one of his first acts pulled all WCW television from the Turner network due to several reasons, but most of all its overspending and its lack of pulling power when it came to selling advertising. That put a stop to Eric Bischoff’s planned takeover with his Fusient media company and just 6 days before this Nitro episode Bischoff and Fusient officially pulled out. This opened the door for someone to buy WCW who didn’t have to rely on Turner’s air-time and someone who already had television time of their own: Vince McMahon. And the rest as they say – is history.

One of WCW cornerstones Ric Flair began the live Panama Beach portion of the night with an emotional promo that followed Vince’s brief backstage introduction. Flair called McMahon out on him saying he was going to hold WCW’s fate in the palms of his hands and tore into him, getting worked up as he went along. Flair said that Vince’s father while on the board of directors had voted for Flair to be the next NWA Champion in 1981, he disregarded his statement of holding WCW in his hands by naming all the NWA and WCW legends that McMahon supposedly “held” in his hand, and ended by challenging his greatest opponent to a match later that night: Sting.

The match took place and to give them credit it is a very simple but underrated match (to see more of Sting’s underrated match see my recent TWM article). Sting won of course, and this book-ended their rivalry as they also had a match on the very first Nitro episode back in 1995. It was only fitting that two of WCW’s biggest stars had a chance to shine one more time before the lights went out for good. 

Another big news story from that night was the WCW World Heavyweight Title changing hands when Booker T defeated Scott Steiner in a title vs. title match. Since defeating DDP at the last WCW pay-per-view: Greed, Steiner and Booker had been on a collision course, and it was Eric Bischoff on the prior week’s Nitro that booked the winner take all match for this final edition. Booker went in as the reigning US Champion but left with all the gold as he was able to Book End his way to glory. Booker would go on to bring both titles over to the WWF and be one of the bigger stars of the Invasion for the WCW and ECW alliance.

Apart from Booker vs. Steiner and Flair vs. Sting, the in-ring action was rather un-newsworthy. An unmasked Rey Mysterio Jr. and Billy Kidman won their way to a cruiserweight tag team title match when they beat 3 Count (Shannon Moore and Evan Karagias) and the Jung Dragons (Yang and Kaz Hayashi) and went on to win the titles later that night from Elix Skipper and Kid Romeo. Shane Helms regained the cruiserweight singles title against Chavo Guerrero, Shawn Stasiak defeated Bam Bam Bigelow, and Sean O’Haire & Chuck Palumbo regained the tag titles against Lance Storm and Mike Awesome. 

The uniqueness and novelty factor of the night made up for the sheer lack of star power on show. I’m sure the WWF factor played a big part in having certain members of the roster not being shown: Jeff Jarrett and Shane Douglas in particular. But regulars who had been all over TV in the weeks leading up to the event: DDP: he would make the switch to WWF but he only appeared in a short pre-taped video on Nitro. Lex Luger: who would have had the unique trivia note of being on the first and last episodes of Nitro- did not appear.

Even Buff Bagwell; WWF had plans for Buff before he had a terrible match with Booker T on Raw (and plans quickly changed), but he was nowhere to be seen on the show either. And of course, there were the notable absentees of the biggest stars: Goldberg, Hogan, Hall, Nash and even Eric Bischoff, all of whom would eventually make their way to WWF in due course once their Time Warner contracts had expired (these were different contracts to WCW so basically they got to sit at home and get paid until their deals ran out).

The WWF would go on to say that they couldn’t afford to buy out all the bigger contracts, even though the potential for months worth of pay per view buy rates would have easily regained the money spent to bring the big boys in from the get-go.

So to sum it all up. By the time the last episode of WCW Nitro aired it was owned by the WWF and you were made well aware of this throughout the night. The main go-home message from the show was Shane McMahon “owned the company” under the WWF umbrella, and its future would be played out on WWF television. 

This marked the end of the Monday Night War and the point where Vince and his WWF/WWE monopoly took full control of the wrestling world for the next 18 years. NWA: TNA emerged from the ashes of WCW but in reality, it did not challenge Vince anywhere near the way WCW did in the mid and late 90s. WCW killed itself with (in my opinion) ridiculous booking, money-losing ideas left-right-and-centre and over the top superstar contracts that gave them more power than the people actually booking the shows. 

The final episode of Nitro will still go down in history as one of the defining moment in professional wrestling history. A full stop at the end of a 10-year long sentence. Nitro built its reputation as being filled with surprises, shocks, twists and turns and they still delivered that right up until the very last show-closing segment.

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