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How Defections Won And Lost The Monday Night War

Adam Van Winkle looks at how talent defecting help win and lose the Monday Night War.

When I was ten in 1994, Hulk Hogan came over to WCW, the wrestling I always watched and followed, and Randy Savage followed a few months later.

In my mind, they were coming over because they saw that the best talent was in WCW, and they wanted to join. In my mind, WCW was the major promotion, the Saturday night primetime show for more mature audiences, and the WWF was some sort of Saturday morning kids’ programming version of the real thing.

This was only confirmed when as I cycled through WWF pay per view rental tapes at the local video store I came across the 1991-1992 run of Ric Flair in the WWF as the “real world’s champion” then eventual WWF champion.  In other words, the WWF wanted its title to be synonymous with the “real” world title which Flair held hailing from the more major promotion, again in my eyes, the WCW.

My view of Hogan and Savage was a bit complicated because while they were iconic faces I knew were wildly popular in pop culture, I was a Sting guy.  And, because he was the first world champion I ever saw in any capacity, Vader was my next favourite. Once Hogan and Savage were in though, Vader would never again get the title, and Sting only for brief stints during bungled or meaningless storylines.  Pop culture icons won out over my favourite wrestlers.

There’s a reason for that of course. Hogan and Savage were and are more iconic names in pro wrestling.  And, my view of history was largely wrong. The WWF was in fact always the big leagues in terms of money throughout the 80s, and WCW was barely even a company when I came into it in 1992.  While the storied Monday Night Wars were kicked off by an excess of spending of guaranteed money by WCW bringing in Hogan and Savage and Scott Hall and Kevin Nash and on and on, that spending spree sank WCW in the end when people not named Ted Turner weren’t willing to run a break-even or losing proposition to pay talent just to have wrestling on TV.

That though was 2000.  And back when the Monday Night Wars were just getting going, my theory still held. While the WCW champion would be an icon like Hogan or Savage or Flair, or an absolute stand out freak, like the Giant, the WWF belt was bouncing, in my mind, down to the mid-card, both the WWF’s and WCW’s.  

Bret Hart, to my late 80s and early 90s rented pay per view trained eye, was a tag team and Intercontinental Champion. The only IC champ to me who distinguished himself beyond that had been Savage, and to me then and now, Hart was no Savage.  Diesel was, well to me, Vinnie Vegas. Shawn Michaels was a tag and IC champ.  

What’s more in the mid-90s guys who couldn’t get over big in the WCW in the early 90s, some I liked and some I didn’t, were winning the Intercontinental Title and more in the mid-90s in the WWF. Think Dustin Rhodes, think Steve Austin, think Mick Foley, think Hunter Hurst Helmsley.  

Logical, no?  Again, history and time and perspective prove my young mind quite wrong.  Really, many of those guys left the WCW because they saw the writing on the wall that Hogan and his creative control clause were going to dominate the top of the card while not actually drawing the same numbers for WCW as his tired gimmick once had for the WWF.  Others were simply under-appreciated by WCW management, namely Eric Bischoff, who never really wavered from being all-in on the Hogan ticket.

What really was happening then was a major shift in talent, where WCW were losing one by one the homegrown and young talent that could have made the company later.

It took me until nearly the fall of WCW to realize what had happened.

To be clear, I got into mid to late 90s WWF TV big time.  I loved Stone Cold and Foley (ex WCW-ers of course). I hated the Rock and Bret Hart.  I was a teenager and there was always a chance, it seemed, female nudity might just happen.  The nWo and the legends that kept popping up in WCW held me too. I bought a second used TV and a cable splitter for my bedroom so I could watch Nitro and Raw simultaneously.

Somewhere around mid-1998, WCW started to lose me.  I guess I was the one not-Goldberg fan. I’d long lost interest in Hogan, heel or face, and after Slamboree ’98 the WCW had stolen a long Sting title run from me for the last time.  I too defected. Raw became the primary interest.

Chris Jericho did it to me.  Besides Sting not getting a long push, the lack of attention to Jericho was annoying me too.  There was a storyline in there where somehow the cruiserweight/TV champ level Jericho emerged as a main heel to Goldberg.  He was getting great heat as a guy going after the new top babyface. I had been digging the stars from that cruiserweight division, including Jericho, for a while, and loved that the new angle was going to be a smaller good wrestler going after the brute.  

Then it just kinda went away.  Jericho’s biography and podcast would later reveal Goldberg just didn’t want to work with Jericho, and probably had Hogan and Nash in his ear saying Jericho was beneath Goldberg.  Hell, Goldberg still pulls out the “it’s just not believable” line in interviews when asked about why a smaller Jericho couldn’t hang with him as if being bigger and stronger were all that ever mattered in pro wrestling.  

When Jericho showed up to huge ovations in the WWF to challenge the Rock after an incredible build with the Y2J campaign, and that awesome intro music, my switch was confirmed.  I left Nitro and put Raw on both screens. When I did try occasionally to check back in, WCW was rehashing a storyline from two years ago with the nWo or some kind of Vince Russo crazy was happening.  I clicked the second TV back to Raw quickly.

I wasn’t the only one that switched either.  The other really good wrestlers from WCW followed Jericho, chiefly future WWF champs Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit.  WCW began in 99 to bleed money away while plummeting in TV and PPV ratings, unable to ever get a foothold on a new good storyline at the right moment.  The rest is well-documented history.

I got a driver’s license and a ’74 Nova in late 1999 and I didn’t watch much of any TV anymore – I missed my first favourite wrestling brand going out of business, I missed the WWF botching the WCW invasion, I laughed when I heard even Hogan and the damned nWo were brought back—and wrestling faded away for a while.

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You can find me on Twitter @gritvanwinkle.

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