By 1999 WWF and WCW were deep into the Monday Night War.
Raw was having the better of Nitro and there seemed no way back as the weeks rolled along. WCW had shot themselves in the foot a few times in 1998, and it would only get worse in the years to come. They would experiment in shock tactics and ways to work both the fans and the workers themselves, ultimately alienating a lot of viewers who simply gave up and did not return. WCW had a midcard filled with stars who were shockingly underutilized and would go on to become the backbone of the WWF in the years following the war. The defections of these disgruntled stars began in 1999 and would continue until the end.
This year saw The Rock shoot to super-stardom in the WWF with a babyface turn after feuding with Stone Cold Steve Austin. Mankind was still one of the top stars, but the years were starting to take their toll and he was showing signs of beginning to wind down his in-ring career. The Undertaker and the Ministry of Darkness wreaked havoc on the McMahon family, and DX imploded leading to a heel Triple H and eventually the formation of the McMahon-Helmsley regime.
1999 will be remembered for a lot of significant moments within the Monday Night Wars, so much so that I have had to split them over parts 3 and 4 of this series. There were turns, title wins, weird alliances, and worked shoots. But when tragedy struck it gave a shock dose of reality and a sobering reminder of the risks being used in the Monday Night Wars. ’99 was surely one to remember, here are 5 memorable moments from the first half of the year.
10. Finger Poke of Doom (04/01/99)
As mentioned in part two of the series, Goldberg beat Hollywood Hogan to win the WCW title on July 6th 1998. He continued on his hot winning streak until Starrcade 98 where his momentum was halted as he lost to Kevin Nash after being zapped with a cattle prod from Scott Hall.
If switching the belt from a red-hot Goldberg to then booker Kevin Nash wasn’t bad enough, what followed only 8 nights later would accelerate WCW’s demise ten-fold.
What is now infamously known as “The Finger Poke of Doom” took place on Nitro on January 4th 1999. Airing from the Georgia Dome, the sight of Goldberg’s title win against Hogan in 1998, WCW champion and nWo Wolfpac leader Kevin Nash had organized a rematch between himself and Goldberg. But in true WCW fashion, hi-jinx ensued throughout the night and the match did not take place.
Goldberg was arrested for charges of stalking Miss Elizabeth and was taken to the local police station. Upon questioning, Elizabeth admitted she made them up and Goldberg was released, but he could not make it back in time for his scheduled title match with Nash.
In Goldberg’s absence, Nash challenged Hulk Hogan to a match as he suspected that Hogan had something to do with Goldberg’s arrest. The main event of Hulk Hogan vs Kevin Nash was set.
So when the match began and after only a few seconds of circling Nash took a theatrical back bump after being poked in the chest by Hulk Hogan, everyone watching was absolutely perplexed.
Hogan covered Nash and the ref counted to three. Immediately, Hogan and Nash popped to their feet and began laughing and hugging each other. Scott Steiner and Scott Hall, who had accompanied Hogan and Nash respectively, jumped in to join the party as Hogan waved the WCW title high above his head. A double swerve.
Goldberg arrived back at the arena and stormed the ring and was joined by nWo Wolfpac member Lex Luger. Goldberg was about to Jackhammer Hogan when Luger jumped Goldberg too. Another swerve. Luger put Goldberg in the torture rack, Hall used the cattle prod on him, and Hogan spray painted”nWo” across his back. By the closing segments, Buff Bagwell and Miss Elizabeth had also joined the Goldberg humiliation party.
The criticism for this angle was rife, and rightly so. The illusion of professional wrestling is not a secret. We are all in on it, we know it is not a real fight between those in the ring, the outcomes are predetermined and the storylines are either scripted or planned in advance. But while watching, we allow ourselves to suspend our disbelief. The same way we pretend to believe the film we are watching or the television series we are watching is real, and we allow ourselves to get sucked into the story, the action, and the emotion.
WCW here made a mockery of the illusion of professional wrestling. Slapping the fans across the face with what we already know, then laughing at us for going along with it. No wonder their viewing figures plummeted the way they did in their final years.
Amazingly this was not the only instance of this situation in WCW around this time. At Bash at the Beach 2000, Hogan would be involved again as Jeff Jarrett would lay down at the start of their scheduled match for the WCW title, allowing Hogan to pin him and be awarded the title. The only difference here is that Hogan acted like he knew nothing about it, and was angry afterward, cutting a scathing promo on Vince Russo which would ultimately lead to lawsuits and Hogan not being seen on WCW television again.
9. Mankind Wins The WWF Title (04/01/99)
On January 4th 1999 both the WCW and WWF world titles changed hands, but the differences were miles apart. Where WCW had the Fingerpoke of Doom (see above), the WWF had one of their hardest workers, and most beloved characters overcome the odds and finally reach the top of the mountain to the delight of the crowd in attendance and viewing public at home. Mankind and the Rock had been feuding since Survivor Series 98 when the Rock aligned himself with Vince McMahon to join the Corporation. A title match had followed at the December PPV Rock Bottom, and with Shawn Michaels and DX involved it led to this no disqualification match on Raw.
The match itself was good. The Corporation was in the corner of the Rock, and DX were in Mankind’s. They brawled around the ring, used the ring bell and went through the announcer’s table. A chair shot from Ken Shamrock ignited a huge ringside brawl that distracted the Corporation long enough for the finish to take place.
Austin’s music hit and the crowd went wild. He hit The Rock with a chair shot, Mankind flopped an arm over the champion, and Earl Hebner counted the one, two, three. The evil Corporation with its arrogant champion had been defeated. After months of humiliation and put-downs, years of never being told he was not “championship material”, Mankind had finally won the WWF title and was recognized as their champion.
In hindsight, what is now just as memorable from this night is what was said earlier in the evening by WCW commentator Tony Schiavone. During Nitro, Schiavone was instructed to announce the WWF title switch (as Raw was being played on tape delay after being recorded a week earlier). Schiavone uttered the sentence “And we understand that Mick Foley, who wrestled here one time as Cactus Jack is going to win their world title….huh-that will put some butts in seats.”
What was meant as a put-down and a cheap trick to try and keep viewers from switching channels, backfired in the worst possible way. The biggest shift in viewers and ratings happened when they announced the upcoming title switch, making Mankind’s WWF title win one of the most viewed in the history of the Monday Night Wars. Good job WCW!
8. Austin Gives The Corporation A Beer Bath (22/03/99)
Stone Cold Steve Austin’s choice of vehicles during the Attitude Era were all memorable in their own way. Be it a monster truck, an ice hockey Zamboni, a cement mixer, or in this instance: a beer truck.
As The Rock, Vince McMahon and Shane stood in the ring on the go-home Raw before WrestleMania XV, Austin gatecrashed the party by driving a beer truck down to the ring, nearly taking the titan tron down with him.
A fired-up Austin climbed on top of the truck, a good 15 feet off the ground and described how on Sunday he is going to check right into the SmackDown! Hotel, roll into room 316 and burn that son-of-a-bitch to the ground!
He climbed down and went out of shot. The Rock got on the mic again and began mouthing off but was stopped in his tracts when Austin emerged with a fire hose full of Coors Light and it erupted right into the face of the WWF champion knocking him, Vince and Shane to the ground.
All 3 members of the Corporation were drenched and were slipping and sliding all over as the beer soaked every part of the ring. The Rock would later go on to gain a little bit of payback with a Rock Bottom, but for now, Austin had humiliated him and took a big step forward towards regaining his WWF title at WrestleMania XV.
7. Bret Hart Outsmarts Goldberg (29/03/99)
By this time in the Monday Night War WCW was in a bad way. Bad booking decisions after bad booking decisions had driven the fans away at an alarming rate, and the positive memorable moments were increasingly hard to come by. However, this one was pretty good.
As Nitro was hailing from Canada, Bret Hart came out to cut a promo dressed in a Calgary Hitmen hockey jersey. He talked the Canadian National anthem, switched into a Toronto Maple Leafs top then called out Bill Goldberg for a fight. Goldberg answered and came out, hit the ring and speared Hart.
However, unlike other spears, Goldberg didn’t get up. After the impact, both stars lay on the mat seemingly rocked and suffering the effects of the move. However, Bret started to move first. He shuffled and rolled a lifeless Goldberg off him, covered him and slapped the mat three times. He pulled himself up to his feet and slowly took off the hockey jersey to reveal his masterplan – a steel plate strapped to his torso.
Bret had provoked Goldberg into unknowingly spearing him, but also clattering his head off the steel plate knocking him out in the process. The look on Bret’s face as he got to his feet told the story. He had outsmarted and stopped the seemingly unstoppable Goldberg.
6. Raw is Owen (24/05/99)
Owen Hart tragically lost his life on May 23rd 1999 at the WWF PPV Over the Edge after he fell from the rafters of the Kemper Arena before his entrance for his scheduled match with the Godfather. His entrance was designed to be a spoof superhero entrance as he would be lowered to the ring via cables and a safety harness, only for the cables to stop above the ring leaving him hovering around until he used a quick-release function to drop into the ring.
However, an accident occurred with the quick release function of the harness and he fell more than 70 feet into the ring and died from the injuries shortly after. He was 34 years old.
The next night on Raw, the WWF held a tribute night to Owen. The tribute consisted of a 10 bell salute, video packages and recorded messages from his colleagues and friends, heartbroken at the events of the last 24 hours. Some had stories of Owen’s legendary pranks, others had more heartfelt messages, but all were grief stricken with an overlying blanket of sadness covering all involved.
Some matches took place during the show, but they were not designed to be the focus of the show or continued any storylines.
If you didn’t know Owen Hart before this night then you would have learned that he loved his family dearly, he had a fantastic sense of humor, was a loving and kind person, and a great friend to many of the WWF roster. This night was a fantastic tribute to a tremendous professional wrestler, but the night was about much more than wrestling. It was a tribute to a life that was suddenly and tragically lost. Owen was a friend, an uncle, a brother, a son, a husband, and a father. To this day he is sorely missed by all who knew him.
It’s Me Austin (07/06/99)
Vince McMahon underwhelmed us all as he revealed himself as the Undertaker’s “higher power” the Deadman had been answering to. Another cog -albeit misshaped- in the wheel of the Austin vs McMahon feud.
As we look ahead to the final part of the Monday Night Wars series, we will take a look at memorable and important pieces of the puzzle in the run-in to WCW closing its doors and the WWF purchasing their fiercest adversary.
Who jumped ship? What did WCW do to try and get back on track? And what WWF angle broke all sorts of records? All of these questions plus many more will be answered as we reveal the last 5 memorable moments from the Monday Night Wars in the fourth and final part of the series next week.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @oli_iai. Thanks for reading!