It’s 25 years since the birth of WCW Monday Nitro. A weekly show that indelibly changed pro wrestling’s presentation, characters and storylines forever.
But just how timeless is Nitro? Have their top storylines stood the test of time?
Come with me, as we take a trip down a misshapen memory lane. Fantasy booking with a twist.
An alternate universe where I take a modern superstar and transplant them into a classic Nitro moment. Seven “what if?” scenarios designed to showcase the best of Nitro to a contemporary audience.
The Montreal Screwjob is likely the most notorious event in wrestling history.
As a massive Bret Hart fan as a kid and a huge HBK fan as I got older, I cringe every November when we get a podcast, YouTube commentary or network special celebrating another anniversary of THAT Survivor Series match.
It changed wrestling forever and created a domino effect more like a tidal wave.
Bret Hart’s career achievements are often overshadowed by the injustice. He moved to WCW, had a lacklustre career there and would eventually be retired by a mistimed kick from Goldberg.
Vince became “Mr McMahon”, the greatest heel in wrestling and the foil to the greatest babyface, Stone Cold Steve Austin.
But it also created a moment that could have signaled the start of a mass exodus from north to south.
Thanks to the absence of a long-term contract and a shooting schedule consisting of a mixture of live and taped shows, we witnessed one of the more surreal events of the Monday Night Wars; a beard growing back in the course of an hour. Attached to that flawless facial hair, was Ravishing Rick Rude, on both Raw and Nitro in one night.
Much like my reimagined reality where Moxley invaded Nitro (which you can read here), this recasting was largely influenced by the current Wednesday Night Wars between AEW and WWE.
Although these articles strictly fantasy book by extracting a single modern talent alone and not any other contemporary influences, the parallels between then and now were too hard to ignore.
There was only one talent, or should I say talents, that fitted in here. Call me fickle but maybe it’s just the facial hair.
“What if FTR appeared on Nitro & Raw on the same night?”
Our squared circle simulator takes us back to The Crown in Cincinnati, Ohio. It’s Monday Nitro on November 17th, 1997, just eight days removed from the crime against kayfabe that was the screwjob.
The show kicks off with the omnipresent NWO, headed by the most sneeringly obnoxious version of Eric Bischoff to date. Most may have thought that was just “Easy Es” default setting in ’97. Little did we know why he was especially pleased with himself tonight.
He ushers out the big surprise of the night and it’s unsurprisingly, Hollywood Hogan. Just when we think we’ve been swerved, Hogan gestures to the top of the ramp and out struts the former Revival, the NWO black and white adorned on their chests. Dax Harwood sporting his trademark handlebar moustache. Cash Wheeler, for the first time in his career, clean shaven.
“Holy smokes! Holy Mackerel” exclaims Tony Schiavone, doing his best Boy Wonder impressions.
The newly named FTR, which has no context in 1997 because the Young Bucks are really young bucks. Because it’s the edgiest year of the 90s, let’s actually make it stand for “F— The Revival”, as a final middle finger to the company and characters they left behind.
Dash & Dawson/Dax & Wheeler, hit the ring, handing out “too sweets” like wrasslin’ Willy Wonkas. They grab the mic.
“We all have our 15 minutes of fame and we’d like to use ours to talk about the rights and the wrongs of professional wrestling.”
“What’s wrong? Shawn Michaels calling himself the champion when he never beat Bret Hart.”
A point made more impactful, Michaels being their former D-X stable mate. Yes, in this reality, like in ours, our central characters were on screen allies with the new WWF champion, despite off screen, making no effort to hide their disdain for his attitude.
The Revival, being technical wrestlers harking back to a time of “no flips, just fists” aligned themselves with Hart in the locker room and now in storyline too. Indeed, you could imagine the duo really doing a number on anyone who would try to put Bret in harm’s way…
“What’s right? Bret Hart abandoning the Titanic and swimming to the safety of the N..W..O!”
Later that night over on Raw, confusion is rife amongst fans as The Revival appear in the ring, not only with big, bushy beards but also to introduce D-X, the stable they had denounced over on Nitro just an hour earlier.
Much like Bret Hart’s eventual arrival, Rude’s debut was far more monumental than the rest of his run. In this scenario, FTR being in their prime would hopefully dominate a tag division composed of The Steiners, Harlem Heat, The Outsiders and random combinations of singles stars.
Like many of the milestone moments from the Monday Night Wars, it’s hard to truly appreciate their importance without context. WCW were still deep in their 83 week unbeaten ratings streak and although it was growing closer, the fall out from the Montreal Screwjob could have been the final nail in the coffin.
Although Rick Rude was hardly a main event player, he wasn’t even cleared to wrestle, he was a star and the nature of both appearances; highlighting that Raw was taped and Nitro was live, must have really bruised the egos of McMahon and co.
Looking back, the events of Survivor Series 97 likely did more for WWF than it did for WCW, some even suggesting it was the birth of the Attitude Era but on November 17th in Ohio, Rude tarring HBK as a false champion and welcoming the fan favourite Hart to the other team must have felt like a potential finishing maneuver.
The Revival/FTR had been trying to leave WWE for months before they were finally granted their release. Unsatisfied with what can only be called terrible booking, even multiple title reigns weren’t enough to bring them back to the heights of their NXT careers.
I chose them, partly due to their real life struggle to leave WWE for a better suited AEW. Rick Rude was able to leave due to contractual negligence and I can’t help but see parallels in WWE frivolously relieving FTR of their duties, freeing them up to join their competition.
The Revival, by name and by motive are a throwback to old school southern wrestling. Even in 1997, they would have been a modern take on a retro 80s style and likely would have been more at home in WCW than WWF, due to Vince’s unabashed contempt for “southern wrasslin”.
But what do you think? Maybe you think someone would have been better suited, made a bigger impression appearing on Raw & Nitro in the same night? Maybe you think there’s a more dominant debut?