Pro Wrestling Illustrated and other wrestling magazines had their own take on the Monday Night War at the same time the Internet was changing how wrestling was traditionally covered. via www.pwi-online.com
The birth of the nWo. Austin 3:16. The Montreal Screwjob. The streak. The Fingerpoke of Doom. The Millennium Countdown. The McMahon-Helmsley Era. New Blood Rising. The Raw-Nitro simulcast.
If these phrases mean something to you, chances are you were a fan of wrestling during the late 1990s and early 2000s, during the fabled Monday Night War pitting WWF Raw against WCW Nitro.
These events were covered in the pages of the venerable Pro Wrestling Illustrated, of course. Wrestling magazines spent years hyping up feuds between stars of the major rival groups, and now the U.S. landscape was distilled to two main entities: WWF and WCW (ECW, though influential, wasn't really relevant in this discussion).
Pro Wrestling Illustrated and other wrestling magazines had their own take on the Monday Night War at the same time the Internet was changing how wrestling was traditionally covered and weekly television was hastening the pace of wrestling storylines. Their influence may have been down from the 1980s, but magazines were still a popular way for many to fans digest their wrestling news.January 1996: It's Full-Scale War: WCW vs. WWF
WCW launched Monday Nitro in September 1995 in opposition to Raw and received a big jolt from the unexpected debut of Lex Luger, who had defected from the WWF.
PWI did this style of "which is better" cover fairly often: three faces from one side vs. three faces from the other side cover. I find the positioning here interesting: Diesel and Hogan each being at the top makes sense since they each would have been champions when this was printed, though each lost their titles in fall 1995 (PWI cover dates are always a few months behind).
But pitting Michaels vs. Sting and Hart vs. Savage. I would have thought high-flier vs. high-flier and Scorpion vs. Sharpshooter would have been more natural, but maybe I'm just overthinking it. Also, all six wrestlers on the cover are good guys, though that would change soon enough.
Odd that this cover is speculating on Kevin Nash's future in WCW and says nothing about Scott Hall (who debuted in WCW first). Granted, Nash had been a world champion and Hall hadn't been, but they weren't that far apart in fans' minds.
Of course, Nash did not topple Hulkamania, and it took him more than two years to even go after the WCW title. But it's easy to scoff at predictions in hindsight. I don't think anyone was prepared for exactly what WCW was prepared to do with Hall and Nash, which is part of why New World Order was such a success.
Also we have a Steiners vs. Road Warriors feud that I have scant memory of labeled "the most important feud in tag team history" and hope for a Shawn Michaels vs. Roddy Piper, which might have actually been pretty fun in 1996.
I'm not sure what Hulk Hogan is doing there in his first PWI cover since turning heel and joining the nWo. Hissing? Cat claws? Dread Pirate Roberts imitation? Whatever it is, it is hilarious. I'm beginning to think Hollywood Hogan might have been the best comedy act in wrestling history.
I'm also glad PWI is only reporting the "hottest" rumor that Undertaker and Paul Bearer are splitting up, and not any of the lukewarm ones.
By the way, they did split up.
Of course, the peak of the nWo storyline was WCW hero Sting finally receiving his shot at Hogan more than a year after retreating to the rafters.
I love how seriously PWI takes this, calling it the match of the century and giving it the trappings of a high-profile boxing fight, with tale of the tape and 50 "insiders" predicting the winner.
In truth, this match was such a big deal, plausibly the biggest in WCW's history, which makes all this treatment amusing given what a debacle it turned into. PWI's post-match take on the shenanigans is priceless
This cover focuses on Bret Hart's on- and off-screen tribulations in WCW in 1998, when he was marginalized by being put mostly in midcard feuds despite leaving WWF as a top star. After a brief hot feud with Ric Flair, he languished as a good guy and soon aligned himself with Hogan (though stopped short of joining the nWo during that time).
The WWF also took off without Hart, as Vince McMahon parlayed the heat from his decision to betray Hart to re-create himself as a villain and feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Hart's WCW career was certainly a disappointment, although still managed to have some great matches with Booker T, Chris Benoit, Dallas Page, Fit Finlay, and others and a few memorable moments as well.
It's the awards issue! Two awards each went to the two biggest men in wrestling at the moment in 1998: Goldberg (best rookie and most inspirational) and Austin (most popular and wrestler of the year). Hogan (most hated) has another wonderfully goofy pose in which he appears to be twirling an invisible mustache that is much larger than his real mustache.
Even though it seems a bit silly now, the New Age Outlaws (tag team of the year) really were a big deal. Road Dogg and Billy Gunn were the first WWE team in almost a decade to be more than an afterthought and probably were more popular than DX stablemates Triple H and X-Pac at the time.
Chris Jericho was a huge star in the eyes of fans, especially those on the Internet, upon his defection to WWF in summer 1999, though he'd face a few barriers before he really was involved in the mix with other top stars like Triple H, The Rock and Steve Austin.
We're moving into the period in which it is clear the WWF is going to win this war: WCW's highlighted feud is Sid's challenge of Goldberg. Though that was hardly a revolutionary feud, it did produce this incredible bloodbath at Halloween Havoc 1999 (which might have been like a suicide mission for Sid, come to think of it).
This cover looks at the McMahon-Helmsley era, with Stephanie McMahon betraying her father and joining Triple H as the on-screen power couple in the WWF (they would divorce on-screen in 2002 and marry for real in 2003).
2000 was in many ways the peak for WWE, as Triple H was his hottest as a villain and having a great run of matches, especially against Cactus Jack.
Also, the Rock had stepped into Steve Austin's place as a top hero, and an influx of top-notch talent (Jericho, Kurt Angle, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit and others) meant the wrestling up and down the card was never better. Edge and Christian, the Hardys, and the Dudleys also breathed new life into tag team wrestling.
In opposition, we have WCW attempting a new nWo (again!) with Hart, Nash, Hall and Jeff Jarrett. Although this was probably not likely to succeed in any case, it fell apart quickly with Hart suffering a career-ending injury, Hall disappearing and writer Vince Russo being ousted for a few months.
Also of note: a piece wondering if Rob Van Dam had grown beyond ECW. And in a year, we'd have our answer, as RVD immediately caught fire when he debuted in the WWF.
The WWF bought WCW in March 2001 and began the infamous "Invasion" that summer. Again we have a three faces against three faces style cover of Austin vs. Scott Steiner, Vince McMahon vs. Shane McMahon (the on-screen WCW owner) and The Rock vs. Booker T.
Mostly these covers would speculate on matches that we wouldn't get to see, but here we got to see two of the three. Although the one I would have loved to see the most, Steiner vs. Austin, is the one we sadly lacked.