NOTE: I'll be telling this little story as 19-year old Eddie Mac. That's how old I was on the day of the Fingerpoke of Doom and Mick Foley winning the WWF title. Thanks to the benefit of that thing called the Internet, I'll watch both shows in as real time as possible. All times are approximate, though I tried like hell to be exact.
NOTE 2: It's a bit long. But hopefully well worth it.
The day is January 4, 1999. The time is shortly after 11pm.
Robin Williams' latest movie Patch Adams cleans up at the box office to the tune of nearly $20 million, much to the chagrin of critics everywhere. Cher and Celine Dion both have #1 hits. Playboy just turned 45. Tom Brokaw's The Greatest Generation is a New York Times bestseller. The US Mint began issuing the 50 State Quarters. And just six months removed from Michael Jordan's retirement, the NBA season still hasn't started yet. In fact, it's in danger of being cancelled.
And if you're a wrestling fan, today has been a big day for you. In Minnesota, Jesse Ventura, once a professional wrestler, has just been inaugurated as their 38th governor. In Worcester, Massachusetts, Mick Foley, wrestling under the alias Mankind, just pulled one of the biggest upsets in recent WWF history by defeating The Rock to become their new world heavyweight champion. But then again, if you lived in Worcester, or had the Internet and followed wrestling, you knew that. That actually happened last Tuesday. Even the WWF themselves reported it on their official website. In fact, Dewey is taking a victory lap with the WWF championship belt, much in the way his father Mick is doing on TV right now.
And just over 1000 miles away, in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, nearly 40,000 people are about to witness one act so simple, yet so defining, the aftershock is still being felt to this day.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
It's year four of the Monday Night Wars. Both the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) and World Championship Wrestling (WCW) use part of their weekly Monday night shows, RAW and Nitro respectively, to snipe at their competition. The battle was mundane numbers-wise in the beginning, but from the outset, no holds barred didn't just refer to some of the action in the ring. Both shows began airing segments sniping at their opposition, with the purpose of humiliating the other to get their viewers to choose their brand. Once getting ratings in the 2's, their Monday night battles have become two of the (and many weeks, the two) most watched programs in all of cable, pulling numbers that would make network TV executives jealous.
After a brief uptick following Wrestlemania XII, WWF found themselves quickly falling behind in the wars thanks to a little luck and ingenuity. Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, two key performers in the WWF's New Generation Era, left for WCW. This was hardly new: many of the WWF's biggest performers in the mid- and late 1980s had made the jump in the last two years, beginning with Hulk Hogan in 1994. Together, with the mind of Eric Bischoff and a little inspiration from Japan, they formed the New World Order, and not only did WCW's Nitro pass WWF's RAW in the ratings, they drove the WWF to the brink of bankruptcy.
But Vince McMahon and company would not stay down. The mishandling of the main event of Starrcade 1997 and the weeks that followed, combined with the fallout of the Montreal Screwjob and the rapid rise of Stone Cold Steve Austin, keyed the resurgence of the WWF. Nitro's run of 84 consecutive wins over RAW came to an end two weeks after Wrestlemania XIV, an event that saw Austin defeat Shawn Michaels to become the WWF Champion and the face of the company's new direction, dubbed "The Attitude Era". RAW would defeat Nitro 17 of the next 24 weeks.
Meanwhile, over in WCW, a star had been born in Bill Goldberg, an ex-football player who would dominate the competition with his raw, animalistic power. From his debut in September 1997 to Starrcade 1998, Goldberg would win every match. 173 of them to be exact, capturing the WCW United States Championship in April and their world heavyweight title from Hollywood Hulk Hogan less than three months later with just under 40,000 fans in attendance. The Hogan-Goldberg match would be the most watched in cable history at the time, but not saving the match for a PPV event left millions in potential revenue on the table. In fact, Goldberg was at best a second banana as WCW champion, nothing more than a sideshow against the backdrop of nWo drama. In fact, he was not booked at all in two PPVs during his run as champion, and had two PPV main events that stymied his run: a win at Halloween Havoc over Diamond Dallas Page that many viewers didn't see until the next night because the PPV feed cut during the match, and the Starrcade loss to Nash.
No longer burdened by their past or the Kliq, the WWF confidently begin looking to the future. Thanks to the success of the Austin character, many characters would be tweaked to fit the "Attitude Era" profile. Rocky Maivia became The Rock, a third-generation athlete with the ego of a high school star quarterback and the money to match, often referring to himself in the third person. Hunter Hearst Helmsley, American blueblood, was shortened to Triple H, a bro who was real life best friends with Shawn Michaels, X-Pac, and the rest of his crew known as D-Generation X. Mankind, aka Mick Foley, was humanized some, telling of stories of how he would drive hours from one event to the next and sleep in motels and risk his life far beyond the call of duty to get noticed and entertain the fans. Even Vince McMahon's character was tweaked: he went from over-the-top play-by-play barker to Machiavellian owner of a company that was rolling in money; an owner that would do anything to protect his interests, regardless of who he stepped on to do so.
For the first six months following Wrestlemania XIV, Austin had been champion all but one day: a loss in a first blood match to Kane at the 1998 King of the Ring event. The event is also famous for Mankind and Undertaker's violent Hell in a Cell encounter, one that saw Mankind fall off of-and through-the cage. In September, Austin lost the title in a triple threat match when both Undertaker and Kane pinned the champion at the same time. But the former champion crashed the coronation ceremony the next night just as Vince McMahon was about to announce the new title holder. The championship would remain vacant for nearly two months before The Rock won the title much in the way Shawn Michaels did it the previous year's Survivor Series. Pegged storyline-wise to be the next world champion by McMahon, Mankind was left holding the bag and was forced to chase the protected corporate champion (who also happened to be the youngest in company history). Mankind was thought to have won the WWF Championship in December's Rock Bottom, but on a technicality, The Rock retained the title because according to Mr. McMahon, he was not pinned nor made to submit.
The first Nitro of 1999 emanated from the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Eight days earlier at Starrcade, Kevin Nash, with the help of Scott Hall and a stun gun, defeated Goldberg to become the new WCW world heavyweight champion. Tonight would be his rematch. It would be in his hometown of Atlanta, home of the NFL's Falcons, and in the Georgia Dome, where they play. (Speaking of the Falcons, they just completed a 14-2 season and won a division title, but not home field throughout the playoffs, as they finished second to the 15-1 Minnesota Vikings.) But it's not all dark clouds in Atlanta: one night after losing to Eric Bischoff at Starrcade, Ric Flair won a rematch on Nitro, and with it, control of WCW for 90 days.
RAW's first show of the new year emanated from the Centrum Centre in Worcester, MA, a suburb of Boston. The show was taped a few days earlier, on December 29. WCW had no problem taking advantage of WWF's taping schedule, often giving away results of taped RAW shows during live Nitro broadcasts. The live one week-taped one week schedule in fact would continue until the fall of 1999 when the addition of Smackdown necessitated RAW to go live every week. Shawn Michaels was fired from his WWF commissioner post as part of the fallout from Shane McMahon getting abused by Mankind. Mankind himself was still trying to get the WWF Championship-or at least a fair shot at it. And if it's January, that means it's Royal Rumble time in the WWF. The McMahons assigned Austin #1 via a "random draw" that took place three weeks earlier, while Vince himself got #30, even though he had hoped for #2. (In a side nugget, Austin's going for his third Royal Rumble match win in a row, something that had never been done.)
8pm ET. Nitro opens with highlights from the Starrcade bout between Goldberg and Kevin Nash. Tonight: the rematch. But first... NITRO GIRLS! For the younger fans, the Nitro Girls were a dance troupe that did some sometimes provocative dance numbers between selected segments of Monday night's program. Basically, your standard wrestling dance team if a wrestling program had its own dance team. The Nitro Girls were created by Kimberly Page, then-wife of Diamond Dallas Page. A few nuggets: two of the Nitro Girls would later marry WWE Hall of Famers: Whisper to Shawn Michaels, and Storm to Booker T. Stacy Keibler, one of George Clooney's many main squeezes, was also a Nitro Girl, but that would come later. And if you really like you some Kimberly Page, may I recommend The 40-Year Old Virgin. She's got a cameo in it. Speed dating scene. You're welcome. Oh, and there's a Nitro Party in one of the luxury suites at the Georgia Dome. Nitro had become such a phenomenon, people scheduled parties around them. And people put them on tape. And sent them in. Some would win Nitro Party Packs. And once in a while, one would be picked to host a Nitro Party at a Nitro.
8:04pm. Match 1: Glacier versus Hugh Morrus. Glacier was one of the biggest busts in WCW history. He was set to debut in the spring of 1996, but the New World Order caught fire, and Blood Runs Cold got sent to the backburner, where it probably should have remained. He debuted on WCW's D-show, WCW Pro, a show that probably got ratings similar to a top cable show in the middle of the day during the week (despite being on at 6pm Sunday). His performance didn't live up to his lavish entrances, and was taken off TV soon after his debut. Hugh Morrus (real name: Bill Demott) was a low-card lifer as a part of the infamous Dungeon of Doom stable and later the First Family. Before later becoming a trainer for Tough Enough, Demott's claim to fame was he was Goldberg's first win. Don't worry, you didn't miss much, and with the announcers talking about just about anything but the match, neither did they. Hugh Morrus wins with his No Laughing Matter moonsault at 2:46.
Cut to announcers discussing Ric Flair in charge and Hulk Hogan's retirement. Yeah, Hogan, piggybacking on Jesse Ventura's shocking gubernatorial victory in Minnesota, announced on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno that he would run for President of the United States.
At about 8:15, the Nitro opening finally plays. I'm pretty sure primetime shows even today don't play their opening sequence fifteen minutes in. About five minutes later, cut to a shot of Ric Flair, his family, and the Four Horsemen (with Doug Dillinger, an entourage, and some guy holding a 420 sign. Looks like the guy with the 420 sign didn't make it in.) New WCW president Ric Flair makes his way to the ring to be interviewed by Mean Gene Okerlund. Flair calls out ex-boss Eric Bischoff, and Bischoff expects the hammer of God to be dropped upon him. Instead, Bischoff gets reassigned to announcing duty and gets his pay cut. Footage of Randy Anderson getting fired by Eric Bischoff is shown before Anderson is called to the ring. Anderson, who was affected by testicular cancer, got his job back at double pay. Finally Ric booked himself a handicap match against Curt Hennig and Scott Hall, but made it a tag match after some convincing from his oldest son David.
8:40pm. Match 2: Booker T vs. Emory Hale. Again, very little discussion of the match. Not that there needed to be. Booker T with a near flawless victory in just 59 seconds.
8:45pm. NITRO GIRLS! Then hard-cut to the announce team with Eric Bischoff who has no intention of participating. Why can't you just fire a guy, Schiavone? The hell, man. Grow some balls.
8:46pm. Match 3: Norman Smiley vs. Chavo Guerrero with Pepe. Seriously, who thought Pepe was a good idea? Bischoff refusing to participate. Bro, do you even commentary? Chavo reverses a chicken wing submission and gets a win at 4:01. Smiley post-match is pissed. Waiting on Bischoff to jump in. Just jump in there, bro. Fuck, not even reading ad copy. Costing the company many dollars, bro. Not cool, bro.
8:53pm. Match 4: Chris Benoit vs. Horace Hogan representing the nWo. Bischoff finally participating with "who cares?" in reference to the upcoming NFL playoffs. Benoit is a man's man, I mean except for the whole double murder-suicide thing. Horace with a suicide dive. Oh, hey look, Randy Anderson is refereeing. Cool. Hogan looking for a suplex, but he thought about it too long. Benoit hooks the crossface and that'll do it at 3:59. Chris nearly headbutting cameras for no particular reason.
8:58pm. Goldberg's under arrest. GOLDBERG'S UNDER ARREST? Really? He's got a title match in a couple hours. Goldberg calls bullshit and refuses to keep calm, but ultimately cooperates.
9:00pm. Time for RAW. Previously on RAW, Shawn Michaels is fired, but kicks McMahon's face in on the way out. Shawn Michaels retrospective video that probably should have come nine months earlier following Wrestlemania. Dat soft glow though. McMahon's had enough of the sentimental crap and kills the video. Out comes McMahon, WWF Champion The Rock, and the rest of the corporate team.
9:02pm. As McMahon babbles on about the threat of Shawn Michaels showing up, we get a shot of Goldberg being escorted to a waiting car outside, while a confused Kevin Nash wondered what the deal was. After all: Goldberg-Nash II was in a couple hours. Meanwhile, a snickering Hollywood Hogan appears. Kevin is not amused.
9:04pm. Shawn Michaels appears, much to the dismay of the Corporation. Meanwhile, on Nitro, Nitro Match 5: Chris Jericho (with Ralphus) takes on Perry Saturn. Did I say Shawn Michaels appears? I meant Shawn Michaels plus DX. It's the whole fucking D-Generation X. Holy shit. HBK's got an ironclad contract, as it turns out; he can't be fired. Shawn only gets off the lawn if he quits. Jericho versus Saturn is getting pretty good. Back to RAW: footage of the Royal Rumble draw. Austin gets #1, McMahon got #30, dashing his hopes for #2. Jericho-Saturn is going to commercial. Thanks to Michaels, McMahon gets his wish: he enters the Royal Rumble #2. And there's a surprise later coming that's gonna drive McMahon stone cold crazy. Late Christmas present, perhaps? Hit our music. Break it down!
9:12pm. Jericho-Saturn still in progress, while RAW announces a hardcore title match between Road Dogg and Al Snow for later. Jericho's cocky pin still hasn't worked. Ever. Jericho with some master class heeling and... Jericho wins by disqualification? Saturn is pissed. He got screwed by Scott Dickinson.
9:15pm. RAW Match 1: Ken Shamrock versus Steve Blackman in a non-title match. Meanwhile on Nitro, Goldberg found out why he got arrested: aggravated stalking against Miss Elizabeth as it turns out. Goldberg still calls bullshit. Guess there's one way to find out. Hey look! A wild Dan Severn appears with a broken freaking neck. Shamrock and Severn split two meetings in the UFC. Fameasser by Billy Gunn following a distraction by Severn. Ref never sees it, and Blackman picks up the scraps at 3:26.
9:20pm. More NITRO GIRLS! And back to the Nitro Party. Looks like good, clean fun. And we cut to the interview with Atlanta police and Miss Elizabeth. On RAW, a replay of Billy Gunn fameassing Shamrock.
9:25pm. Gunn and Shamrock are damn near killing each other as officials rush in to break it up. A wild Mankind appears, as we get footage of two RAWs ago when Mankind beat down Shane McMahon... and grabbed Pat Patterson by the balls. Foley apparently had an epiphany: he likes kicking McMahon ass and he wants one more match for the world title at the Royal Rumble. Meanwhile on Nitro, a Latino World Order party. Foley is God. Or good. One of the two. Yes, you can say ass. McMahon finally appears with his "corporate team" behind him, even though they clearly aren't there. If I can't see them, they're not there. That' s how it works. Guerrero gets bitches, man. Meanwhile on RAW, McMahon's ripping Foley a new one verbally. I believe it's Mankind this week.
9:30pm. Nitro Match 6: Billy Kidman and Rey Mysterio vs. Juventud Guerrera and Psicosis of the LWO. Meanwhile on RAW, McMahon basically said that Mankind would never again challenge for the world title unless he wins the Royal Rumble. But he's only got one opening: Triple H vs. Mankind. Winner gets in the Rumble. Referee: Shane McMahon. Oh boy. Meanwhile on Nitro, even Bobby Heenan's calling bullshit on the stalking charges. Back to RAW. Chyna and Sammy appear. One of these two is a man. I'll leave it up to you to decide who.
9:35pm. Back on Nitro, Bischoff still doesn't even commentary, bro, but God bless Schiavone and Heenan for trying. RAW Match 2: "Sexual Chocolate" Mark Henry versus Goldust. Why is one smitten with Chyna, I'll never know. Wait... the precinct is across the street at CNN Center? Did I hear that right? Oh, the tag match is apparently Lucha Libre rules. Fantastic. Springboard Doomsday Device doesn't get it for Kidsterio. Oops. Dropkick by Kidman to Mysterio kills it and the LWO gets the dupe at 7:36. Meanwhile on RAW, Chyna and Sammy appear. Henry is aware a match's still in progress, right? On Nitro, Goldberg's talking with cops. And Goldust just put it through Henry's uprights. Henry gets the DQ victory at 3:44.
9:45pm. Chyna confesses that she's not enough woman for Mark Henry. I would say the other way around, but that's another story. Mark Henry, meet Sammy. Chyna proposed a three-way. Or something. Footage of Jesse Ventura's inauguration earlier today. On Nitro, Mean Gene interviews new WCW champion Kevin Nash. Yes, Goldberg got screwed. YOU BOOKED IT THAT WAY, REMEMBER? Fuck. Nonetheless, Nash's pointing the finger at Ho Kogan...look at me. And Nash wants Hogan.
9:50pm. Some guy in an abandoned place tied up. Hardcut to The Godfather and his hos. Nash and Hogan later, thanks to Ric Flair. "PIMPIN' AIN'T EA-" Not you, King. Meanwhile on Nitro, Elizabeth tells her story again to a different cop. Godfather with the Hogan leg drop that would make Hogan jealous. Near fall though. It's 1999, not 1989. Meanwhile, Val Venis appears. Conference. Meanwhile, we got some anarchy. Godfather and Test go to a double countout at 1:59. Test and Val Venis wanna kill each other. Or something similar. DX backstage having a pow-wow. Or exchanging recipes for beer-battered chicken. Super Bowl's coming in a few weeks, ya know. But never mind that shit. One hour from now, the wrestling industry as we know it is going to shift monumentally.
10:00pm. Mean Gene with another in-ring interview, this time with Hollywood Hogan. Meanwhile on RAW, following a replay of Mankind beating the hell out of Shane McMahon, it's RAW Match 4: Triple H vs. Mankind for a spot in the Royal Rumble with Shane as the referee. Hogan wearing all black save for the sunglass trim. Shane's gonna call it down the middle. Okay, hip-hop. Impeach Clinton; Mankind for President. I could get behind that. Hogan babbles on as Lawler predicts that Mr. McMahon will win the Royal Rumble. Good luck with that. Only three men have won from the first five spots: Austin in '97*, Michaels in '95**, and Flair in '92. Oh, and apparently, the man that eliminates Stone Cold Steve Austin from the Royal Rumble gets $100,000 from Shane McMahon's trust fund. Oh, stone cold surprise is still coming. Hogan says that tonight's battle with Kevin Nash will be his retirement match.
*Austin was actually eliminated during the match, but no one saw it. He got back in and got three of the last four eliminations to win.
**Shawn Michaels did win from #1, but the Rumble match was just 38 minutes. The 1995 Rumble had one minute between entrants, the only time that's happened. Not as impressive in hindsight, is it?
10:05pm. Shane McMahon quick counts Mankind down, and Triple H is in the Royal Rumble. Mankind calls bullshit. Meanwhile, Tony Schiavone just announced that Mick Foley, aka Mankind, is gonna win the WWF title later. Triple H is not apologizing for how he got the win... then happy new year. Pedigree by Triple H to Shane. Mankind's about to break Shane's goddamn shoulder with the Rings of Saturn. Or the Ring of Saturn. Mankind's gonna break his shoulder. He'll do it, he's crazy. Mankind wants a title shot tonight or somebody's losing a shoulder and use of his arm. Vince agrees. Not good enough. No DQ. Vince accepts. Mankind versus The Rock for the title later. Mankind's clearly had enough of their shit. Rock is not amused. Meanwhile, as Hogan leaves to prepare for his title match, a lot of people are about to do some impromptu channel surfing: "Fans, if you're even thinking about changing the channel to our competition, fans, do not. We understand that Mick Foley, who wrestled here one time as Cactus Jack, is going to win their world title. Ha! That's gonna put some butts in the seats, heh." That was Tony Schiavone via Eric Bischoff telling the viewers at home what was going to happen on RAW. Really, Schiavone? Think I'll check it out. As did some 600,000 viewers, many knowing full well the title change probably isn't going to happen until around the top of the hour.
10:10pm. Chris Jericho and Scott Dickinson have a pow-wow and such, explaining the quick bell against Perry Saturn. Nitro Match 7: Scott Steiner with Buff Bagwell versus Konnan for the WCW Television Championship. Bischoff refuses to join in. Goddamn, Schiavone, do your job. Meanwhile, a replay of the last segment, where Mankind got duped, then McMahon. Scott Steiner being Scott Steiner; meanwhile on RAW, RAW Match 5: Edge versus D-Lo Brown. I've always loved Edge coming through the masses. Apparently, on Nitro, someone in the fourth or fifth row isn't wearing underwear. Fantastic. And no one censors Scott Steiner. Buff Bagwell fails at the dirty bird and mocks Ric Flair's heart attack. Someone thought in WCW this was okay. Edge flies onto D-Lo. What kinda champion would Mankind be? I dunno, probably a good one since McMahon's so afraid of it happening. A crazy SOB as champ could run the table for a while. Running powerbomb by D-Lo. It would paralyze Droz about nine months later. Terri and Jacqueline appear. Terri's holding her stomach. And she is down. Terri's down. And it is bad. She's clutching her stomach. And action's stopped. Meanwhile on Nitro, Konnan's locking in the Tequila Sunrise, but in comes Buff with the TV title belt, and it's a DQ win for Konnan at 4:01. And Slick Johnson, nWo referee #2 doing what Slick Johnson does: be fucking annoying. I hate him.
10:25pm. Replay of Terri's flop that would make footballers jealous. D-Lo looks like he's gonna be sick or something. Enter... KANE with makeshift Brisco Bros. Body Shop ad with Shane McMahon, Pat Patterson and Gerald Brisco. Nitro Match 8: Wrath's Open Challenge. Reminder: Hogan-Nash later, Goldberg's still at the precint across the street. And Shane's just announced that Kane's opponents would Patterson and Brisco. Vince cosigns saying anyone involved in Shane's emotional scarring would pay. Kane: sick balls. Impromptu RAW Match 6: Kane versus the Associates in a handicap match. Answering Wrath's open challenge: Bam Bam Bigelow. I believe this is Bam Bam's WCW debut. Meanwhile, Kane's in full "sick balls" mode: Shane McMahon's about to get chokeslammed, but Vince said he was heading back to the asylum if he didn't put him down, and he did.
10:30pm. Legal discussion aside, WCW hasn't exactly given its viewers a reason to stick around as Bam Bam Bigelow versus Wrath refuses to set the world on fire. Eric Bischoff has somewhat decided to join in. Meanwhile on RAW, some guy is still handcuffed. Until the Acolytes come in. Apparently, someone's ready for Dennis Knight. RAW Match 7: Road Dogg vs. Al Snow for the WWF Hardcore Championship. Al Snow's playing hide and seek with a bloody Head. Meanwhile on Nitro, Bam Bam and Wrath gets thrown out. No contest at 3:57 to the delight of no one. Or everyone, since this match no one cared about is over. Road Dogg looks at Head, and that's enough to get an early advantage for Al Snow. Back to the precinct on Nitro, and Atlanta detectives want the truth. Meanwhile, it's hardcore dodgeball on RAW. A pre-Hardy Poetry in Motion with the barricade as an assist. Al swings and misses on the moonsault and tables himself. Atlanta police are about to charge Elizabeth with perjury and falsifying a police report, and she finally confesses. Damn right it was a misunderstanding. Thanks for wasting 100 minutes that I'll never get back. Fucking A. Second table is being set up, though it doesn't look like it's gonna stand on its own. Snow hiptossed through the table. It should be mentioned that it snowed on the night of the RAW taping. Al's choking and hosing down Road Dogg. Might wanna turn the hose on yourself buddy. State of your shirt, mate. (Snow was the victim of a bloodbath on the previous RAW.) Road Dogg eliminated via potted plant. Yes, I am invoking hardcore dodgeball rules.
10:43pm. NITRO GIRLS! WCW didn't get a lot right, but damn the Nitro Girls are fun to watch. Road Dogg trying unsuccessfully to work a fire extinguisher. I know who not to trust in the event of a fire. And they are in the snow. Holy shit, they're in the snow. Hey look, Jerry Glanville's at Nitro. Eric Bischoff says hi. Way to contribute there. Some combination of Hogan-Nash-Goldberg later. Road Dogg with a piledriver onto some boxes and wooden pallets and Road Dogg retains the hardcore title at 8:38. Now get inside mate. It's fucking cold out. Nitro Match 9: Brian Adams with Vincent versus Diamond Dallas Page. Road Dogg doing a victory lap. That and getting away from the cold. Seriously man, have some soup or something. On RAW, the Acolytes deposit Dennis Knight through a door with smoke on the other side. I swear there's some green-screening happening here. Meanwhile, DDP makes his awesome as hell entrance. Eric yawns. Wake up, Bischoff, there's still about a half hour of show left. Goldberg's still in the precinct. The one across the street, by the way, if you've forgotten at this point in the story. DDP with a dive, commentators barely react. Fuck, even WWE's worst commentators would react.
10:47pm. Shawn's leaving to get the stone cold surprise. But he gets locked out and assaulted by the Corporation during the break. Even gets introduced to a windshield. Highlights of the beatdown as we come back from break. Well, what the camera could get. Shawn done got dismembered and stretchered. Looks like there's no stone cold surprise coming. DDP I think just took one in the nuts. Yikes. The state of the windshield. No time to grieve. As someone on Nitro reminds us Sportscenter is next, RAW Match 8: The Rock versus Mankind in a no-disqualification match for the WWF Championship. And D-Generation X is watching Mankind's back. Hopefully Road Dogg's warmed up. Does DX know what happened to HBK? Who knows? Seems like at least one person does. The Rock with the Corporation behind him. Rock's in his warmup gear for this one as he clearly did not plan to wrestle tonight. DIAMOND CUTTER FROM THE TOP ROPE TO BRIAN ADAMS! Drive home safely. DDP with the win at 8:58 and he exits through the people. And you wonder why DDP's one of wrestling's most beloved figures. This, by the way, is Rock-Mankind III. They split the first two: Rock at Survivor Series, Mankind at Rock Bottom. Cole and Lawler guarantee a winner and a loser in this match. You know, not like the other league. Goldberg's heading out of the precinct. Looks like we're going with Nash-Hogan, then Goldberg when he gets there or something.
10:52pm. Rock is taking it to the challenger. And he improves the commentary. Mankind with hard rights and he's choking him, ref! He's choking him! We're not calling that? Oh wait. It's no DQ. Never mind. Mankind also improving commentary, until Rock rings his bell. Rock Bottom through the table. Holy shit. Holy shit. Holy shit. Meanwhile in Nitro: Michael Buffer, who got $200,000 per appearance, with the ring introductions. Lawler with the "title shot won't start two minutes before we go off the air" shot at WCW. Ouch. At 10:57pm ET, Hollywood Hogan with Scott Steiner is introduced as the challenger. Corporate Elbow gets a near fall. Mankind will not stay down. Hogan in street clothes and taped fists. Title shot to Mankind gets just two. Rock tries for a second, but misses, but a double arm DDT gets two. Kevin Nash, WCW champion is introduced for the main event of Nitro. Nitro Match 10: Kevin Nash vs. Hollywood Hogan for the WCW Championship. Rock's got a mouth full of sock. Shamrock with the chair, Billy Gunn jumps in, and it's anarchy. A wild Stone Cold Steve Austin appears, much to the delight of the crowd. And brains Rocky. A wild Scott Hall appears. Mankind placed on a fallen Rock; three seconds later, it's fucking bananas. Mankind wins and is the new WWF Champion at 8:48. Austin chucks his hat at McMahon and via hardcore dodgeball rules, he's out. From Clarksburg, West Virginia and Motel 6s to the top of the wrestling world, Mick Foley is the heavyweight champion of the world. Vince McMahon is pissed.
11:00pm. Within the last hour, as many as 600,000 viewers flipped from RAW to Nitro with the announcement that Mick Foley was going to win the WWF Championship. Now that that's out of the way, many of those 600,000 have now flipped back to TNT and Nitro. Hollywood Hogan and Kevin Nash, the leaders of the two nWo factions are about to fight to the death. Believe it, Lawler. Mankind is the WWF Champion. The Nitro match is live, as we are reminded. It's not Nash-Goldberg II as previously advertised, but this is a hell of a make-good. If you think about it, this one's been brewing since last spring when the nWo officially splintered in half. This is what WCW is all about. Hogan now realizes the gravity of the situation. Hogan rears back, pokes Nash in the chest, and Nash goes down. Billy Silverman counts three as Mankind takes his victory lap. Wait... what did I just type? Hogan rears back, pokes Nash in the chest, and Nash goes down. Hogan covers and Hogan, soon to be President of the United States, is the WCW world champion at 1:41 as Hogan, the Outsiders, and Steiner jump around like they'd just won Super Bowl XXXIV (which would be won by the Broncos over the Falcons). Hogan pokes Nash and has just won the WCW title. What the hell is going on here? And here comes Goldberg, finally back to the Georgia Dome. Now Bischoff participates on commentary, and he's Bieber-fan level giddy. Goldberg is ready to kill people and does, until Hogan nails Goldberg with the title belt. Then Goldberg spears Hogan dead. Lex Luger appears. And double sledges Goldberg. The fuck is this shit? Luger torture racks Goldberg and handcuffs Goldberg to a ring rope. Scott Hall with the taser to Goldberg, just like at Starrcade. Bischoff with the worst spray paint sound effects as Hogan and Luger spray Goldberg while Hall tasers Goldberg. World title belt gets a paint job too and Steiner shouts nWo 4 life as the scene fades to black. Wow... that's a depressing way to end an epic evening.
As it turns out, WCW's show, as fillerific as it was, was good enough to bust RAW's two month streak over Nitro were it not for that little thing that happened around 10:10pm. You know, Foley and the whole butts in seats thing? But in the end, it was a victory for RAW, 5.7 to 5.0. Nitro would hit the 5.0 mark just three times after that night, highlighted by a 5.7 when Nitro ran unopposed on February 8. Nitro would again get within 0.7 of a ratings point of RAW on February 22, but never again after that. In fact, by 2000, RAW's ratings would double Nitro's on a regular basis.
Sure the Monday Night Wars didn't end until just before Wrestlemania X-Seven in 2001 when the WWF shockingly bought WCW. But January 4, 1999 was essentially wrestling's Battle of the Bulge. When the ratings came in on January 5, it signaled a sea change in the Wars. No longer were wrestling fans going to let WCW get away with prolonging the New World Order storyline. The WWF was taking risks and building new stars and just put their world title belt on a man who is about as far away as a champion should look; meanwhile, WCW is on year three of the nWo plan, and year five of depending on Hulk Hogan to prop up the company. I could tell you what the Fingerpoke of Doom meant for wrestling, but I'll let the end of a review of this show from 2010 do the speaking for me:
Let's take a look at the various reasons this was a bad idea and more importantly why this was the beginning of the end for WCW as a whole.
1. The World Title looks worthless. Think back to every heel ever. At the end of the day, their existence was about one thing: becoming world champion. DiBiase wanted to buy the title, Hogan used it as a safety blanket, Austin said it was his life, and it was more or less Flair's logo. Nash more or less has said this belt means nothing to me, so I'll just hand it to Hulk Hogan instead because he's my friend. (Side nugget from me: just one year later, in separate instances, Nash both put the world title on himself and gave it away.)
This has drastic long term consequences. First of all, why would we ever buy Nash as world champion again? If he can just hand the belt away, why should we not think he'll do it again? Second, it makes Hogan look like a paper champion. This is the more important one which we'll get to in more detail in the next point. The thing here though is that he never beat Goldberg and Nash beat him under shady conditions. Hogan has the title and doesn't have to fight Goldberg, which leads us to this.
2. Hogan is champion again. This could rival the first one for most important. It's the second year in a row this has happened. Hogan, without beating the mega-face (Sting in 97, Goldberg in 98) has taken back the world title while the mega-face is beaten down. Hogan had not been seen in almost three months and is handed the world title just because. There is no need to make Hogan champion other than because he wanted to be. This in no way benefits the company and it simply goes back to the old days of the NWO, leading us to point number three.
3. The NWO is back one more time. Wrestling fans do not have long attention spans. This is a criticism I have of the current THEY storyline in TNA at the moment. You can't have long running storylines and expect the fans to stick around for the duration of it. This was the case of the NWO. The angle went WAY past its expiration date but WCW kept going with it. It should have died or at least been fatally wounded at Starrcade 97, but Hogan got the title back in three months. Goldberg destroyed Hogan in July and six months later he has the belt again and the group is back.
The fans were simply tired of the NWO, and can you blame them? If you watch WCW from this time, EVERYTHING was about the NWO. People loved it at first, but it overstayed its welcome and the people just gave up. WCW never would listen to the audience though and kept right along with it because it worked once, so it'll work again. This wasn't the case obviously, and only due to injuries did this incarnation end.
4. The Foley aspect. As I mentioned, WCW told the fans about the Foley title win. That is my favorite moment in wrestling history and a great moment in general, as one of the hardest working men in wrestling gets the recognition he deserves. It's a feel good moment and a lot of people seem to like it.
The problem is that as mentioned earlier, people that switched to the title change switched back for the WCW ending. This means that the fingerpoke is the last thing people see in wrestling for that night. By comparison to a great moment like the Foley win, the WCW change looks even worse. If there is no Foley win that night, then the WCW one comes off as a bad moment, but maybe not a disaster. The added bonus of people seeing Foley and feeling good about it makes the Hogan win just seem dirtier, which is a bad thing.
5. The fans are screwed. WCW pulled a bait and switch on their fans. They advertised Goldberg vs. Nash, which would have been a big draw as a mere 8 days before it main evented the biggest show of the year. By telling the fans to expect that then switch it out to Hogan vs. Nash is almost acceptable. It may not be what was advertised, but that's certainly a major match. I would bet that a lot of fans weren't thrilled with it, but having a replacement like that probably helped a bit.
And then the incident happened, and the fans that were a bit on edge already probably exploded. It makes you think you can't trust the company to give what they told you they would give you. If you can't trust them on a free show, why should you buy a show or a ticket to a show?
In short, this was a disaster and is widely considered the final blow which killed WCW. I think there's a lot to that theory, but WCW was in big trouble already. There was absolutely no touching Austin at this time and having a guy like Foley around as a solid #2 face while Vince and Rock were the top heels, coupled with a kick ass midcard and there was just no way WCW was going to get back into contention.
The best they could hope for was to hold onto their fan base and find the next big star to build up and hope people bought into them. Rather than going with say Benoit, Saturn (he was a big deal back then. Ok not really but he was popular) Jericho, or any other young guy, they went with Hogan and the NWO again, which naturally brought the ratings back down. They never won another night and they were into comedy for the most part the next year. This may have indeed been the final nail in the coffin.
Man, if you were a wrestling fan, that's a sour way to go to bed. Or to start watching Nitro again just to make sure you did indeed saw what you just saw. But as for me, I'll pass, thanks. Gonna check out the new Esquire tomorrow. Apparently, they said 1998 was the worst year ever. Yikes. Think I'll check out the Playboy issue instead.
By the way, congrats to the Tennessee Volunteers. They just won the first ever BCS National Championship.