A Brief History of WCW Nitro
September 4th, 1995. That was the day WCW Monday Nitro debuted and launched the Monday Night Wars. It was the day that Ted Turner’s wrestling company would take its biggest shot a dethroning the company then known as WWF. And they came a lot closer than many fans realized at the time.
As WCW’s version of Raw, Monday Nitro was their flagship show. If you were going to watch WCW, you had to tune in to Nitro. That’s where everything happened since almost nothing of consequence ever happened on their secondary show, Thunder. It was, at the best of times, a hot mess.
Nitro was where the war started as well as where the war ended. The last episode aired on March 26th, 2001 from Panama City Beach, Florida. But between those two dates, a number of huge moments happened, both for WCW and for wrestling as a whole.
WCW Monday Nitro’s First Episode
The first episode of Monday Nitro set the tone for what was to come. Broadcast from the Mall of America in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the show was live. This was a huge change from WWF programming, which was pre-taped at that point. Internet spoilers weren’t an issue in the old days.
Saying the energy was amazing was an understatement, to say the least. The card featured Brian Pillman versus Jushin Thunder Liger, Ric Flair versus Sting, and Hulk Hogan versus Big Bubba Rogers. It was an amazing night with a huge twist no one saw coming, including Vince McMahon.
This was the evening Lex Luger made his return to WCW. It was a shock to fans as he had appeared on WWF programming the night before. Luger’s WWF contract ended with that appearance, then he signed his WCW the next morning and appeared on the first episode of Nitro.
Lex Luger’s shocking debut was incredibly important. It cemented the notion early that anything could happen and anyone could show up. The moment also proved to be a key piece of foreshadowing for the surprise appearances of other former WWF talent.
Madusa Dumps The WWF and Appears on Nitro
December 18th, 1995 was a date in the Monday Night Wars that would live in infamy. Alundra Blayze was the WWF Women’s Champion as well as an early high-profile defector to WCW. But she did it in an epic, memorable fashion.
She showed up on Nitro with the actual WWF Women’s Championship title belt in tow. Blayze, now going by Madusa, denounced the WWF, her former gimmick, and quite literally dropped the title belt in the trash.
It was an enduring image of the Monday Night Wars inexorably tied to Blayze/Madusa. She was eventually welcomed back into the WWE family and the Hall of Fame. Her recent appearances for AEW probably didn’t do her any favors in the forgiveness department, though.
The Outsiders Arrive on Nitro
After leaving WWF and the Razor Ramon gimmick behind, Scott Hall made his return to WCW on the May 27th, 1996 edition of Nitro. Two weeks later, Kevin Nash followed suit. This was a huge moment as it was two of WWF’s biggest stars making the leap to the competition.
As it turned out, it was also the beginning of something much bigger. The nWo was officially launched when Hulk Hogan joined the faction at Bash at the Beach. But Nash and Hall debuting on Nitro was the true beginnings of the infamous group.
The Outsiders, as the duo was known, were the backbone of the entire nWo angle. Unfortunately for WCW, Hall and Nash knew it, and took full advantage of their importance to the company. Regardless, the end result of their initial appearances kicked off the biggest faction in wrestling history.
Rick Rude Was at Two Places at Once
You would think that WCW fans would have been used to the surprise debuts of WWF talent. But Eric Bischoff was always talented in making those debuts interesting. Few had the impact of Rick Rude, mainly because he was in two places at once on November 17th, 1997.
Raw featured an appearance by the new faction known as DX. Many people have forgotten that Rick Rude was a founding member of the group. But while that episode aired, Rude was also making his debut on Nitro. For fans channel flipping between both shows, it was a confusing moment.
Once again, this was thanks to Raw being taped and Nitro being live. To make things even worse, Rude went on a tirade against his former employer. It was a big deal to hear those comments. Wrestlers didn’t have the option of Tweeting their issues with WWE out the day after leaving in those days.
Hulk Hogan’s Fingerpoke of Doom
As far as history-making moments go, this wasn’t exactly a great one for WCW. At this point, there were two nWo factions. One was the Wolfpac, led by the WCW World Heavyweight Champion Kevin Nash. The other was led by Hollywood Hulk Hogan.
Goldberg had recently dropped the title, as well as his legendary undefeated streak, to Nash thanks to another questionable angle. Essentially, Scott Hall tased Goldberg and allowed Nash to get the pin. Yes, that is actually how the streak ended. That’s WCW for you.
On January 4th, 1999, Goldberg was supposed to get his rematch against Nash on Nitro. But partway through the show, he was kayfabe arrested for stalking Miss Elizabeth. This necessitated a change in the main event which now featured Hogan and Nash facing off over the championship.
That’s when it happened. The wrestlers walked out to the ring, Hogan poked Nash in the chest, and the big man hit the mat. Hogan then got the pinfall and the championship. This signaled the reunion of the two nWo factions, all of them turning heel.
The Fingerpoke of Doom is widely regarded as possibly the worst booking decision in Nitro history, if not all of pro wrestling. Many fans soured on WCW after this moment as it was an incredible letdown. Shockingly, it wasn’t the only strategic mistake they made that evening.
Burying Mick Foley
On the same evening that the Fingerpoke of Doom was going down on Nitro, big things were happening on Raw is War. Mick Folely was wrestling The Rock for the WWF Championship, and would ultimately win. But because Raw was pre-taped, some people already knew the outcome, including Eric Bischoff.
Since Nitro was live, he instructed commentator Tony Schiavone to spoil the WWF match and bury Mick as their new champion. Schiavone has since stated he was not happy about doing it. Still, Tony did what he was asked and made the announcement.
The plan completely backfired. Ratings showed that hundreds of thousands of viewers more or less immediately changed the channel to watch the historic event on Raw. Mick Foley was, and is, arguably one of the most beloved figures in the industry. Watching him win a top title would be a huge moment.
The combination of the Fingerpoke of Doom and the failure of burying Mick Foley’s championship victory was a watershed moment. It was the start of a decisive shift in the Monday Night Wars back to WWF, driving fans off in huge numbers.
The Night of Champions
The final episode of Nitro took place on March 26th, 2001, after Vince McMahon bought the company. All five of WCW’s major championships were defended that evening, allowing the company to go out with a huge bang.
Fulfilling the circle of life, the final match for the company was Ric Flair versus Sting. These were the two names that typified the best of WCW over the years. In particular, Sting was considered the face of the company. He was one of the only wrestlers who stuck with WCW to the bitter end.
But there was one more twist waiting for fans. Shane McMahon revealed he bought WCW, not his father. It kicked off the Invasion storyline which featured wrestlers from WCW and ECW trying to take over WWF. The angle largely misfired because the biggest names from WCW were not involved in it.