Before we get going, I should set the stage with all the relevant historical information on the epic Monday Night War.
Panama City Beach, FL
Aired live on TNT, 3/26/01
Backstage at Raw (in Cleveland, OH) Vince McMahon opened the show gloating about how he purchased WCW. The fate of WCW “is in my hands,” he ominously crowed. He vowed that all would be revealed on the first-ever Nitro/Raw simulcast later in the evening. On a Surreal Scale from 1-10, this was a 27.
The horrid late-2000 open for Nitro aired one last time. Tony Schiavone welcomed us a “landmark” night for the sports entertainment. Schiavone and Scott Hudson were at the broadcast table and Tony, in particular, looked like someone had slipped a turd in his double-decker taco supreme. Well, given the fact that Tony was none too popular with the slew of WWF staff that was backstage all day, that may be more than just a figure of speech.
The show was called both “A Night Of Champions” (because all the WCW gold was on the line) and “Spring Breakout 2001” (because it was their annual outdoor show complete with swimming pool set).
Ric Flair walked out to a huge pop and I’d give half of my uncensored Gail Kim pics to know what was really going through that man’s mind at that moment. Flair rattled off a list of past WCW greats…and Buff Bagwell. The hell? Flair said that at “12:00 today,” someone special to him told him not to go out on that show, knowing he would be on TNT for the last time. Flair put over his 14 World Titles and called WCW “the greatest wrestling organization in the world.” Flair talked about how WCW was “on a par with any wrestling organization in the world” thanks to the Horsemen, the Steiners, the Road Warriors, and “the Stings?” Well, there was also NWO Sting, so why not? By the end, he was a better worker than both Steiners, that’s for damn sure. Flair said they ran neck-and-neck with Vince McMahon for years, and pointed out that when Vince Sr. was on the old NWA Board Of Directors, he voted for Flair to be the World champion. Line of the night. A fan in a La Parka mask held up a sign that said “McMahon is Satan.” Just perfect. Flair said it was never about the boys; it was always WWF vs. WCW. Flair talked about the wrestling lifestyle as only he can, and vowed that Vince can’t control them (the boys) or their futures. In closing, Flair said that his “greatest opponent” over the years in WCW was Sting, so to go out on a high note, Flair wanted one more match with Sting. Flair told Sting it was his last chance to be the man. A goosebump-inducing promo that ranks right up there with the best of ‘em. Whether you loved or hated WCW, this was an emotional night for wrestling fans, and if you couldn’t appreciate the weight of Flair’s words at that moment, then I feel sorry for you.
Some people were actually mad that Flair put over Sting as his “greatest opponent,” feeling that he shortchanged Rick Steamboat. Usually, I’M the one kvetching about historical minutia like that, but this time and this time only, gimmie a fucking break. Flair was doing what Flair does best, and that’s put over his match. Should Flair have called Sting his “SECOND-greatest opponent ever”? The fact of the matter is that it didn’t get any more WCW than Flair vs. Sting, which was always something of a fallback feud over the years for WCW. They’d teamed together, fought each other, and traded a lot of gold over the years. In fact, Flair vs. Sting was one of the marquee matches for the very first Nitro, back on 9/4/95, so tonight really was coming full circle for them, if not the fans. I’d even go as far as to say that these were the two most popular wrestlers in the history of the promotion. Face it, Flair vs. Sting was the best (and I’d even say, the ONLY) possible main event for the final WCW television program ever.
As they panned the crowd, a crude fan sign taunted, “VINCE, 1ST XFL, NOW WCW, YOU’RE A DUMBASS.” I’m pretty sure the director knew he wasn’t Stamford-bound, so he chose to get in his licks where he could.
Trivbit: Scott Steiner was the only wrestler to compete on both the last Nitro and the first Raw, where he and Rick squashed a masked jobber team called “The Executioners” (1/11/93).
The first of many segments aired with Vince in his office backstage at the live Raw. Vince was on the phone with his lawyer running down WCW’s last show being aired in a “drunken redneck bar on the panhandle.”
2) Rey Misterio Jr. & Billy Kidman won a sudden-death three-way over Two Count (Shannon Moore & Evan Karagis) and The Jung Dragons (Kaz Hayashi & Yang) to earn a shot at the CW Tag Title later in the show at approximately 3:36 (no opening bell).
Trish Stratus brought Vince some champagne to celebrate. Vince ravished her, throwing the bottle to the carpet, where its contents gushed out. You can’t tell me that this wasn’t one of those planned Vince double-entendres. WCW employees didn’t know if they were going to be on the breadline the next day, while he let champagne go to waste on the floor. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t Nero playing the fiddle while Rome burned, but for today, it’s close enough.
3) CW champion “Sugar” Shane Helms pinned Chavo Guerrero Jr. to retain the title at 4:40.
Not to be outdone in the emotional promo department, a contemplative Booker T said he had mixed feelings as he was both the World champion and U.S. champion, yet it was the closing of WCW. Book said this was the end of one chapter, but there were many more to come as he continued to prove that he was the best wrestler in the world. You could tell that tonight got to the Bookerman as much as anyone. Told ya he was a great pick for Nitro’s last World champion.
Almost as an unintentional counterbalance to Book’s earnest words, Lance Storm came out in character and demanded fans rise for the Canadian National Anthem. Well, the final WCW show was still a WCW show, after all.
Back on Raw, Michael Cole interrupted the Vince-Trish snugglefest. COCK BLOCK~! Cole asked Vince what would become of fans who were worried that they would never see “their brand of sports entertainment again,” or for that matter, “WCW competitors who don’t know if they’ll ever get the chance to compete again.” Vince understandably blew up at Cole, which understandably turned Trish into a quivering mound of silicone.
Back at the Nitro broadcast table, Tony slowly disintegrated before our very eyes. His big meltdown is coming up shortly…
4) World Tag champions Chuck Palumbo & Sean O’Haire beat Lance Storm & Mike Awesome to retain the title at 3:21.
5) Shawn Stasiak (w/ Stacy Keibler) pinned Bam Bam Bigelow in a “tattoo match” at 1:24.
Over on Raw (well, you know what I mean) then-WWF Commissioner William Regal went to Vince with his apprehension about the WCW purchase. Regal’s diatribe (which he delivered beautifully) turned out to be arguably the most controversial part of the whole show.
"I’ve heard you’re buying WCW. Are you sure you want to do that? I know quite a lot about that place. It’s a bloody awful place. The nonsense that goes on there is unbelievable. I mean, I don’t want to second guess you, but are you really sure? I mean, it leaves rather a stench in the air. As much as I think of you, I wouldn’t want you to get in any trouble above yourself or anything."
Vince thanked Regal for his concern, but assured him that he was “on crack.” Or maybe he said, “On the case.” History soon revealed the true answer.
A video feature aired focusing on the turkey plate, showing clips of all the great legendary WCW World champions. Somehow, Kevin Nash snuck in there, too. From Thesz to Dusty to Flair to Sting to Vader to Bret to Booker, this thing reached David Sahadi levels of awesomeness, but it was way too short. Before they went to commercial, Tony managed to sneak in, “Champions never die.”
Vince said it was “just about that time,” so he hung up the phone and picked up his sports jacket. I don’t think he meant “Time for Tony Schiavone’s career-ending public meltdown,” but dammit if that isn’t what happened as the next match started. Here’s the gospel from Mr. S:
"You know, I don’t want to sit here and – and as a person who has been on Monday Nitro for many years – take issue with anything anyone said. Mr. McMahon, it’s – it’s his money. He can do whatever he wants. He can – And I don’t know what he’s going to do tonight. But let me say this: To sit here and listen to their Commissioner rip WCW? Come on. I mean, we’ve had to do some crazy things, STEVE Regal, including put your ass over on TV!"
From there, Hudson tried to literally make the save for his broadcast partner, begging that they call the match with “four guys that we’re gonna build the future of wrestling around in the ring right now. Give them their just due.”
Tony ran with the ball, or more to the point, the Fisher Price dig-your-own-grave play shovel, pointing out that the match was “an example of what we do better than anybody in the world, and that is the cruiserweight division!” The next few seconds of Tonyspeak were muted out, as his mic was briefly turned off. As Tony got back to business, a fan sign helpfully suggested, “BISCHOFF, SUBWAY IS HIRING.” The timing couldn’t have been better.
6) Misterio & Kidman beat “Primetime” Elix Skipper & Kid Romeo to win the CW Tag Title at 4:43.
For old time’s sake, Sting cut one last short energetic promo from a room with black baseball bats hanging from the ceiling. Sting hit his more memorable catchphrases in the allotted time, and pointed out that he and Flair started “this thing” years ago, and tonight, they’re going to finish it once and for all. Another irony: That’s a clichéd line for a wrestling promo, but tonight it was 100% true. You could FEEL the minutes ticking down on WCW at this point. Even now, it hurts just to type those words.
Vince power-walked to the Raw ring, almost paralleling Ric Flair’s final walk to a WCW ring for the main event.
7) Sting beat Ric Flair by submission in WCW’s final match at 7:17.
They crudely cut away to Raw as Vince made Lilian Garcia re-introduce him in a clever spot (McMahon had a minute to kill after a timing miscue). Seeing the WWF logo in one corner of the screen and the WCW Nitro logo in the other corner of the screen was about a six-billion on the Surreal Scale of 1 – 10. Vince tried to get over the enormity of the first-ever simulcast, but screwed the pooch out of the gate by saying this simulcast was also airing on “TNN – Turner Network Television.”
Vince bragged that Time Warner practically “begged him” to take WCW off their hands. Not 100% true, but close enough. Vince demanded that Ted Turner walk down to his ring in six days at WM17 and sign over WCW to him personally. Wishful thinking on the part of Vince Caesar The First. Vince proceeded to put over his WM17 streetfight against Shane McMahon. (In all fairness to Vince, he was seriously overworked this week. In addition to tonight, his biggest – and best – Wrestlemania ever was set to air six days later, on 4/1/01.)
Vince then took a Scott Hall-style survey about just what he should do with his new toy. He teased that he was going to put WCW on the shelf and sit on their video library. Don’t worry, though, it was just a worked promo in his heel charac – Yeah, yeah, we all shoulda known then. Vince engaged the crowd in a game of “Pop Association” with a list of names from Dubya-See-Dubya.
Hulk Hogan = Surprisingly loud boos
Lex Luger = Unsurprisingly loud boos
Buff Bagwell = Surprising pop (Kiss my ass, Cleveland)
Booker T = Mixed reaction
Big Poppa Pump = Big Popping Pump
Sting = Another mixed reaction
Goldberg = Biggest pop of them all
Vince felt that he HAD to include Goldberg because fans started chanting “Goldberg” halfway through this thing. Vince continued his thinking-out-loud promo, talking about WCW’s last show being in a “beer hall,” and threatened that he almost went down to Nitro himself just so he could tell each and every WCW employee, “YERRRRRRR FIRRRRRRRRRED!!”
Vince vowed to bury WCW, “just like anyone in the world who gets in my way!” Fans started chanting “asshole,” causing Vince to throw a hilarious in-character tantrum. Shane’s music (which at the time, was also Vince’s music) hit, and Shane-O-Mac walked to the Nitro ring in Florida. Shane’s audio was on a delay at first, but they quickly switched feeds so Shane’s words caught up with his mouth. In the best promo of Shane’s career, he revealed that because Vince and his ego wanted to hold off “finalizing the deal” until WM17, it allowed Shane to sneak in and steal WCW away from his old man. So now Shane officially owns WCW, and Shane vowed that WCW would kick Vince’s ass all over again, just like Shane himself would in six days at WM17. This was a great angle that had me marking out huge and wondering where they would go with this bold new concept.
Now remember, all of this was airing on TNT. The Nitro copyright appeared for the last time as Raw announcers Jim Ross and Paul Heyman were going nuts, selling the Vince-Shane angle as if we’d just witnessed the beginning of the next chapter in the WWF vs. WCW war. They threw to commercial with a plug for Raw’s “slobberknocker” main event (Rock & Steve Austin vs. Undertaker & Kane), followed by a quickie commercial for WM17.
And that was it.
Overall over-analysis: Lex Luger returns. Scott Hall invades. Misterio vs. Malenko. How will DDP hit the diamond cutter this week? The Giant’s promos with the WCW World Title slung over his shoulder. Sting tells the fans to “stick it.” Diamond Dallas Parka. Jacqueline’s oufits. The NWO's Horsemen spoof. Rick Rude pulls a double-shift. Booker T’s first TV Title win. “Apologize to Grandma!” Jericho vs. Malenko. Goldberg beats Hogan. The Dancing Fools. Saturn frees the Flock. Kidman vs. Juventud. Ric Flair returns to the heart of Horsemen Country. The big wiggle. Bret and Benoit pay homage to Owen in the best way possible. Who betta than Kanyon? Goldberg spears Bret’s metal chestplate. Lance Storm is a gold magnet. The locker room gives a standing O to new U.S. champion Hugh Morrus. Mark Madden and The Cat snipe at each other. Cruiserweights. Luchadores. Japanese wrestlers. Nitro Girl nipple slips. Racing home from work to catch the live show, then watching the replay, too.
Say what you want about WCW, Ted Turner, Eric Bischoff, Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, Kevin Sullivan, Vince Russo and all the other fools. For myself and millions of others, 1995 was the year that we had to memorize which channel was TNT on our cable/satellite providers. Without Nitro, there would not have been the wrestling boom of the late 90s. At its best, Nitro was edge-of-your-seat must-see-TV that revolutionized an industry. At its worst, Nitro made even the die-hards ashamed to be fans. If you want to know the full painstaking story of how Nitro went from one extreme to the other, I STRONGLY recommend picking up “The Death Of WCW” by two of my pals who happen to be two of wrestling’s best writers, R.D. Reynolds & Bryan Alvarez. Far as I’m concerned, this book is required reading for any serious student of the biz. Go treat yourself. You can find ordering info here:
Okay, back to the present, already. For the purposes of a review, to just try and isolate this as one wrestling television show is grossly short-sighted and does a major disservice to just how significant those two hours were to myself personally, and the industry as a whole. For the first time in my life, there was only one major wrestling company in the country. Still though, “Shane’s coup” had me marking out in ridiculous proportions. At the time, I thought it was the single best possible thing that could have happened, given the circumstances. Hey, how was I supposed to know that the McMahons would ruin the single biggest “sure thing” angle in wrestling history? But I digress.
The promos from Booker, Sting, and especially Flair. A bunch of good little fast-paced matches. The fact that Stasiak-Bigelow was too short for me to remember (I’ve already forgotten it all over again). The underlying emotion of the whole damn night. And most importantly, all the great WCW memories it brought back. Even years after the fact, this epic show still puts a smile on my face.
This Observer’s Thumb……………………..is up.
THE TWF "MENTAL WELLNESS TEST!"
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