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.
We’ve come to the end of the series and I feel like giving an emotional retirement speech, only to swerve you and declare I’ve still got plenty of years of writing wrestling articles left in the tank. You should have known when you saw me sporting this salmon pink blazer.
Although the articles have been published chronologically, it does feel fitting to end on Goldberg.
Like many of our Nitro moments, Goldberg winning the title from Hollywood Hogan was the culmination of an even greater storyline. Although it’s memorable as a stand alone episode, it does give us an opportunity to explore the remarkable journey that got us there. That’s not to say the moment itself was ordinary.
The undefeated “Boss of the Squash” was uniquely, a homegrown talent. Arguably the only wrestler WCW built from the ground up, the former Atlanta Falcons player was essentially a local boy to the tens of thousands who cheered him on in the Georgia Dome that evening.
Hogan was 77 days into his fourth reign as the heavyweight champ but it was Goldberg who had the most to lose, his United States title and his coveted undefeated record of 172-0 both on the line. Bill added a third prize that night, becoming the heavyweight champion in under a year.
Of course, it’s well known to fans now that the eventual 173 wins were a fabrication for storyline purposes. Most estimate it being much closer to 641-0, if you include dark matches, arm wrestles and those times he got his legs caught trying to remove his trousers with his trainers still on.
But with everything in wrestling, what really made this moment immortal was the fans. 44,412 spectators squeezed into Nitro that night, with a further 10 million tuning in at home.
Stop and read that again. It’s impossible to compare viewership and attendance 20 years apart but being the hack that I am, here I go. We all know average viewing figures for Raw sit at a feeble average of 1.5 million but if you really want perspective, 11 million people in the UK watched the 2018 football World Cup final, typically one of the most watched national TV events.
Admittedly, fans were jaded by FIFA’s booking at this point, failing to get behind the massive babyface push France had received in recent years, with many preferring to watch the more physical, less flashy Japanese league or smaller local promotions like the Championship or the SPL.
For those I haven’t scared off with jokes about football…
When it came to rebooking the Goldberg role, there were a few obvious choices. If you’ve read my previous six articles, I like to mess with you. I originally opted for Drew McIntyre, not in any way comparing the two talent wise, rather, I was intrigued by writing the Claymore Playboy into the 173-0 streak and perhaps cathartically giving him the 44,000 screaming fans his title win deserved.
Luckily for all of you, I was talked down by our King of the Ring Paul (the only man still capable of rocking that gimmick), who suggested I go with Braun Strowman. A lesson for modern WWE creative; sometimes the obvious answer is still the best one.
“What if Braun Strowman beat Hollywood Hogan for the title?”
In the lead up to July 6th 1998, Braun Strowman arrived in this new timeline like Dorothy’s house arrived on the wicked witch.
The Monster Among Men is introduced to us as 0-0 in his professional career. Thankfully Hugh Morrus had a couple of minutes before his cab arrived, helping Braun achieve his first win.
Despite his size, Strowman worked a quick and athletic style, mowing opponents over before they could get any offense and ending with his patented powerslam.
The mustachioed monster would make his PPV debut at Starrcade defeating Steve McMichael. Researching and rewatching Nitro for these articles has taught me a lot but I never imagined I’d mention Steve McMichael as much as I have.
By March 98, WCW had started to count his consecutive wins on TV, his United States title win over Raven being the 75th notch on his belt.
Win after win, Strowman adopted his infamous catchphrase “Who’s next to get these hands?”, alluding to the fact that he was seriously running out of opponents.
Hard to ignore, he finally demanded the attention of then heavyweight champion, Hollywood Hogan, who promised Braun a match on Nitro, scheduled for July 6th at the Georgia Dome, however, Hogan insisted he face stablemate Scott Hall before getting his shot.
It only took two minutes before we saw the powerslam and the one, two, three, finally followed by the on screen graphic confirming we would get Strohman vs Hogan for the title later that night.
It’s my last article and seeing as this is my last chance to tamper with the tapestry of time, indulge me. I’ve always loved Goldberg’s entrance. The music, the ring walk, the standing in the sparks and blowing out the smoke. In all honesty, how he does that may be the last inside secret in wrestling (if you know, hit me up on Twitter).
In this reality, I’m giving Strowman the classic entrance. Maybe we get a bit of our timeline Braun added in; emerging from the sparks, hands raised as he roars, smoke billowing from this mouth.
Look, it’s not Savage vs Steamboat, so I’m not going to write a move list consisting of clothesline, shoulder tackle, big boot, leg drop, leg drop, leg drop. Damn it, I just dictated the whole match. It ends the same but no one cares. Powerslam. One, two, three. Atlanta erupts and the elation resonates with the 10 million watching at home. Braun Strowman is 173-0 and the NEW heavyweight champion.
As I prefaced, there are isolated instances in Nitro history that have little significance beyond that moment. There are moments, that may not be special in themselves but serve as the genesis or culmination of a storyline or character that change the business forever. This is an example of both.
In hindsight, the Goldberg character is divisive and we can see that polarising effect in Strowman today. Booking monsters on unstoppable winning streaks can sometimes end up hitting a narrative wall. Once they ascend, where’s next? Goldberg’s legacy is without doubt his streak and to go from zero TV matches to winning the world title from the most iconic wrestler of our time, is nothing short of remarkable.
Goldberg would eventually be defeated but due to the same genius foresight that built his record, we got a satisfying and meaningful loss, that elevated both a defeated Goldberg and propelled a young, up and coming talent into the stratosphere.
Wait. Hold on. This is why you should never just copy and paste from Wikipedia.
Goldberg would eventually lose to Kevin Nash due to Scott Hall knocking him out with a taser. Sigh. We almost got through seven articles without having to regrettably concede, “Nash Wins LOL”.
In our timeline, Strowman had no such run and no such humiliating defeat. However, once repackaged post Wyatt Family, WWE reintroduced the classic method of building monsters, by having Strowman squash “local talent” in minute long TV matches.
I mean this with the most sincerity, if we give ambulances and the titan tron added value, Braun wasn’t far off the modern version of 173-0 when he lost to Reigns. In fact, he picked up his first pinfall loss seven months after his re debut, a streak similar in length to Goldberg’s journey to the title.
But losing to Reigns didn’t derail him and it certainly wasn’t his version of the cattle prod. It took Strowman over three years to capture his first singles title, only for him to lose it a month later. Perhaps poetically, Strowman was hot shotted into the Wrestlemania 36 Universal title match against his Nitro avatar, Goldberg, where he squashed Bill as if he was merely Hugh Morrus with bigger traps.
You guys can figure out for yourselves what sold Goldberg and what’s wrong with Braun. For me and what has been at the heart of all these “What If” stories, is societal context. Could we ever see 44,000 people packing out Raw? In a world with Netflix, next gen gaming, Youtube, the WWE Network, NXT, AEW, New Japan and UFC, is it even conceivable that 10 million people could tune in for the main event on Monday night?
Time will tell whether Strowman will outshine Goldberg in the ring and in the hearts of fans but one thing can never be contested is the impact Goldberg’s streak and his eventual title win would have on the Nitro and professional wrestling, then, now and forever.
But what do you think? Maybe you want to read my missing article about Drewberg? Maybe you think Strowman doesn’t deserve to be compared to the man who carried WCW against Stone Cold Steve Austin? Will wrestling ever see mainstream success like it did in 1998?