Between 1995 and 2001, pro wrestling reached its most interesting point in history. Decades before this, professional wrestling was popular through the territories. Vince McMahon and his father, Vince, Sr., were the figureheads of the northwest market with the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF), which became the World Wrestling Federation (WWF).
Others such as Verne Gagne (American Wrestling Association), Jim Crockett (National Wrestling Alliance/Jim Crockett Promotions), Fritz Von Erich (World Class Championship Wrestling), and Eddie Graham (Championship Wrestling from Florida), among others, were also cornering certain markets with their territory promotions.
What Were The Monday Night Wars?
In 1988, Jim Crockett sold the JCP family business to Ted Turner’s Turner Broadcasting System, and the promotion was rebranded to World Championship Wrestling. The WCW brand started to grow on a national and global scale, featuring wrestlers such as Ric Flair, Sting, Dusty Rhodes, Lex Luger and many more.
As many promotions such as AWA, WCCW, CWF, and GWF started to close their doors, WWE and WCW became the two superpowers of wrestling. In fact, as the early- to mid-1990s came, there was not any other wrestling company that could compete with WWE or WCW.
In the early 1990s, both WWE and WCW were competitive brands, but did not have a head-to-head style of competition. WWE featured more gimmick-heavy television, with superstars such as Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Jake Roberts, Andre the Giant, The Undertaker, and the Honky Tonk Man, while NWA/WCW emphasized more on the wrestling style with names such as Ric Flair, Tully Blanchard, Magnum T.A., and Arn Anderson. Despite this, there were names such as Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, and Curt Hennig who popularized the technical wrestling style in an era dominated by gimmick-heavy characters.
In 1993, WWE started the Monday Night Raw series, providing a different style of televised programming much different than the studio TV format with Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby Heenan. Two years later, as Eric Bischoff continued to climb of the WCW executive ladder, he started the WCW Monday Nitro series, boldly putting it head-to-head on Mondays with Raw.
In September of 1995, the Monday Night Wars officially began between the two TV shows.
Monday Night Wars: WWF vs. WCW
With names such as Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, and Lex Luger defecting to WCW, the competition became series, and fans started splitting their time watching both programs. Just a few weeks after the commencement of the Monday Night Wars, WCW took their first strike by defeating Raw in the weekly ratings, 2.7 to 1.9.
I am sure that I am not the only one who did this, but the TV remote was in my hand every week switching from Raw to Nitro. WCW was in deep competition to the advent of the Attitude Era, usually contributed to the television writing of Vince Russo, and the ratings kept shifting back and forth throughout 1995. However, in 1996, WCW had a monumental plan to deliver an even bigger blow in the Monday Night War.
On May 27, 1996, Scott Hall (who was just Razor Ramon in WWF weeks earlier) appeared from the crowd and grabbed a microphone, declaring a “war”. Later, he kept saying “we”, foreshadowing another person to accompany him. This person was revealed to be Kevin Nash.
The storyline reached an indelible moment on July 7, 1996, the teased “third man” was revealed during the main event match of the Bash at the Beach pay-per-view, which pitted Scott Hall and Kevin Nash against Sting, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, and Lex Luger. When the match became two-on-two due to Lex Luger being forced to recover backstage, Hulk Hogan came out to seemingly save the day. However, Hogan would commit the most memorable heel turn in pro wrestling history, executing a leg drop on Savage and therefore joining Hall and Nash. This was the commencement of “Hollywood” Hogan and the New World Order (nWo) faction.
Due to the feud between Sting and the nWo, WCW dominated the ratings in 1997. In fact, WCW went 83 weeks without losing in the ratings war, and WWE did not defeat WCW even one time in the entire year of 1997. However, with the popularity of names such as Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock, especially the feud between Steve Austin and Vince McMahon, WWE started to gain more grounding in the ratings war.
How Did WWF Win the Monday Night Wars?
The beginning of the end occurred during the January 4, 1999 episodes of WWE Raw and WCW Nitro. Since the Raw was already taped, commentator Tony Schiavone spoiled the outcome of the main event, telling the Nitro viewers that Mick Foley was going to win the WWE Championship for the first time. Instead of keeping the viewers, an estimate 375,000 fans defected over to the Raw program, watching Foley’s crowning moment.
The last time Nitro defeated Raw in the head-to-head ratings was on October 26, 1998. While WCW maintained decent ratings in 1999, their ratings continued to decline. On the other hand, WWF’s ratings substantially improved, and they were embarrassing WCW in head-to-head competition.
Wrestling fans witnesed the end of the Monday Night Wars on March 26, 2001, when it was announced that Vince McMahon bought and now owns WCW, as it was revealed that the AOL/Time Warner merge did not include continued interest in WCW programming.
On this episode, Sting defeated Ric Flair in their longstanding rivalry, and Booker T defeated Scott Steiner to win the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. The Extreme Championship Wrestling ECW brand (1994-2001), owned by Paul Heyman, was also forced to surrender to WWE, as Vince McMahon also bought their library.
At WrestleMania 31, during the match between Sting and Triple H, fans saw a glimpse of the Monday Night Wars when the nWo (Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, Hulk Hogan) backed up Sting and DX (Billy Gunn, Road Dogg, X-Pac) backed up Triple H. However, this was received by mixed reviews, especially since Sting was nWo’s biggest rival during the days of WCW.