1998 turned out to be a pivotal year in the Monday Night Wars.
WCW and Nitro took the early lead in the ratings war which included an 83 week run of defeating Raw from June ’96 to April ’98. But the rise of Stone Cold Steve Austin and his rivalry with WWF owner Vince McMahon helped turn the tables and propel the WWF to the top of the leader board.
The Rock and Mankind won their first WWF titles this year, and along with the reformation of D-Generation X, the WWF in 1998 started to slowly bring through new superstars which brought a freshness to the product, something that WCW was, unfortunately, failing at.
The nWo was given a fresh new look, splitting to form nWo Hollywood – led by Hulk Hogan – and nWo Wolfpac – led by Kevin Nash and Sting. These factions would feud with each other (and internally) throughout the year meaning that a lot of the already main eventers just rotated around each other and left little space for anyone to break in.
An exception to this rule, however, was Goldberg, who went on an impressive win streak that caught the imagination of the fans. As you will read later, Goldberg won the WCW title from Hollywood Hulk Hogan and held the belt until the end of the year when his winning streak was cut short by Kevin Nash at Starrcade.
Both WWF and WCW made some big moves in the ratings war this year – some worked, some did not. I will present five memorable moments from 1998 that made this year one to remember in the Monday Night Wars.
15. Mike Tyson on Raw (19/01/98)
The use of celebrities in wrestling is quite common. Both WWF/WWE and WCW regularly used them throughout their history to garner mainstream media interest in the hope of gaining new viewers and fans. In early 1998 WWF signed Mike Tyson to appear at various events between January and WrestleMania in March in an attempt to do just that. At the time, Tyson was banned from boxing due to his famous Evander Holyfield ear-biting in 1997.
On January 19th 1998, Vince McMahon brought out Mike Tyson so he could announce his role at the upcoming WrestleMania XIV. But before he could announce anything, Stone Cold Steve Austin made his way down and told Tyson that he is “standing in Stone Cold’s ring”, and subsequently flipped him the double middle finger.
The Baddest Man on the Planet and the World’s Toughest S.O.B had to be pulled apart by numbers of WWF officials and Tyson’s entourage. The crowd was rabid and wanting Austin and Tyson to go at it, but the pull apart only heightened an already fever-pitch viewing audience.
McMahon was livid. He screamed at Austin saying that he had ruined the announcement. McMahon ultimately announced Tyson as the special guest enforcer for the WrestleMania XIV main event between Stone Cold and the WWF champion Shawn Michaels.
Before then, Tyson would join forces with Michaels as part of DX, but at WrestleMania, he turned and aligned himself with Stone Cold: counting the winning three count and laying out Michaels with a right hand.
Tyson’s three month run in the WWF made him a cool $3 million but the effect and momentum it passed onto Stone Cold Steve Austin made it all worthwhile. Austin went on to become the hottest star in wrestling history who was a major reason why Raw eventually overcame Nitro in the television ratings.
14. Austin vs McMahon breaks Nitro’s 83 consecutive weeks ratings win (13/04/98)
As mentioned before in this series, from June 17th 1996 until April 6th 1998 Nitro got the better of Raw in the television ratings leading to an 83 week run as the #1 rated wrestling program in North America. This came to an end on April 13th 1998 when the WWF advertised the first-ever Stone Cold Steve Austin vs Vince McMahon match that would main event that episode of Raw.
Coming out of WrestleMania XIV, Steve Austin was the WWF Champion and the hottest property in all of wrestling. His feud with Vince McMahon was at its boiling point: as detailed in part one, Austin had already laid McMahon out with the Stunner in September ’97 and the prior week on Raw – the night after WrestleManiaXIV – he embarrassed McMahon by ripping off his corporate suit and punching him below the belt.
On this night, Austin opened Raw by calling out Vince McMahon who came out with riot police protecting him. Austin ended up challenging Vince and said he could beat the owner with one arm tied behind his back. Austin even offered to put his newly won WWF title on the line to get the match.
Throughout the night McMahon, his stooges: Gerald Briscoe and Pat Patterson, and his son Shane were all shown huddled in Vince’s office discussing their options. Jim Ross was even in there at one point trying to talk Vince out of it. McMahon came out to the ring again and cut a seemingly dejected promo about the honor and integrity of the past WWF champions, pointing out Steve Austin currently lacks these qualities. He turned his promo round at the end when he answered the question on whether he would fight Austin with a stubborn “Oh Hell Yeah”.
The match itself did not end up taking place. The start was delayed with McMahon stacking the deck against the champion by taking Austin for his word and actually tying his hand behind his back. Before the referee could ring the bell, Dude Love made his way down to the ring and ended up applying the Mandible Claw to Stone Cold. Love threatened Vince too before ending the night brawling with Austin all-round ringside.
This record-breaking main event pulled in a 6.0 rating, a record for a head-to-head quarter at that time. WCW tried to counter with a rematch from the week prior with Kevin Nash vs Sting, but it was to no avail. The lure of an Austin vs McMahon showdown was enough to win the battle of the WWF and they did not look back from there.
13. DX invades Nitro (27/04/98)
Just a few weeks after Raw swung the ratings back in their favor, April 27th 1998 will be remembered as the night that DX tried to invade WCW Nitro. What is not widely known is that this episode of Raw would break records as being the most-watched wrestling program to date due to Nitro being taped and delayed until after midnight.
Raw and Nitro were both in the state of Virginia that night and because the arenas were only 20 miles apart, and after being on the receiving end of multiple recent cheap shots from WCW, McMahon saw a perfect opportunity to fire one back at WCW.
Triple H, X-Pac (who had recently returned to the WWF after being fired from WCW), Billy Gunn, Road Dogg, and Chyna rode to Nitro on the back of an army jeep. Throughout the night they were shown outside the building on megaphones shouting that they were firing the first shot in the war against WCW and that DX were the only ones who had the balls to go to the front line. They talked to fans and encouraged them to say they got their tickets for free and they even tried to enter the building only for the door to close as their vehicle got close to the entrance.
What is possibly more interesting is the alleged stories of what was going on behind the scenes inside both buildings as this was going on. Eric Bischoff, who said he had no prior knowledge of DX’s plans, said in hindsight he wished he would have let them in as it sure would have garnered a lot of interest and ratings. Vince McMahon supposedly had similar ideas if WCW tried to retaliate.
Both companies, again supposedly, had their toughest members of the rosters: Bradshaw, Gerald Briscoe, Meng, Barbarian, Ken Shamrock, Dave Taylor etc behind the doors and near parking lots in case either side did enter their building.
On making their way to the arena various WCW stars rode past DX, passing them off as excited fans and not realizing it was them. Kevin Nash, on hearing that his friends were outside, was supposedly trying to open the door to let them in.
This situation just added to the unpredictable nature of the Monday Night Wars at the time. Each week, every possible advantage was being taken to gain an upper hand in the ongoing battle for supremacy.
12. Goldberg wins the title from Hogan (06/07/98)
In 1997 and 1998 no-one in WCW was hotter than Bill Goldberg. He was a no-nonsense, hard-hitting, no gimmick but intriguingly charismatic bad-ass who went on a long winning streak, mauling opponent after opponent each week. His quick, chaotic and impactful matches were a huge hit and he quickly became the new shining light for WCW during this period.
Hoping to capitalize on Goldberg’s momentum with a short ratings boom, seemingly out of the blue on the July 2nd episode of WCW Thunder, it was announced that on July 6th just four days later, in Goldberg’s hometown and inside the 40k+ seated Georgia Dome, he would challenge then WCW Champion Hollywood Hulk Hogan for the title.
The match was originally scheduled to be a non-title, non-televised attraction in a bid to send the home town crowd home happy at the end of the night. But as the show approached the match was switched to appear on TV in the hope of winning that week’s ratings. And it worked. Nitro defeated Raw that week 4.93 to 4.0.
The match itself was a typical Goldberg match, going just over eight minutes and ending with Goldberg hitting the Jackhammer to pick up the win and the WCW title. The crowd was electric and the roar when Goldberg won was one of the loudest ever.
Some would say it was a success, some would say WCW hit the panic button for ratings and they blew a golden opportunity for a huge PPV buy rate, but we can all say that Goldberg’s win over Hogan is one of the loudest crowd reactions and most memorable moments from the Monday Night Wars.
11. The debut of Mr. Socko and THAT bedpan shot (05/10/98)
October 5th 1998 gave us two memorable moments in the one show-long angle. While recuperating in the hospital from a broken ankle thanks to The Undertaker and Kane, Mr. McMahon would receive some visitors in the hope of raising his spirits.
A heartbeat monitor was bleeping constantly in the background and would reflect the increasingly frustrated McMahon’s emotions throughout the night. Mankind brought Yurple the clown to help raise his spirits with balloon animals but it was Mankind himself who would bring something so simple to try and cheer up his boss that would catch-on and end up becoming a huge part of his persona even to this day.
Mankind went out of shot and brought out Mr. Socko: a puppet with a set of eyes and mouth quickly scribbled on a dirty white sock. He put on a squeaky voice and even tried to kiss McMahon’s bandaged ankle. Increasingly frustrated at the fuss being made of him, McMahon angrily ordered everyone out. Once they left, McMahon lay back in his bed, took a breath and cemented Socko’s legacy by looking to the heavens, shaking his head and disgustingly proclaiming “…Mr. Socko…”. And like that, in under three minutes, the legend of Mr. Socko was born.
What cannot be ignored is what also happened later that night. As McMahon was being looked over by a nurse, a familiar voiced doctor proclaimed “I’ll take it from here, nurse”.
The look on McMahon’s face said it all. His heart rate monitor immediately went into overdrive as Stone Cold Steve Austin, dressed in an operating gown and mask, leaped onto the bed and started hammering Vince with right hands to the head and ankle. Austin hit McMahon over the head with a bedpan, shocked him with shock pads, and rammed a catheter somewhere I would rather not mention.
The sound of the CLANG when the bedpan hit McMahon’s head would be repeated throughout history, and what at the time would have been nothing more than an entertaining skit gave birth to two of the most memorable moments of the Monday Night Wars.
HONORABLE MENTION – Bang 3:16 (19/10/98)
Another show-long angle only two weeks post-Socko and bedpan. Austin had been “fired” the night before at Judgement Day, so when he showed up backstage and ended up holding Mr. McMahon hostage, calamity would no doubt ensue.
After intimidating him backstage and tying him to his wheelchair, Austin wheeled McMahon to the ring for further humiliation. The hostage situation ended with Austin holding a toy gun to McMahon’s head, McMahon peeing himself, and Austin pulling the trigger to reveal a “Bang 3:16” flag from the end of the gun.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @oli_iai. Thanks for reading!