Between September 4th, 1995 to March 26th, 2001 the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) and World Championship Wrestling (WCW) were locked in a battle every Monday night for television ratings.
This head-to-head battle played out in front of millions of viewers each week as WCW’s newly created show: Monday Nitro looked to knock the WWF’s Monday Night RAW off its podium as the most popular wrestling show on American television at the time.
And they did just that, in the very first head-to-head battle on September 11th, 1995.
From then on the tug of war for ratings was on and seemed like neither company had any risks they wouldn’t take to grab viewers from the opposition. Cheap shots were made, knives were stuck in backs, and tragically, even lives were lost along the way.
Most said that the war would split the current audience and ratings would drop. However, it did quite the opposite. Ratings more than doubled for both shows at their peak and the fans grew and grew as the Attitude Era emerged. The shows quickly unraveled into a wild unpredictable ride filled with surprises, shocks and swerves.
In this four-part series I will turn back time and reminisce about many memorable moments from Raw and Nitro in what many call the most exciting time in professional wrestling history:
The Monday Night Wars.
20. Nitro’s debut (04/09/19)
Where better to start than where this all began. Nitro debuted unopposed as Raw was pre-empted that night. The one hour broadcast was held from the Mall of America in Minneapolis in front of an excited crowd eager to sample this new show.
Brian Pillman kicked things off with his long-time rival Jushin Thunder Liger, Ric Flair clashed with Sting in a match between two of WCW’s biggest stars, and finally, Hulk Hogan battled Big Bubba Rogers (Big Boss Man) in the main event.
In a time where squash matches were the norm for television, and star vs star matches were kept for pay per view, Flair, Sting, and Hulk Hogan all wrestling for free on television in 1995 was a very big deal and a clear statement of intent moving forward. Coupled with the debut of Lex Luger, who had just worked from the WWF the night before, it immediately grabbed the attention of the audience and gained a very respectable 2.5 rating for that time.
Luger confronted Hogan after the main event and started the build towards the next week where the two would meet for the first time. That show, which was the first head-to-head with the WWF, beat Raw in the ratings by 2.5 to 2.2 and from then on- the battle was on.
19. Madusa dumps WWF Women’s title in the garbage (18/12/95)
Debrah Miceli, also known as Alundra Blayze to the WWF fans and Madusa to the WCW fans, was the WWF Women’s champion and still possessed the physical championship belt when her WWF contract expired in early December 1995. When she signed for WCW and made Eric Bischoff aware of this, he knew he had a golden opportunity to fire a shot at the WWF.
During the opening moments of December 18th, 1995 Nitro, Madusa approached the announcer’s position, name-dropped the WWF Women’s Championship and proceeded to drop the belt in a garbage can, declaring herself the newest member of the WCW roster.
This sent shock waves around the wrestling world as not only was the WWF mentioned on WCW television, one of their title belts was demeaned in such a way on national television too.
It has been speculated that this act prompted Vince McMahon to act in the way he did during the Montreal Screwjob, making sure that Bret Hart did not have the WWF title before his switch to WCW in late 1997, by any means necessary. A small cog in the butterfly effect wheel of the Monday Night Wars.
18. Scott Hall debuts in WCW (27/05/96)
Wrestling trivia note: Scott Hall interrupted Mike Enos vs Steve Doll when he made his WCW debut on March 27th, 1996. Hall, who had recently appeared on WWF television as Razor Ramon, gatecrashed the match as the commentary team of Larry Zbyszko and Tony Schiavone played it off like it wasn’t part of the script and that someone was invading the program.
At the end of the show, Hall confronted Eric Bischoff and Bobby Heenan where he made the first mention of “we” which started the speculation that there were more “invaders” involved. He said they had come down from “up north”- a reference to the WWF, and challenged any 3 of WCW’s wrestlers to go to war in the ring.
This night kicked off arguably the hottest angle in wrestling history. Hall was soon joined by Kevin Nash, who had previously appeared on WWF television as Diesel, and they began teasing a mystery third man who would join them in their 6 man tag match at Bash at the Beach. A lot of rumours circulated at the time, would it be another former WWF star? Or would it be a current WCW star who would defect to join “The Outsiders”? In the end, it turned out to be both.
The third man was Hulk Hogan. At Bash at the Beach 96, Hogan triumphantly returned to seemingly save WCW and to come to the aid of Randy Savage. But moments later he shocked the world by dropping his famous Legdrop on Savage and turned heel in the process. He then took the mic named himself, Hall and Nash as the New World Order.
17. Austin stuns McMahon (22/09/97)
Hailing from Madison Square Garden in New York City, the September 22nd, 1997 episode of Monday Night Raw ignited the storyline that would eventually bring the WWF back to the top of the wrestling world. With help from the formation of the nWo, from June 1996 WCW held onto the #1 spot in the ratings for 83 weeks until the WWF finally toppled their adversaries with a Steve Austin vs Vince McMahon advertised main event in April 1998. The Austin vs McMahon feud would continue until 1999 when Austin took time off for neck surgery.
But for now, back to where it began in 1997.
Earlier in the evening, Austin had promised someone was going to get the Stone Cold Stunner, and everyone thought that man would be his rival at the time, Owen Hart. As Hart was in the ring celebrating a DQ win over Brian Pillman, Austin attacked him and broke the restraining order he had against him. Angered, Vince McMahon entered the ring from the commentary table and told the police offers ready to arrest Austin to back off. McMahon then belittled Austin, listing off all the reasons he should be unhappy: forced relinquishment of the Intercontinental title, not being able to compete because of (legitimate) injury, and WWF doctors not clearing him to wrestle.
McMahon told Austin he had “to work within the system” and Austin seemed to agree to work within McMahon’s boundaries. That was until he bluntly told McMahon to “kiss his ass” and gave him the Stone Cold Stunner.
Austin, the beloved rebel, was put in handcuffs and escorted up the ramp by NYC policemen. This confrontation catapulted Austin to the #1 babyface in the company, striking a chord with millions around the world who would love to do the same thing to their boss. September 22nd, 1997 was the night it all started and the simple story of working man vs evil boss is still fondly remembered as one of, if not the greatest feuds ever.
16. Rick Rude appears on both Raw and Nitro (17/11/97)
Looking back at the Monday Night Wars, you could easily argue that memorable moments were happening on an almost weekly basis. However, on November 17th, 1997 something unique happened.: a talent appeared on both Raw and Nitro on the same night.
A bearded Rick Rude appeared on the November 17th pre-taped edition of Raw in a segment with DX. At that time, Rude was on one of a very few WWF talents who were regularly appearing on television but did not have a signed contract with the company, basically, he was a free agent.
After his return to the WWF in 1997, and while working without a contract, Rude had allegedly contacted Eric Bischoff to open negotiations with WCW. This all took place months before the Montreal Screwjob, but after what went down at Survivor Series 1997, Rude was upset at how Vince McMahon handled the situation and a deal with Bischoff and WCW was struck which allowed Rude to appear on this edition of Nitro.
WCW Monday Nitro was live on November 17th so when a clean-shaven Rude debuted as the newest member of the ever-growing nWo, it was another shot fired at the WWF and McMahon that one of their talents just walked over to the competition. On the show Rude said Shawn Michaels did not beat Bret Hart, and that Hart was robbed at Survivor Series. Rude also announced that Hart would be joining the nWo when he debuted.
Elsewhere that night: Vince McMahon appeared on Raw to give his “Bret Screwed Bret” sit down interview with Jim Ross.
HONORABLE MENTION – Hall and Nash wreck havoc on WCW (29/07/96)
The Outsiders; Hall and Nash attack WCW employees backstage, including the famous sight of Nash tossing Rey Mysterio headfirst like a dart into a nearby production truck.
In the next few weeks leading up to the new television war in October between WWE and AEW, I will be chronologically highlighting the best and most memorable moments from the last famous television rating war between WCW and the then WWF. In this week’s article, we had the lines being drawn in the sand, early cheap shots being fired, and foundations being laid for angles and storylines to be built upon. Next week we will highlight 1998 and have a look at where the tide turned for the WWF and a year where the Monday Night War ramped up.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @oli_iai. Thanks for reading!