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.
Like many sports fans and voyeurs, I thoroughly enjoyed watching “The Last Dance” on Netflix. The documentary series about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bull’s of the 97/98 season, explores the mindset of one of the greatest athletes of all time, with a supporting cast of equally talented Basketball players such as Scotty Pippen, Steve Kerr and Dennis Rodman.
Unlike most viewers, I wasn’t debating with friends as to whether MJ’s ruthless ambition was toxic or inspirational. I wasn’t lamenting the absence of a direct sequel to Space Jam, no.
Episode #3 zeros in on the contrast between Jordan’s performance born of aggressive focus and Rodman’s success despite his erratic, flamboyant public persona.
It was at this moment I text my mate: “They’re going to show Rodman on Nitro!”
He wasn’t a wrestling fan and he had no idea what I was talking about. If we’d been American however, it’s unlikely that two 90s kids with a keen interest in sports would have missed this pop culture phenomenon.
Seven episodes later and still no Nitro.
But like many WCW storylines, it took awhile but I finally got the pay-off I wanted.
“I told you Rodman skipped training to appear on Nitro!” I text with an overwhelming sense of vindication.
In the build to the Bash at the Beach 98, Dennis Rodman skipped practise for the NBA finals to take part in a wrestling show. But this wasn’t Wayne Rooney appearing in the audience at Raw. Rodman aided Hogan in the beatdown of Diamond Dallas Page, starting an angle that would eventually see Rodman wrestle his on-court rival Karl Malone.
It was the 90s. It was WCW. It was a different time.
How the hell am I going to change this one? Which notorious athlete from 2020 can I deploy in 1998 to alter this classic Nitro storyline? A superstar with unrivalled talent and ungodly ego, who would be willing to ditch his responsibilities and make headlines in the process?
“What if Zlatan Imbrahimovic ditched training to appear on Nitro?”
Our temporal tampering (brace yourself for a lot of it) brings us to the 18th May 1998. Monday Nitro is in Providence, Rhode Island and kicks off with Bischoff, draped over a motorcycle, celebrating yet another week of ratings success over the WWF.
Nitro nerds will note, the original angle took place on the June 8th episode but due to a switch in sports, we need to bring it forward to coincide with that year’s Champions League final between Juventus and Real Madrid.
As Zlatan is a Juventus alumni in our current timeline, it seems fitting to place him in the 98 squad here, two days out from what could arguably be the biggest game of his career. Take into consideration, the Swedish international holds the record for most games played in the Champions League without ever reaching a final so, you know, you’re welcome Ibra!
It also keeps us close enough to Rodman and Hogan’s actual tag team match at Bash at the Beach that year, so we can mess with the time space continuum without messing with WCW booking too much.
Like much of Nitro in this era, the whole show is built around the appearance of a pop culture icon. At the time, we were in the middle of the convoluted NWO faction war between the Wolfpac and Hollywood.
We see a bevvy of the black and white members, including Hogan, hanging out, partying with Zlatan, who looks effortless cool, despite accidentally burning a girl on the arm with his cigar. No doubt the least of his problems. He’s probably worried about catching that flight to Amsterdam in time for kick off, in less than 48 hours.
We get nine segments including Imbra and the NWO, likely 7 too many. With each passing one, Bischoff and Marcello Lippi, then Juventus coach, bubbly with increased vigour, for two totally different reasons.
The night concludes with the Wolfpac trying to recruit DDP. A decision he spends far too long pondering, considering his position as THE anti-nWo character throughout their existence.
I sympathise with Bischoff fudging things in order to contrive a storyline, after all, I’m doing a lot of fudging here. The deliberation promptly ends, as Ibrahimovic and Hogan attack Page from behind with steel chairs.
Here’s where you can choose your own adventure. In our timeline, Rodman plays a pivotal role in helping the Bulls to their sixth NBA championship. He is fined $20,000 dollars for his antics but is paid $250,000 for his appearance. In the words of Rodman’s then-teammate Ron Harper, “I think that makes him a good businessman”.
Rodman goes on to win at Bash at the Beach, when his tag team partner Hogan pins DDP.
In contrast, Real Madrid would go on to win that year’s Champions League due to a single goal from Pedrag Mijatovic.
In our alternate universe, perhaps Juve win thanks to a Zlatan hat-trick. Maybe the result is the same and the loss is blamed on the sassy Swede.
Does our Ibrahimovic go on to win at Bash at the Beach in July, perhaps beating DDP and Raul or maybe the Real Madrid striker hammers the final nail in Zlatan’s career? You decide.
Rodman’s colourful persona was no doubt influenced by his love of wrestling.
“I was just trying to play basketball, party, da, da, da, da. F–k all the girls. Just be me. Dennis s–t, you know.”
It was this “Dennis s–t” that truly cemented Rodman’s cultural legacy, although some say it completely overshadowed just how great he was on the court.
Out of all of the WCW celebrity cameos, Rodman likely ranks top, Jay Leno, Kiss and David Arquette providing little competition.
The fact that his story was featured in a documentary about Michael Jordan, 22 years later, tells you the transcendent power it commands.
Celebrity inclusions in wrestling are hit and miss, with many fans feeling athletes are arrogant to assume they can wrestle just due to talent in other athletic arenas.
It’s without doubt a shameless cash grab for everyone involved but you do get moments that shift the course of history positively. You only have to look at Tyson’s inclusion in WWF, which many consider to be the moment McMahon and co won the Monday Night War.
But what do you think? Which athlete from today would you insert into this controversial Nitro angle and how would that booking affect the sporting world that athlete calls home?