Friday, September 4, 2015

Happy 20th Anniversary, First Episode of Nitro

The first shot across the bow of the Monday Night Wars
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On this date 20 years ago, World Championship Wrestling launched what would immediately become its flagship weekly television show, Monday Nitro. The show was a live telecast from the Mall of America in Minneapolis, and it was marked by the surprise return of Lex Luger, who had as recently as SummerSlam a week prior been appearing for WWE. It was the first shot across the bow of RAW in the Monday Night Wars, and wrestling was never the same afterwards.

Nitro had a checkered history, but overall, its inclusion in wrestling history needs to be seen as a positive. It stoked the flames of wrestling rivalry, bringing out the best in both WCW and WWE at times, and the number of absolutely stunning moments that happened during its run, the most breathtaking being Luger taking down Hollywood Hulk Hogan for the WCW Championship a week before Road Wild 1997, for better or worse, are staggering. Without Nitro, the nWo wouldn't have been nearly as huge as it was. The dawn of the cruiserweight division also allowed it to set precedent that longer, "better" matches didn't always need to happen on pay-per-view, especially when the roster WCW was carrying around was so deep at the time.

Of course, basing one's judgment off WWE's revisionist history will make Nitro seem like a clownshoes program that bungled more than it amazed. Yeah, WCW had some embarrassing moments on the show, and a lot of them were predicated on the constant use of bait-and-switch advertising leading to cliffhangers that never seemed to pay off. But it's not like RAW was a bastion of awesomeness week-to-week either. Overall, I'd say WCW and WWE made a lot of mistakes during the wars; it's just WWE ended up doing a better job of creating new stars and capitalizing on them. Without Nitro jockeying for position with its telecast, who knows if either company would have reached the peaks they did.

The winners write history, but that doesn't mean the loser's contributions aren't important. Nitro may or may not have been the most important contribution to the culture that WCW made, but it's totally up there. While the impact today wouldn't nearly be the same of a theoretically equal-to-WWE company going head-to-head with the advent of over-the-top streaming, DVR, and next-day viewing on Hulu, it would still be pretty cool to have someone pushing RAW to be better than it is right now.