Monday Nitro (09/18/95)

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Dan Hey: We’re in Johnson City, Tennessee for the third episode of Monday Nitro. Hosts, once again, are Eric Bischoff, Mongo, and The Brain. As odious as Bischoff is, without him it’d be just Mongo and The Brain, which sounds like the name of a nineties cartoon about two mice – one stupid, the other intelligent. It’s also the night after Fall Brawl, and Bischoff promises recaps and updates on that.

 

We cut to an “emergency” in the back, where Mean Gene Okerlund plays the role of morally bankrupt ambulance chaser, ready with his microphone. Out the back appears Kevin Sullivan and The Giant, fresh from his WCW debut last night. He cuts a creepy-voiced promo on Hulk Hogan, who he attacked and put in hospital last night (hence the symbolic use of the ambulance, you see). He’s being billed as Andre the Giant’s son, here, and says that if his “dad” was still alive, then he would definitely support his quest to rid the WCW of Hulkamania. He also claims to be the one, true immortal.

 

The American Males vs. The Bluebloods
The American Males are Marcus Bagwell and Scotty Riggs, who made their in-ring debut as a tag team in a win over the Nasty Boys at Fall Brawl. Bischoff refers to Bagwell as Alex Wright, who isn’t even American. There’s no match because tag team champions Harlem Heat attack Bobby ‘the Earl of’ Eaton as he comes through the curtain. Mongo surmises that they must’ve gotten to Regal in the back. If that was the case, why would Eaton be coming out at all?
Final Rating: N/R

 

Harlem Heat, with manager Sister (formerly ‘Sensational’ and ‘Sensuous’) Sherri in tow, head to the ring. Booker T grabs the mic and decides to put the titles on the line. Which leads to…

 

WCW World Tag Team Championship
Harlem Heat (c) vs. The American Males
The Males are dressed like Chippendales, complete with suspenders and bow ties (but topless), and foreshadow SmackDown’s The Dicks by about a decade. The commentary team put over the tag division and general level of competition in WCW, as well as last night’s pay per view. In the ring it’s mostly Harlem Heat hitting big moves, such as Booker T’s various axe kicks on Riggs, or Stevie Ray catching (and nearly dropping) Bagwell in mid-air for a slam. In the crowd, right in the direct line of the hard cam, someone is holding up a sign that says, “WE WANT RAW” – well, it’s on now and you’re missing it by being here.

Hot tag to Bagwell and he cleans house. Sherri looks to intervene with her shoe, which brings Colonel Rob Parker down to the ringside to sweep her off the apron and into his arms. They engage in a little smoochy-time, and in the resulting distraction Bagwell picks up the win and the titles with a crossbody. The match was average at best, but it does hold the distinction of being the first title switch on Nitro, which makes me wonder whether they could’ve made a bigger impact by switching one of the singles titles on the first episode. I can’t image Hogan would’ve agreed to drop the belt though, and he would’ve needed a better opponent than Big Bubba Rodgers, but maybe they could’ve switched the US Title in the Flair-Sting bout. I suppose it’s a moot point now.
Final Rating:

 

Mean Gene Okerlund shills the hotline for behind the scenes news and wrestling trivia. Macho Man advertises Slim Jims in the most intense and aggressive manner possible.

 

Promo Time: Ric Flair
He’s facing Brian Pillman later. Mean Gene recaps the events of Fall Brawl, where Pillman got involved in Flair’s match against Arn Anderson. Flair says that AA broke code of the Horsemen by allowing an outsider in, as opposed to them settling their differences among themselves. They’re actually setting up the latest version of the group, which will include Pillman and Chris Benoit. Flair says that after he’s done with Pillman, he’s going to kick Arn’s ass. Nothing to it.

 

Bischoff plugs WCW Saturday Night. Sting will face Steven Regal, Cobra is up against Craig ‘Pitbull’ Pitman, there’s an interview with the ‘American Dream’ Dusty Rhodes, and an update on WCW Champion Hulk Hogan. That sounds like a decent show, except for Cobra vs. Pitman.

 

Paul Orndorff vs. Johnny B. Badd
Mr Wonderful is debuting new entrance music. He’s also carrying a mirror, because he’s so wonderful that he wants to look at himself constantly. He’s in good shape for his age, but the key phrase there is “for his age”. He’s old enough to know better really, plus he looks like English football manager Steve Bruce. I really wish he had his handlebar moustache here. Mongo asks if Orndorff is singing his own music at precisely the point where a clearly female soprano is warbling, “wonderful, he’s so wonderful.” Johnny B. Badd also has his own customized entrance music (“He’s pretty as a picture / and he looks like Little Richard”). Sometimes, gimmick-specific entrance themes work well when simple and to the point – e.g. the Million Dollar Man’s theme song; sometimes, they’re just unnecessary. Johnny B. Badd’s likeness to Little Richard (in both looks and flamboyancy) was conveyed much better by the jaunty piano ditty that was his original entrance theme.

When the match eventually gets going, Orndorff hits a nice dropkick to Badd’s knees. It’s actually good strategy when you think about it. Mr. Wonderful gives him a kicking in the corner, as the commentary team remind us of injuries Badd sustained at Fall Brawl. The crowd, meanwhile, loudly chant “Paula”. Badd mounts a comeback but gets caught with boots to the face, which Orndorff put up very early as Badd came off the top rope, leading me to the following tangent…

Tangent: To connect with Orndorff’s boots (which had been there for an age), Badd had to jump so that he was landing on his feet. So what move was he actually trying to hit? If Orndorff hadn’t put the boots up, he would’ve just landed on his feet in front of him. It makes him look stupid, crap, or both! If he’s gone for an elbow drop, for example, he probably would’ve avoided Orndorff’s feet and landed the move.

After the commercial it’s a double down, which at least makes a change from the Raw Post-Break Chinlock™ Badd tries a running splash, but Orndorff gets the knees up. Mr Wonderful tries an impressive-looking splash from the top that misses, though at least this looked like a believable sequence – i.e. Orndorff would’ve landed a move had Badd not rolled out of the way. Badd motions for the Tutti Fruity, but Orndorff rolls out of the ring to check himself out in the mirror, so Badd stomps on his head then hits a plancha. Back inside, Badd reverses a piledriver attempt into a backdrop. When Orndorff tries the same moments later, Badd hangs on for a sunset flip attempt, which is then countered for an Orndorff win. A few minor irks asides, this turned out to be a reasonable TV match.
Final Rating: **½

 

Bischoff segues to a clip of the WCW stars on the set of Baywatch. Macho Man does bench presses on the beach before being attacked by Kevin Sullivan, who fortunately isn’t dressed in beach wear. A selection of other wrestlers, including Ric Flair, chase off Sullivan.

 

Promo Time: Randy Savage
Resident pervert and premium-rate phone-line shyster Mean Gene hosts. Okerlund brings up the fact that Savage was unreceptive to Flair’s help in the previous clip, so Macho acknowledges tensions between the two. Judging by the segments at the end of the first two Nitros, it looks like he has tensions with just about the entire roster. He then talks about friction within the Hulkamaniac team which he was a part of, and calls Hogan a “horrible judge of character” because Luger cheap-shotted him last night. Mean Gene suggests that it was accidental. Macho is also going to destroy Kevin Sullivan and is “drawing a line in the sand” to divide those with him from those against him. The last time there was sand, Sullivan attacked him. Enter Lex Luger wearing the same clothes as he did on the first Nitro. He calls Macho Man jealous and in possession of an ulterior motive concerning the WCW Title. It’s true, Macho admits, he does want the title. Luger evades Macho’s direct question as to whether or not he intentionally cheap-shotted him, so Macho wants to fight him here and now. He gives Luger a little tap on the face, but we cut to the break, where, according to Bischoff, security clear the ring. They’re trying to cram so many of their top stars and multiple angles into a one-hour show that these segments are not only convoluted, but also repetitive because nobody backs down or resolves the issue at hand.

Bischoff recaps the events surrounding Hulk Hogan at Fall Brawl. First, we see him arrive at the venue on a chopper, pulling up right next to a group of his fans (clearly planted). Suddenly, a monster truck comes around the corner and runs over Hogan’s bike (with Hogan and the crowd nowhere near the incident despite only two or three seconds occurring between cuts). It’s like a scene from a really terrible movie (or a typical Hogan one – Santa with Muscles anyone?). The Giant is driving. Next, we cut to the end of the War Games match, where Hogan is pounding away on the tiny, out-of-shape Taskmaster. The Giant enters the cage and beats on Hogan. However, Hogan’s team had already won the match, so perhaps their new stable mate should’ve intervened earlier. Paul Wight doesn’t have the best track record for cage match interference: In the WWF he will go on to cost Vince McMahon a match at St Valentine’s Day Massacre by throwing Steve Austin through the cage, after lying in wait under the ring for an eternity while Austin panned McMahon all around the arena.

 

Brian Pillman vs. Ric Flair
This looks like a good match up and a decent TV main event. The action starts fast and furious with both men exchanging chops in the corner. There’s only one winner in this battle, so Pillman rakes the eyes. Flair keeps going back to the chops, which gets the crowd going. He also hits a top-rope axe handle to the outside. Pillman is transitioning into his ‘Loose Canon’ gimmick and so uses a lot more strikes and chokes than normal. He laughs maniacally as he targets Flair’s arm via the ring post and guardrail. Flair counters with more chops – WOOO! – and drops Pillman across the guardrail. Flair mounts the turnbuckles again and gets caught; there’s no chance that he’s hitting two top-rope moves in one match. The figure four is countered into a roll up for two and then heads collide for a double down that doesn’t last very long. Another exchange of chops before Flair cinches in the figure four for the submission win. This was a tidy, though short, TV match with a clear finish and unhindered by run-ins and angles.
Final Rating: **½

 

After the match, Flair calls out Anderson, but when AA doesn’t show up, Flair makes a match for next week. This brief segment gets bonus points because Flair cuts his promo while Strauss’s ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’ played in the background.

 

There’s still time for one small segment at the announce desk after a commercial break (including an advert for herbal ecstasy). Bischoff shills the Saturday night show, while Heenan thinks Anderson will ensure that Flair has done his last “woooo”. Also, “something is happening in the back” but of course we don’t find out. Nice one. Next week: the Nitro debut of Disco Inferno, and Macho Man vs. Taskmaster.

 

THE NITRO RECAP:

 

Most Entertaining: Macho Man for his all-round insanity.

 

Least Entertaining: Kevin Sullivan. He popped up in too many segments for my liking (one is usually too many).

 

Quote of the Night: “This is more action than a rooster sees in a henhouse” – Mongo. What’s Terry Taylor been getting up to with those chickens?

 

Match of the Night: Ric Flair vs. Brian Pillman

 

Summary: Three matches, three promos, and a several recaps on the previous night’s pay per view is a lot to cram into one hour. Two of the matches are probably worth watching, and the other match has the historical significance of being the first title change on the show. This was also the first episode without Hogan, but his absence meant everything felt shortened or rushed because the whole show revolved around the events involving Hulk at Fall Brawl. Overall, this show is perhaps worth viewing once to see Nitro’s first title change and the Flair-Pillman match, but don’t go out of your way for it.
Verdict: 33

Royal Rumble ’93

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Arnold Furious: 1993 must have been a worrying year for Vince McMahon. Not only was he facing increasing pressure from the US government over steroid allegations, but also his talent roster was getting thin. Going into the Royal Rumble event there were only four realistic winners. Those being Ric Flair, who won it the previous year but was on the outs, Randy Savage, the former champion, The Undertaker and Yokozuna. Savage was winding his career down and Taker was about to become embroiled in a feud with Giant Gonzalez. The lack of depth was further demonstrated by Razor Ramon securing a PPV title shot after mere months in the company. It’s not like he was setting the world on fire, either.

Survivor Series ’92

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Arnold Furious: The WWF’s 1992 state of constant flux had been in operation since SummerSlam, and they’d changed all their champions, with the WWF title having changed hands twice. First Ric Flair unseated Randy Savage as and then Vince McMahon panicked, and did a quickie belt change to Bret Hart on a house show. Bret had earned his shot to carry the company and the title change reflected the way the WWF was having to change, as it moved away from musclemen and towards workhorses. Two other top contenders, The Ultimate Warrior and former IC champ The British Bulldog, were both dumped because of steroid allegations. Bulldog’s IC title went to Shawn Michaels, another hard-working and talented midcarder. Because the WWF was running out of stars, they pitched these two workrate freaks against each other to main event Survivor Series. The steroid scandal had certainly shook up the WWF landscape. The tag titles also switched, not that anyone cared by this point, and Money Inc were the new incumbents. Essentially it was the best solution to a poor division and a placeholder until the WWF signed another team. That team was The Steiner Brothers. This show has several instances of the WWF trying to revive the tag division so that The Steiners couldn’t just walk into a title shot. We’re in Richfield, Ohio. Hosts are Vince McMahon and Bobby Heenan.

SummerSlam ’92

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Arnold Furious: The WWF had all manner of booking conundrums in 1992. The steroid allegations had forced Hulk Hogan to take a leave of absence, one that seemed necessary to protect his babyface status as well. Crowds were finally starting to turn on the image of Hulkamania, one perhaps suited to the 80s more so than the cynical 90s. The WWF’s original plan was to simply replace Hogan with Sid Justice. They were both big, blonde muscular guys who could connect with the crowd. No worries. Just swap one for the other. But Sid failed a drugs test and that was the last thing the WWF needed with the federal government breathing down their neck. Sid ended up quitting rather than taking his suspension and the WWF found themselves with a main event void, a Hogan-sized hole that was damn near impossible to fill. They resorted to bringing back The Ultimate Warrior. In desperate times, men do desperate things. In the interim they decided Randy Savage, a former champion and one of the few babyface main eventers the company had left, would be champion. So he took the belt off Flair and the WWF pondered their next move. The one they went for was somewhat radical. They’d turn Warrior heel, align him with Ric Flair and start throwing babyface challengers at him, reversing their standard “superman face champion” routine, quite possibly until the actual return of Hulk Hogan. A genuine saviour who could bring the WWF back to the promised land and a third bout of Hulkamania. Of course we’ll never know how any of this would have been greeted by the fans. Warrior decided he didn’t want to turn heel, after this show was already booked, and the bookers opted instead to turn the setup into a big Flair scheme. Sometimes booking on the fly creates a more interesting picture. This way Flair’s faked support for one of Savage or Warrior turned into his own campaign to reclaim the title, which is exactly what happened. Savage’s injuries during SummerSlam resulted in him losing the belt to Flair shortly afterwards. Meanwhile, because of Warrior’s impending, but not really, turn, they had to book an alternative main event for SummerSlam too. At the time a heel simply didn’t go over in a main event. Send them home happy remained the mantra. As luck would have it, SummerSlam was in England at Wembley Stadium. So the incredibly popular British Bulldog got picked to go on last. His popularity was such that the WWF felt the need to put his matches last on almost every British tour and felt he could hold up his end in a main event. Bret Hart, on the grounds that he was IC champion, happened to slot into the main event. The plan was never to put the WWF title on Bret, as far as I can tell, but rather seek other options. However his performance against Bulldog was so spectacular, so earth-shatteringly awesome, that he forced his way into contention and was WWF champion before their next PPV, Survivor Series. 1992 was a time of great change, but it’s Bret’s performance on this show that effects the greatest change in the WWF’s policy. With the steroid monsters unable to compete in Vince’s perfect world, he has to rely on the workhorses. This show proved he could. We’re in London, UK at the historic Wembley Stadium, so this is the first WWF PPV to take place outside of North America. Hosts are Vince McMahon and Bobby Heenan.

UK Rampage ’92

James Dixon: This was a UK special from the Sheffield Arena as part of the European Rampage Tour, televised on Sky Movies Plus from April 1992, around three weeks after WrestleMania VIII.

 

Tatanka vs. Skinner
What a pop for Tatanka! I hope this show doesn’t suffer from the usual problems that the UK events had, with poor matches given 15-minutes and just sending the crowd to sleep. Skinner was a strange one. He had a terrible gimmick, awful attire and was a glorified jobber, but his matches surprisingly don’t completely suck. Steve Keirn is a good worker, and he was able to extract more mileage out of Skinner than the character had any right to get. It’s a few minutes before Skinner gets on the offensive for the first time, sending Tatanka face-first into the buckles and then targeting the leg. Skinner puts on a toe-hold and uses the ropes for leverage, but gets caught and the referee kicks him off. Skinner continues the assault, slamming the leg into the apron and then wrapping it around the post.  This has been a good wrestling display from Skinner. Something I have never noticed before is what a really camp quality the character has, combined with a strange nonchalance when delivering moves. It is not lazy or anything like that, there is just a “shrugging” quality to his offense. Keirn could have been much more in the WWF if he was allowed to just be a wrestler like Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard were when they came in a few years earlier, but he arrived too late, deep into the Village People phase of the company. A straight up wrestler just wouldn’t have worked. Shame, really. Tatanka mounts a comeback and soon after hits the End of Trail for the clean win, to the delight of the crowd, after around 12-minutes. That was fairly long for those guys, but there was nothing wrong with it. Thoroughly decent.
Final Rating: **

WrestleMania VIII

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Arnold Furious: Politics. Sometimes it’s a dirty word. Sometimes politics can ruin shows, angles and potentially great matches. But sometimes politics can be a positive boon to shows. The original plan for WrestleMania VIII was Flair vs. Hogan for the belt. It seemed like a no-brainer too. You’ve got the two biggest stars in wrestling in your company. One is a face. One is a heel. Go for it. But politics intervened. Neither man could agree a finish with Vince McMahon and the match was left in limbo, so both received different matches. Flair against Savage and Hogan against Sid. Hogan was clearly miffed at not getting the chance to pin Flair, and he got to go on last. However this was Hogan’s big farewell as he was about to take the rest of 1992 off. There was even talk of Hogan retiring. This wasn’t down to a lack of desire nor storyline issues, but rather the steroid scandal. It was about to erupt and Hogan had been widely accused in the media of being on steroids. He publicly denied it but the heat was so intense that he took time off. Of course in reality Hogan had been taking steroids, as he admitted in his book, so not only was he a ‘roid monster but now he was a liar too. So much for the WWF’s superhero. The steroid scandal had one hugely positive effect on wrestling; it meant that the technical guys got pushed to the moon. They didn’t need steroids to put on good matches, and with the muscular guys on the way out it was time for Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Owen Hart and others like them to get an opportunity. Vince was still a big fan of huge wrestlers so he hired as many naturally large men as possible to fill the void of his muscular monsters. The Hoosier Dome is a big venue, and compared to WMVII it looks like business is up.

Royal Rumble ’92

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Arnold Furious: The last time the WWF vacated their world title the result was an enormous tournament that lasted forever and ate up the majority of WrestleMania IV. Pretty much everyone hated it and, aside from Savage winning, it was a bust. So with the title vacant again, following not one but two screwy belt changes featuring Hogan and The Undertaker, the WWF had a better idea; put the title up for grabs in the Royal Rumble and make that match really mean something. The Rumble would go onto become one of the most prestigious matches in wrestling. Hell of a job for a glorified battle royal. 1992 is when it all started to make sense as a match, with the title on the line in an hour long contest. The field was strong too with potential winners throughout led by Hogan and Taker who’d been promised late entrance numbers. Also involved were Flair, Piper, Sid, Jake and Savage. We all know what happened, but Flair didn’t know until the day that he would win. Nor that he’d enter at #3. The WWF were eager to put over his stamina, notorious in the NWA, without putting him in an hour match on PPV. This way they could have their cake and eat it. We’re in Albany, New York. Hosts are Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby Heenan.

This Tuesday In Texas

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Arnold Furious: This was an attempt to trial Tuesday as another night for potentially airing a PPV. Unfortunately the WWF made the decision to air it six days after their annual Survivor Series event. Many people simply couldn’t afford both and opted out on the newer concept. It probably didn’t help those considering purchasing both that Survivor Series ’91 was routinely horrible with bad finishes. Although, you could argue that the huge amount of shilling for this event at Survivor Series, may have added a few extra buys. Not many though, as the buyrate ended up disappointing and the WWF ditched the idea of running a secondary mid-week PPV. At least until Taboo Tuesday rolled round. We’re in San Antonio, Texas and it’s December 3rd, 1991. Hosts are Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby Heenan. Odds on someone mentioning the Alamo? Evens.

Tangent: some of the dark matches on this show are so weird I almost wish they’d been included. The Harris Brothers had a tryout match some four years before the WWF actually signed them. There was also a Sir Charles match. Charles Wright was repackaged under the significantly more racist Papa Shango gimmick the following month. Elsewhere Tatanka worked under his real name and Ric Flair pinned Roddy Piper, which is one of Piper’s rare, rare WWF jobs. He claims only one, to Bret Hart at WrestleMania VIII, but others do exist.

Tangent #2: the card for this show is piss poor. Only two marquee matches with Jake-Savage and Hogan-Taker. Everything else is a waste of time. Why is Skinner in an IC title match? Why does Warlord get 12-minutes? Repo Man!? Come on!

SummerSlam ’91

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Arnold Furious: There are times when Vince McMahon realises his company is struggling and his usual approach is to grab it, and shake it up as hard as he can. In 1991 the company underwent some radical changes in personnel and in the card positioning of existing talent. The WWF’s transitional periods are always entertaining because anything can happen. Once Vince has the mindset that his company must change, it does. The shake up doesn’t happen overnight but after WrestleMania VII it started in earnest. New faces on this show included Ricky Steamboat, IRS and Colonel Mustafa (all returning talent, admittedly) and Sid Justice, with new pushes evident for Bret Hart, Tugboat (having turned heel) and LOD. The shake-up would continue after this show, with Mr. Perfect taking a year off, Slaughter being slowly moved back into obscurity after his run at the top and Warrior being fired immediately after the event. More details on that later. Another key for Vince was expanding “sports entertainment” and that would happen here with the live “wedding” of Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth. We’re in New York City at Madison Square Garden; the WWF’s home venue. It’s their first PPV event at MSG since SummerSlam ’88. When things are going wrong, you go home and rebuild. Vince is overblown on hype duty even for him, which is saying something: “Nuptials turn to napalm in the match made in HEEEELLLLLLLLLLL”. Hosts are Gorilla Monsoon, Bobby Heenan and Roddy Piper in a trial three-man team. Heenan is far more effective than Piper, which is why they went with Monsoon and Heenan in future.

WrestleMania VII

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Arnold Furious: The WWF didn’t have the best of years in 1990, and 1991 started the same. The attendance at WrestleMania was down because of it. Originally they scheduled this at the LA Coliseum, which holds 90k+, in an attempt to break their attendance record from WrestleMania III. But pre-sales weren’t good and they switched venues to the less impressive but easier to fill LA Memorial Sports Arena. The official reason was that a “bomb threat,” supposedly relating to the Sgt. Slaughter angle, had forced their decision. Not that they’d only sold 16,000 tickets. That wasn’t the reason at all. We’re in Los Angeles, California. Hosts are Gorilla Monsoon and Jim Duggan. That changes during the course of the evening. Duggan is surprisingly insightful and barely in character.