Six months after it came into our lives, WWE Network finally has WCW Monday Nitro episodes available, with episodes from 1995 and 1996 now up, coinciding with the launch of the Monday Night Wars series, which I'll avoid commenting on so that people who are enjoying it can just be happy with it, which I think is very nice of me. Ain't I great?
Anyway, this week on Deep Cuts, we'll look over a single match from each of the first five episodes of Monday Nitro, which launched 19 years ago tomorrow from the Mall of America in Minneapolis.
Jushin Liger vs Brian Pillman (September 4, 1995)
This is the first match in Monday Nitro history, and is preceded by Steve "Mongo" McMichael trying desperately to fit into the pro wrestling world ringside with cornball Eric Bischoff and a largely disinterested Bobby Heenan, who is trying his best to seem like he doesn't hate everything. Pillman was briefly back to being Flyin' Brian here, having just returned to action due to injury. Liger and Pillman, of course, were the keys to the short-lived WCW light heavyweight division of the early 90s, and had a pretty revolutionary (for American rings) match at SuperBrawl II in 1992.
This match is not as good as that one. Pillman had a few years and some pounds added from his athletic peak, and it shows. He was still a very good wrestler, but this style was really no longer what he did well. Liger does his best to carry this thing, and it picks up a bit after a rocky start.
Mongo: "I think that man's got some pads in that mask." Then the match ends with Pillman getting the duke, which he should have, since he'd be back on the show weekly (for a while) and Liger wouldn't. Sportsmanship shown after the match. Great Mongo nicknames for Heenan: Bobby the Stain, Bobby Hernia.
Sabu vs Alex Wright (September 11, 1995)
Sabu's very brief stint in WCW in 1995 was interesting -- well, not really, but in retrospect, it's obvious that Eric Bischoff was ready to try a lot of different stuff in order to make WCW Monday Nitro different from the WWF's show. It didn't work out, Sabu being Sabu, but Bischoff was giving anyone and everyone a shot if they had a reputation and/or some buzz. Yeah, Bischoff gave us a lot of crap, and a lot of favoritism, but he was willing to put some great young wrestlers on national TV, too, and didn't have a huge hard-on about size or style.
This is Sabu's WCW TV debut, and he goes ape balls on Wright, who himself was a hell of a wrestler that today is extremely underrated. There was a point in 1995 when I think Wright was one of the best in the world. He was a legit phenom as a young wrestler. Bischoff, Heenan, and Mongo all do a legitimately good job getting Sabu's reckless, psychotic style over, and Sabu does his best to live up to the hype. Mongo compares him to a "little fullback," adding that those guys will hit you under the chin and knock you out before you know it.
Sabu's style was odd in terms of pacing -- actually, it was odd in terms of anything, but in particular, I think his pacing basically made no sense, in a good way that worked for the character. So Wright has to go into sort of a nonsensical, crazy tempo that is unusual for him, and it makes this match stand out. Like, I understand criticizing Sabu's style or how good he really was, but I don't think there's any concrete way to wrestle that is better than other ways. True, Sabu couldn't really do a super dramatic main event the way that John Cena or Shawn Michaels could, but not everyone needs to be the big star. The world needs exciting midcard attractions, too.
Anyway, Sabu wins this chaotic sprint, then continues the assault on Wright a bit after the match, and breaks out a table, putting Wright through it quite oddly. Then Nick Patrick disqualifies Sabu, to the boos of the audience. Heenan disputes the call. Mongo calls it "justice." Bischoff yells about "attempted manslaughter."
Harlem Heat vs The American Males (September 18, 1995)
The American Males look more 1995 than anyone has ever looked. Harlem Heat are defending their WCW tag belts here by choice, attacking the Blue Bloods before their scheduled match with the Males, and then Booker talking some big trash ahead of the match, dismissing the Males' chances and promising to bring the heat to Nitro. The Males break stereotype by taking the fight right to Harlem Heat, and then it settles down a bit with Bagwell and Stevie Ray. Who was the worker of the American Males? Was it Bagwell? Was it Riggs? Were they the rare tandem where each man was equally mediocre?
Booker T shows his big promise at moments as early as 1993/94, and by '95 it was really clear that he had a singles future as soon as he stopped carrying Stevie Ray, though to be fair, Harlem Heat were a really good tag team, and working with Stevie for years gave Booker the chance to continually improve and work his way toward the breakout at a very nice pace, while also being on TV all the time.
Booker busts out a brutal WHEELKICK on Riggs, who bumps like he got hit with a baseball bat. Riggs is the worker of the Males. During the match, Col. Robert Parker makes his way to ringside to rescue Sister Sherri, and then they make out. Suddenly, Bagwell pins Booker T, and we've got shocking new tag team champions. Without the context of being there, maybe it's hard to explain now, but this was a really big upset.
Lex Luger vs Meng (September 25, 1995)
This was a crappy Dungeon Nitro, with those goons running amok, and Luger was sort of in-and-out as he'd just returned to WCW, trying to figure out his role. He was not cool with Hogan or Savage, and he was cool with Sting, and he seemed possibly cool with the Dungeon of Doom, who wanted to end Hulkamania, but even after attacking Savage, then the Giant came after Luger, and blah blah blah, we wound up with Luger vs Meng.
This starts extremely fast considering the participants, with Meng dropping Luger with a really vicious looking piledriver. McMichael says that 30 NFL teams would offer the Giant a multi-million dollar "offensive contract." Meng dominates, since he got the jump on Luger.
For a Luger-Meng match, this is actually pretty good, though it remains a Luger-Meng match, so it's not very good. Luger fails to affect Meng with a clothesline, and Mongo says, "That man's got more rocks in his head than Bobby the Stain!" Meng wins hitting Luger with a spike he pulls out of his crotch.
Eddie Guerrero vs Dean Malenko (October 2, 1995)
Eddie Guerrero had the music that would eventually belong to Juventud Guerrera. Guerrero and Malenko were two big pickups for the workrate side of WCW in '95-98, its commercial golden era. Guerrero and Malenko, of course, had plenty of experience with one another in ECW and elsewhere. They did some interviews on Saturday Night talking about their history and respect for one another, and here's a clip from Main Event on Sunday, where Guerrero beat Jushin Liger. THIS WAS THE C-SHOW IN 1995. IT HAD EDDIE GUERRERO VS JUSHIN LIGER. 1995 WASN'T EVEN THAT GREAT! But there were so many different styles back then. We just don't have that anymore. Everyone we see on national TV now is vanilla-fied via The WWE Way, or they're in TNA, where even great talents shrink under the crushing grasp of the company's eternal worthlessness.
Mongo: "Let me understand this. 1,000 holds? There's a book out, 101 Sex Positions, where does he come up with 1,000 holds?"
Mongo, you are one of a kind.
DON'T WORRY, HOGAN'S LIMO HAS ARRIVED, AND WE GO INTO A SPLIT SCREEN! And Jimmy Hart is there going, HUCKSTER! HUCKSTER! And he demands that neck-broked Hogan stay in the limo, and forget the split screen, we need to see Hogan's dumb ass. Hart is frantically yelling at Hogan. Meanwhile, back in the arena, there's an awesome wrestling match happening that we can't see. And back to the match, which is a terrific exchange of holds and counters and sweet rasslin maneuvers. And in all reality, the crowd doesn't care that much, let's be honest about it.
Eddie dives from the top rope to the floor onto Malenko. Mongo says, "That looks like a Mexican cliff diver!" Sure. Why not? Back in, Eddie breaks out his brainbuster, maybe the best brainbuster there ever was, then climbs up for his frog splash, the best frog splash there ever was. But Malenko gets the knees up! Just after that, Guerrero gets the pin on a Pinning Combination.