The entire history of WCW Monday Nitro lasted not much longer than five years, but there are few brands in wrestling history that have had such a huge impact on the course of wrestling history.
Whilst Nitro was ultimately and firmly the loser in the Monday Night Wars, the show did an incredible amount right whilst it was on air.
Today we look back on the 10 biggest changes Monday Nitro brought to wrestling that still ring true to this day.
Weekly marquee main events
Whilst Raw had certainly lessened the use of enhancement talent when it started in 1993, its main events were still not what you would call blockbusters. Shawn Michaels & The Beverley Brothers vs Tatanka & The Nasty Boys was fairly typical.
Nitro changed all that. On day one we got Sting vs Ric Flair and that standard, in terms of name value if not ring work, was maintained more or less consistently throughout their run.
Sure, those main events were often schmozz finishes or short, bad matches but the names on the marquee did put the proverbial bums in seats. It did not take WWE long to copy the model and Raw/SmackDown have had big time main events most weeks ever since.
Wrestlers From Around The World
One low-key triumph of Nitro’s early years was that it felt like a wrestling sandbox. In WWE, you could only see their fixed team of stars with very few exceptions. On Nitro however, it felt more like a showcase for the greatest talents from around the world dropping in to peddle their wares.
Whether it was Masahiro Chono from Japan, Loch Ness from the UK or Luchadors aplenty (more on them later), WCW felt like somewhere wrestlers were desperate to appear on which made it more appealing to viewers.
Look at WWE nowadays. Never before has there been a more diverse roster in terms of nationality. It has been getting more and more international over the last two decades and now we barely bat an eyelid when we get a British WWE champion.
Outside of PPVs, live television was simply not important to WWE on a regular basis before Nitro. Sure, they would do the odd live Raw, but the Vince McMahon model was to get multiple episodes in the can at each taping.
Nitro changed that, right enough. Live from the word go, Raw soon realised they couldn’t compete with the energy and vibe of unpredictability it gave Nitro. Not to mention the opportunity for Eric Bischoff to give away Raw’s results live on air!
It didn’t take that long for Raw (and then SmackDown) to be live every week and they have been for over twenty years since. The recent pandemic forced WWE management to temporarily change tack but it is telling that they want to go back live as soon as possible and the entire feeling of the programming has changed as a result.
It wasn’t only the live aspect that WWE copied for their programming format. Nitro expanded to three hours in 1998. it was too long, too sprawling and it cost the programme the energy and urgency it previously had in spades. It was one of the major reasons that the programme fell off a cliff in quality around that time.
So of course, WWE copied it. Not immediately. It wasn’t until 11 years after WCW went out of business that the change was made to Raw, but the drop in quality was stark and immediate.
In terms of quality of programming, it is unquestionably a bad move. In terms of business, at a time when rights fees for live sports started to skyrocket… a bold and brilliant financial triumph.
Laying The Table: The show-opening monologue
While it later became a Triple H trademark on Raw, it was Nitro that started the trend to open a weekly wrestling show with a scene-setting promo.
And it really wasn’t a bad idea at all. These promos would feature the biggest stars, grab the attention of channel changers early and set up the narrative thread that would hopefully keep viewers hooked until that star appeared again at the end of the show.
It works. It might be cliche and it would certainly be nice if the format was shaken up more often but it does the job and it won’t change any time soon.
Work Rate, Work Rate, Work Rate
It is often said that the modern WWE roster is the greatest in history in terms of pure in-ring talent. That’s probably right, too. and it is important.
It wasn’t always, though. Mr Hughes vs. Kamala was a perfectly acceptable match on weekly TV and neither of those two made a career out of collecting snowflakes. Nitro changed the game in this regard too.
Knowing full well that his main event stars couldn’t provide true excitement in the ring, Eric Bischoff knew he needed to counter-balance that with bags of talent on the lower card.
The list of superb workers brought into Nitro was endless but the guys in the Cruiserweight division spring to mind. Talents like Juventud Guerrera, Rey Mysterio Jr., Chris Jericho and Eddie Guerrero were putting on breathtaking matches each week that not only offered something new and exciting to existing fans, they also demanded attention from casual TV viewers.
If you were flipping through the channels and you came across the kinetic frenzy of the cruisers at the top of the hour, there was a good chance you would stick around a few minutes and see what else Nitro had to offer.
There is a direct line drawn between those performers and seeing Daniel Bryan and AJ Styles put on tremendous wrestling matches on television.
The Omnipotent Authority Figure
As much as we all loved Jack Tunney (and look, I co-host a 90s wrestling podcast; I REALLY love Jack Tunney…), he really only rocked up when the plot needed a little nudging along. The inner workings of a wrestling company remained very much behind the curtain.
When Eric Bischoff was acknowledged as the President of WCW and subsequently declared his loyalties laid with the NWO, that changed forever.
Sure, Mr McMahon did the authority figure role infinitely better but that doesn’t alter the fact that Nitro started it. Without the Bischoff on-screen character, there may never have been Mr McMahon, and every authority figure good and bad since.
Some may say they wish this pro-wrestling trope never came into being and that’s a fair viewpoint to hold but there’s no denying that it started on Nitro.
TV first…PPV Second
WCW was owned by Turner Broadcasting. Their main focus was being a profitable TV company. Not a live events business, not a licensing business, not a PPV company even, at least not first and foremost. They were all about bringing big ratings and advertising revenue to TNT.
This couldn’t have been clearer than 6th July 1998 when Goldberg defeated ‘Hollywood’ Hogan for the WCW Heavyweight Title on an episode of Nitro.
It was a magical moment, one of the best in wrestling TV history. But if it had been on PPV just a few months later, it would have been WCW’s biggest buyrate ever, without question.
Eric Bischoff always maintained it wasn’t a mistake and it served their purposes as a business and he makes a very fair point.
Years later, WWE find themselves in the self same position. Their PPVs on the network are all good but with the exception of WrestleMania and Royal Rumble, they feel like a necessary evil. The weekly TV is where it’s at and who can blame them? The gargantuan fees USA Network and in particular Fox pay for Raw and SmackDown dwarf any other revenue source that doesn’t come from a Saudi Arabian bank account. With that in mind, what do we think takes priority in WWE’s thinking? It’s a no-brainer.
Keep Those Eyeballs
One area where Bischoff and WCW were hyper-aggressive with Nitro was ensuring they held the attention of as many casual viewers as possible. Whether it was starting the show a few minutes early, having huge cliffhangers at the top of the hour or even teasing a Nitro Girls dance, they did everything they did to stop people changing the channel.
All of Nitro’s policies have at one time or another been used by WWE for Raw and Smackdown, and even expanded upon with features like picture-in-picture during commercials or overruns at the end of the show.
The audience weapons forged during the Monday Night War have been in use ever since.
Party on, dudes!
Those Nitro parties were a bloody good idea weren’t they? Getting a load of wrestling fans together to watch as a huge group with a load of alcohol in the mix?
Sounds like someone should probably give that a go again…