As we countdown the final part in the series, we look at the second half of 1999 up to March 2001.
We look at 5 top moments from this period and analyze the recurring theme of positive moments from WWF and negative from WCW.
What started as a huge success back in 1995, Nitro had been driven into the ground by a barrage of bad booking decisions and horrible title changes. They tried to hot-shot matches for a quick rating bumps instead of waiting out until they could have drawn some serious money at pay per view.
At a time where WCW seemed obsessed with only the TV rating for Nitro, they neglected longer-term trends such as PPV buyrates and live show attendances to compete with Monday Night Raw.
The WWF, on the other hand, went from strength to strength. They picked up some of WCW’s top performers to help freshen up their in-ring action (Chris Jericho, Big Show, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Perry Saturn, and Dean Malenko), intertwined them with their own stacked roster and showed their competition what they could have done with the talent they had at their disposal.
The WWF continued to explode with popularity at this time with The Rock and Mankind feuding with emerging evil Triple H before the eventual return of Steve Austin in 2000 all but finished the war off.
Picking 5 moments from a year and a half’s worth of shows was again very hard. But here are the last 5 memorable moments from the Monday Night War.
Triple H wins the title (23/08/99)
Triple H picked up his first of 14 (and counting) world titles the night after SummerSlam 1999. Controversy surrounded the SummerSlam main event with rumors circulating that champion Stone Cold Steve Austin was not happy dropping the title to Trips but would be happy to lay down for Mankind instead.
Mankind pinned Austin at SummerSlam in a triple threat match that also featured HHH, and then the next night Triple H beat Mankind to lift the title.
5. Chris Jericho Debuts (09/08/99)
Chris Jericho was given a fantastic launching pad on his debut night in the WWF. On August 9th 1999 he debuted opposing the hottest act at the time: The Rock, in a back-and-forth verbal exchange that lives on as one of the best in the Monday Night Wars.
Jericho had designed his own introduction. While standing in line in a post office (remember them?!), he saw a Millennium countdown clock ticking down towards the year 2000. He thought that would be a great way to debut a new superstar in a promotion, then a light bulb instantly went off and he picked that idea to use as his countdown to his imminent arrival in the WWF.
In the weeks leading up to his debut, a “Countdown to the Millennium” clock would appear sporadically on Raw counting down the days, hours, minutes and seconds. However, the mathematicians among us calculated that the clock would run short of December 31st, instead landing on Monday, August 9th.
That night as The Rock was in the ring cutting one of his usual electric promos, the countdown clock appeared and the crowd chanted along as the seconds ticked down from 10 to 0. The light went out, a BANG of fireworks made everyone jump out their seats, and a new song and titan tron video started playing.
The crowd was red hot in anticipation. They were watching this new entrance video eager to find out who was behind the millennium countdown. It was not until “JERICHO” flashed on the titan tron that the crowd erupted in one of the loudest pops in WWF history.
The Chicago crowd ate up Jericho’s debut. His name was rumored as possibly being the man behind the countdown, and the pay-off was perfect.
As mentioned, his back-and-forth with The Rock displayed his mic skills to a new audience and showed the WWF had initial high hopes for him. The less said about the rest of his 1999 and early 2000 run the better, as it did take Jericho a good 6 months to fully settle into the WWF way. But this build-up, reveal and pay-off with the Rock was one to remember.
4. This Is Your Life (27/09/99)
A 20-minute long segment between the Rock and Mankind broke the record for the head-to-head quarter-hour ratings on September 27th 1999.
Mankind hosted a “This Is Your Life” segment for the Rock, which included surprise personnel and scenarios from the Rock’s past. The segment got an 8.39 rating against Nitro’s 1.58: the biggest gulf in history. The Rock was scheduled to face Triple H later on in the night for the WWF title, but this segment with Mankind ended up being more memorable than the title match later on.
The segment itself, in all honesty, wasn’t as good as the 8.39 rating says it was. The comedy was so-so and most of the jokes fell flat. Only the mic work between Rock and Mankind kept things going and was the best thing about it all. The Rock had some choice words for his home economics teacher, high school coach, high school girlfriend, and even Yurple the clown. The segment was brought to an abrupt end when Triple H ran down with his sledgehammer.
With all of the above taken into consideration, this goes to show just how hot the Rock and the WWF were at the time. The same segment with anyone else would have fallen flat but the Rock’s great mic work and comical timing saved the day.
The crowd ate up all his one-liners and catchphrases and just underlined the fact that the WWF was the hottest product at that time in the Monday Night War.
3. The Radicalz Jump Ship (31/1/2000)
What is roundly seen as one of the final nails in WCW’s coffin was when Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Perry Saturn, and Dean Malenko left WCW and joined the WWF in January 2000. They would have been joined by Konnan and Shane Douglas however previous bad blood with the WWF prevented this from happening.
The group that would be known as the Radicalz in the WWF were continually underutilized throughout their careers in WCW.
Constantly overlooked due to their smaller size but more often than not carried in the in-ring work and had the best matches on every show. Once Kevin Sullivan replaced Vince Russo as head booker, the Radicalz (plus Konnan and Douglas) all asked to be released from their WCW contracts.
The history between Benoit and Sullivan is best kept for another time, but all involved had grudges against Sullivan for the way he handled them during his previous run as WCW booker.
After broken promises by WCW and the threat of a lawsuit against them, WCW granted them all their releases that allowed them the freedom to work anywhere in the world immediately.
They debuted on Raw on January 31st 2000 by taking front row seats during a WWF tag team title match between the New Age Outlaws and Steve Blackman and Al Snow. After a confrontation with Road Dogg, they jumped the rail and attacked the Outlaws. Later as they were talking with Cactus Jack, they were confronted by Triple H and Stephanie who threw them out the building. But they were here and their WWF careers had started.
Benoit and Guerrero would go onto become two of the best in-ring workers in WWE history and go on to hold the World Heavyweight and WWE championships respectively, creating a special moment at the end of WrestleMania XX as they both ended the night in the ring celebrating and holding the companies top two belts.
Saturn and Malenko’s WWF careers were not as impactful however their collective jump as part of the Radicalz from WCW to WWF was a huge moment and only continued WWF’s upward momentum.
2. Vince Russo wins the WCW World Title (25/10/2000)
If you are not already aware of this seemingly unimaginable fact, no there is no typo, and the date is not the 1st of April.
Once Vince McMahon’s right-hand man and then-current WCW head of creative, Vince Russo won the companies most prized title on the September 25th 2000 edition of Monday Nitro. Of all the haphazard moments throughout WCW’s dying days, this one was one to remember (or forget, depending on who you ask).
The week before this monumental night, Russo became the #1 contender when he pinned Scott Steiner in a tag team match after Booker T had waffled him with a baseball bat and dragged Russo on top of him for the pin. In true WCW fashion Russo wasn’t even part of the match (Jeff Jarrett & Scott Steiner vs Sting & Booker T) and just stumbled out for the finish.
So Russo challenged Booker T for his World title on September 25th inside a ‘Hell in a Cell’ that WCW called a steel cage. One of the original concepts of a cage was to use it as a blow-off to a feud filled with run-ins and interference.
A cage match would be used to keep two wrestlers inside and everyone else outside. Simple. However this concept was lost on WCW as Ric Flair and Goldberg got inside the cell to interfere, Sting and Mike Awesome found themselves on the roof to stop Russo leaving, Scott Steiner got involved by slamming the door into Booker stopping him from leaving, all this while another 10+ bodies brawled around ringside.
The finish was Russo winning via “escaping” the cage. If you can call Goldberg spearing him full force through one of the cage panels and crashing him into the guard rail “escaping”.
In even more confusing fashion, Booker walked out the cage door as Russo hit the ground so we went off the air not knowing who the champion was. It wasn’t confirmed until days later on Thunder that Russo hit the floor first and was indeed the new champion.
If movie actor David Arquette winning the WCW title earlier in 2000 wasn’t bad enough (nope, not another typo), this was the nail in the coffin for the title’s drawing power. Arquette had held it, Russo had held it, it had been vacated FIVE times that year so far (there would be a sixth coming the very next week), and in April and May, the belt switched hands NINE times (not including being vacated twice). The title had lost all prestige and couldn’t be taken seriously anymore.
From here until WCW ended in March 2001 Booker won the vacated belt again and it only switched to Steiner who held it until the final Nitro where Booker won it back again. But too little too late. The constant switching and vacating and comedy champions lost the fan’s interest and became one of many reasons for their eventual collapse.
1. The Final Nitro (26/03/2001)
We started with the first Nitro, so we should bookend the series with the final Nitro. Details over the build-up, purchase, fallout, plans, and aftermath are well documented elsewhere (see the end of this article) so I will stick to the night in question as much as possible.
WCW Nitro’s final episode took place on March 26th 2001 from Panama City, Florida and it opened with Vince McMahon backstage addressing the situation from Cleveland, Ohio on Monday Night Raw.
For those in the know at the time, it was the hard-hitting truth in front of our very eyes: WWF had purchased WCW. Vince told us so. He had purchased the competition and now owned WCW. What he didn’t tell us was the fee was around $2.5 million and included all historical footage and current titles and trademarks.
He would also go on to acquire the contracts of current WCW stars such as Booker T, Diamond Dallas Page, Lance Storm, and a whole host of lesser named talent. The bigger stars who would eventually show up in WWF in the coming years: Goldberg, Hogan, Flair, Nash even Eric Bischoff all had their contracts with Time Warner and not WCW, so WWF chose not to buy them out and instead let them sit at home and collect their paychecks until their deals ran out.
But back to Florida.
The night was dubbed “Night of the Champions” and was filled with title matches throughout the night: Booker T defeated Scott Steiner to win the WCW title and leave the show as both WCW and United States champion, Shane Helms retained the WCW Cruiserweight title against Chavo Guerrero Jr., WCW Tag Team Champions Chuck Palumbo, and Sean O’Haire successfully defended against Lance Storm and Mike Awesome, Shawn Stasiak beat Bam Bam Bigelow, Billy Kidman and Rey Mysterio, after winning an earlier 3-way tag team match, won the sometimes forgotten about WCW Cruiserweight tag titles when they beat Elix Skipper and Kid Romero, and Sting tapped out Ric Flair in the main event.
The night ended with an angle setting up the next 6 month’s worth of WWF storylines: The WCW and ECW Invasion. Vince was in the ring addressing his purchase and letting the world know he would sign his WCW contract at WrestleMania X7. He took a live poll with the fans on who WWF should sign from WCW but Shane McMahon soon cut him off and appeared live on Nitro. He told his dad that the name of the contract was a McMahon.. but it said Shane McMahon. From there on, in storyline, Shane was the owner of WCW and the WCW Invasion started a few short months later.
So how could you conclude the Monday Night Wars?
It was exciting, it was shocking, it smashed old records and set new ones. It brought in a ton of new fans and made a lot of people A LOT of money. It is often looked back on fondly, and with the likes of Austin vs McMahon, the nWo, Goldberg, DX and The Rock- rightly so.
But watching back with 2019 eyes a lot of it does not age well. It wasn’t all great, it wasn’t all memorable. However, we tend to think back to the good times and they always seem to -eventually- outweigh the bad. For a lot of us (myself included), this time brings back good memories. After the lull of the mid-90s, this period brought me back as a wrestling fan and got me hooked all over again.
In the end, the WWF won. WCW was losing a lot of money, they lost their television time and their assets were purchased by WWF for $2.5 million. WWF then went onto become the WWE and the monster that it is today. There has been an attempted “war” since then, TNA Impact tried their hand in 2010 but failed, and we are now only days away from a new challenge. All Elite Wrestling (AEW) will debut their Dynamite show head to head with WWE’s third brand: NXT on Wednesday Nights.
I would like to give credit to Bryan Alvarez for his books “The Death of WCW” and “100 Things WWE Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die”, and Dave Meltzer for his Wrestling Observer Newsletters. I cannot recommend these books and newsletter subscription enough for anyone remotely interested in this series or for those of you who think they know it all about this time in wrestling’s history. These resources are a wealth of knowledge that was used to cross-check facts, figures, ratings, attendances, and the often convoluted timelines and series of events throughout this period.
The WWE Network is there too to relive all episodes mentioned in this series, plus many many more memorable moments from the WWF vs WCW Monday Night Wars.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @oli_iai. Thanks for reading!