REWIND: The First Nitro 9/4/1995
It's the historic first episode of WCW Monday Nitro from the Mall of America! I'm watching this on a rip of wonderfully shoddy quality, clearly from someone's TV recording because it includes some commercials as well.
We start at ringside/in the food court with Eric Bischoff, Mongo, and Bobby Heenan doing a bit of banter before throwing it to the ring for the much adored opening match: Jushin Thunder Liger vs "Flyin'" Brian Pillman.
In 1995, this is a hell of a way to start off your debut episode of television. It's something you wouldn't have seen on WWF TV at the time. RAW was, of course, preempted this week but its opening match the following week was The British Bulldog vs Razor Ramon ending in a disqualification. Definitely a far cry from Liger/Pillman.
I can't remember if this was the first actual WCW TV I saw as it happened. I grew up with a friend who had a satellite dish, so I remember seeing bits and pieces of Saturday Night from time to time but this could have been my formal introduction to WCW in real time. It's hard to say – the memory plays tricks on you.
The crowd is super into this opener and some of the high-flying moves, but devolves into a weird-ass "USA" chant after Liger flattens Pillman with a somersault senton on the floor. It's short-lived, thankfully.
There isn't much of a story in this one, as is to be expected. It's just two guys going out and doing cool shit to get the crowd going, and in that they succeed. Headscissors, hurricanranas from the top rope, moonsaults, dives – they do it all and the crowd loves every bit of it. In the end, though, it's a simple victory roll from Pillman that cinches the win.
We get some fun little panning shots of the Mall of America setup and throw to a quick Sting promo bumper with the classic Nitro diamond plate + fire graphics before a commercial, in this case an ad for the WCW Hotline with Mean Gene, the Batman Forever video game, Big A Auto Parts, and Pierre Cardin cologne. Such a diverse advertising focus!
We throw to another pre-tape with Bischoff interviewing Hulk Hogan in front of, you guessed it, Hulk Hogan's Pastamania restaurant! Hogan claims he's eaten so many Hulkaroos and Hulk-U's that he feels sorry for his opponent tonight, Big Bubba. I'm unsure how pasta intake relates to wrestling ability, but I've never been a racist world champion so what do I know?
The main event of this show is Hulk Hogan vs Big Bubba Rogers (AKA The Big Bossman). The match we get next is Ric Flair vs Sting for the United States Title. There really is no justice in the world.
Technicolor Sting, reigning US Champ, makes his way to the ring and I hope upon hope that current-day Sting reprises the Surfer Sting look at least once before he hangs it up for good.
Before the bell can ring, Mall Enthusiast Lex Luger approaches the ring in a collarless white dress shirt and a pair of black jeans with two buttons. The commentators are appalled and Luger is quietly escorted away from the ring by Head of Security Doug Dellinger.
I don't know if anyone in this era is going to have a better opening few minutes than Sting. He's so fast, so agile, and so explosive pulling off back-to-back dropdown/leapfrog combos, gorilla press slams, and hiptosses to throw Flair off of his game.
Flair, for his part, has always been an expert at slowing things down with a thumb to the eye.
In a move I'm not sure Flair has ever repeated, he hits a cross body on Sting against the ropes sending both men toppling over the top rope and to the floor. Considering how long Flair wrestled beyond his prime, it still somewhat blows me away watching older matches where he still moved around like a guy half his age.
Mid-way through the match, Arn Anderson makes his way to the ring with a sour puss and a decent jacket though his fashion sense isn't quite on the level of The Total Package.
Flair slaps the figure four on Sting and begins using the ropes for leverage. When he won't release the hold, Anderson gets into the ring causing an immediate disqualification. He pulls Flair's legs apart, breaking the hold, and the two brawl briefly before Flair scuttles to the back.
The surprises aren't done yet, though! Scott Norton appears and starts shoving folks around at ringside while wearing a sleeveless button up shirt. He shoves Mongo out of frame before Randy Savage saves the day and lays out a challenge for a fight right now!
Bischoff, hating the chance of a good time breaking out, tells Norton that he'll never wrestle in WCW if he gets into the ring before throwing to a Sabu video package with some of the most chaotic video editing I've ever seen. 70% of the effects in this thing look like an accident, but hey – it's Sabu!
Backstage, we get a VK Wallstreet promo rife with jabs at the WWF, the "New Generation" branding, and his previous IRS character before we head to the ring for our main event.
At some point during our main event, Heenan comments that Bubba is a great brawler. Mongo delivers the whopper of the night by claiming that Hogan is "too much of a technician" to let Bubba get away with too much brawling.
There is, otherwise, nothing of note in this match. It's fine Hulk Hogan bullshit for TV in 1995, but the real story comes after the match when The Dungeon of Doom attack Hogan. He, of course, fights them all off on his own but is eventually aided by Luger.
Hogan and Luger bump into each other and pause before coming to blows, Sting and Savage also reappearing to try and cool things down a bit. Luger's legs look so unbelievably tiny in his skinny jeans.
As things fall apart in the ring, we get our final commercial of the night before returning with Mean Gene back in the ring to try and make sense of and diffuse the situation. Hogan tells Luger that he's "got no business" in "his" backyard, which is a funny thing for Hogan to claim considering both guys' history.
Luger tells Hogan that he's been everywhere Hogan has been and beaten all of the same people, but he's "done playing around with kids" and wants to fight with the big boys. Hogan can barely stop himself from interrupting the entire time but his mouth finally overcomes his brain and he cuts Luger off.
What comes next is a direct quote from Hogan: "As great as you may be, you don't have to prove nothing to me, brother. You don't have to wait 'til next week. You don't have to wait 'til next month. Just stick that stinky palm of yours out, brother, shake my hand and I'll put the WCW Title on the line next Monday on Monday Nitro right in Miami!"
So, he doesn't have to wait until next week... but he will have to wait until next week to challenge Hogan for the title. Crystal clear!
The show wraps up with the commentators doing the hard sell for next week's show, and we get the best shot of Pepe all night wearing his little devil costume in the arms of Mongo.