DDT Monday Retro- July 15, 1996: The Real War Begins

AUSTIN, TX - MARCH 15: WWE Hall of Famer Hulk Hogan speaks onstage at 'Hit A Home Run With Content Creation And Streaming' during the 2015 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival at Four Seasons Hotel on March 15, 2015 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Heather Kennedy/Getty Images for SXSW)
AUSTIN, TX - MARCH 15: WWE Hall of Famer Hulk Hogan speaks onstage at 'Hit A Home Run With Content Creation And Streaming' during the 2015 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival at Four Seasons Hotel on March 15, 2015 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Heather Kennedy/Getty Images for SXSW) /

Hello everyone and welcome to Daily DDT‘s newest weekly series, ‘DDT Monday Retro.’ In this series, we’re turning the clock hands of the wrestling world back 25 years to the year 1996. Or is it calendar pages? Whatever, you understand the metaphor. The point is, dear reader, current Monday night wrestling sucks, so we’re going to focus on a different time; a better time.

Every week, we’re going to revisit the battle between WWF Raw is War and WCW Monday Nitro (hence, the name of this column). We’ll look at the highs, the lows, the good, the bad, and the ugly of each show. We’ll compare and contrast them and, with the benefit of 25 years’ worth of hindsight, we’ll attempt to explain what worked and what didn’t during the time period that many consider being the peak of professional wrestling – the Monday Night War. So sit back, grab a can of Surge, a bag of Bugles and let us take you by the hand to lead you back in time. Welcome everyone, to Monday Retro.

But first, allow us to set the scene.

The year is 1996. Bill Clinton is the President of the United States and has yet to be shrouded in the most scandalous event of his presidency. The 1996 Olympics are about to begin. Wrestling fans will remember that event as the one in which Kurt Angle won a gold medal in wrestling with a broken freak – well, you know the rest.

To personalize it a bit, this writer was an 8-year-old boy; not quite a professional wrestling fan at this point. In fact, I didn’t become a fan until the end of 1997. I wasn’t a Hulkamaniac as a child, so the events which transpired during the summer of ’96 didn’t impact me the way they would so many others. But time has taught me the importance of Hulk Hogan and his contributions to the world of professional wrestling. Even as a non-fan at that point, I knew of Hulk Hogan. In fact, I had both a Hulk Hogan and an Ultimate Warrior Wrestling Buddy. I’d seen Hogan in movies, on commercials, and more. Before I knew about pro wrestling, I knew about Hulk Hogan. But I never got to grow up with ‘Good Guy Hulk Hogan.’ The first version of him that I keenly followed as a boy-child was of the Hollywood variety. And that version had just revealed himself to the world in one of the wrestling’s biggest betrayals.

It started back in 1994. For years, the World Wrestling Federation had been the number one professional wrestling organization in the world. It had the brightest colors, the biggest wrestlers, and the best stories (just don’t tell that to NWA fans). WWF was the proverbial king of the mountain, but Ted Turner was about to change all that.

After being the WWF’s biggest star for years, Hulk Hogan had left the company. Vince McMahon was moving in a new direction, and that direction was not pointed towards the Hulkster. McMahon had just come out on the winning side of the steroid trial that could have completely decimated his company. One of the key witnesses against McMahon was, in fact, Hulk Hogan. So to say things were…dicey…between the two men would be an understatement. Hogan wasn’t coming back to the WWF anytime soon but there was another company, World Championship Wrestling (WCW) that was willing to pay top-dollar to drape itself in the colors of red and yellow.

Hogan debuted for WCW in 1994. The next year, Turned assigned top executive Eric Bischoff with the task of creating a Monday night show to rival WWF’s Monday Night Raw. It was actually Bischoff’s suggestion to create WCW Monday Nitro and, in doing so, he would change the course of professional wrestling forever.

Nitro debuted on September 4, 1995. During the inaugural episode, former WWF superstar Lex Luger would make a shocking debut (you’ll notice in the coming months that the most exciting things to happen in WCW were the debuts of former WWF wrestlers).

After its debut, Nitro would teeter-totter with the WWF in terms of ratings but by May of the following year, everything was about to change.

While Hogan led the charge in WCW, Vince McMahon was hell-bent on creating a ‘New Generation’ of WWF stars. This New Generation included wrestlers like Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, Razor Ramon, Diesel, and more. The latter two were actually former WCW stars who never quite hit it big in Turner’s company. It wasn’t until coming to the WWF that they really began to shine.

And boy, did they shine (and not just cause of the grease in their hair either).

Diesel (real name: Kevin Nash) would go from the bodyguard of Shawn Michaels to the WWF World Heavyweight Champion in less than a year’s time. Razor Ramon (real name: Scott Hall) would become a multi-time Intercontinental Champion and took part in what many say was the best WrestleMania match of all time – a ladder match against Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania X.

The two men became stars but, come 1996, they wanted to be even bigger stars. More to the point, they wanted to be paid like even bigger stars. And that’s when Eric Bischoff came calling.

Bischoff offered both Hall and Nash ginormous contracts, with guaranteed money and a lighter schedule. After some hemming and hawing, both accepted their offers and left the WWF in May of 1996, making their final appearances in Madison Square Garden during the infamous Curtain Call.

Scott Hall wrestled his last match at MSG on May 19, 1996. One week later, he appeared on WCW television, coming through the crowd as if he didn’t belong. He told the viewing audience that he and his friends were “taking over.” Two weeks later, Nash debuted. Both men acted as if they were invading WCW. Fans thought that Vince McMahon had sent Razor and Diesel to World Championship Wrestling in order to kill the company from within (which, in actuality, is pretty much what happened…though it wasn’t Vince McMahon’s idea).

Hall and Nash were dubbed ‘The Outsiders’ and they were set to take on a three-man team of WCW heroes: Sting, Lex Luger, and Macho Man Randy Savage (never mind the fact that both Savage and Luger had become stars in WWF). The Outsiders seemed outnumbered but they promised they had a mystery partner that would help even things out.

Bash at the Beach happened on July 7, 1996. And it changed the business forever.

During the match, it looked as if all hope was lost for the good guys. Suddenly Hulk Hogan, who had been the good guy of the last 10 years made his way to the ring. Audiences thought that he had come to save Sting and Macho Man. But then he did the unthinkable. He leg dropped Savage, turned his back on WCW, and became the company’s biggest villain. But, in doing so, he set WCW on a course that would lead them to unprecedented heights. Hogan was a bad guy. The Outsiders were now in. And the NWO was born.

Which leads us to why we’re here (how was that for an intro??). July 15, 1996, was Hogan’s first appearance on WCW Monday Nitro since his turn, which makes this episode a pretty good launch point for DDT Monday Retro. We’re going to examine both Raw and Nitro from this date and you can decide which show was better.

Let’s start with Nitro.

WCW Monday Nitro- July 15, 1996

Running Time: 93 Minutes

Venue: Disney MGM Studio

The Matches:

  • The Steiner Brothers def. ‘Fire & Ice,’ Scott Norton and Ice Train- It was fine for what it was. Scott Norton was a severely underrated talent that never quite got his due, even as a member of the NWO. The match ended weirdly with a German suplex from Rick Steiner to Ice Train and a pin, even though Train’s foot was clearly under the rope. Oh well. As will become a theme with these shows, WCW only pays attention to the rules when it serves the story.
  •  Dean Malenko defeated Billy Kidman- A fine cruiserweight match. It was weird seeing Billy Kidman in anything other than jean shorts and a tank top, but that wouldn’t come for another year or so. Malenko was so unbelievably underrated. Did he ever have a bad match? Malenko got the win with the Tiger Bomb/Texas Cloverleaf combo, which is still one of my favorite finishing moves.
  • Harlem Heat defeated Mike Enos and Dick Slater. Harlem Heat was so cool. Weird that they were managed by Colonel Robert Parker, who looked like a plantation slave owner. Definitely doesn’t age well but you could tell that Booker T (and, to a lesser extent, even Stevie Ray) were major stars.
  • Madusa defeated Osaka- These two put on a hell of a match, especially for 1996. It’s extremely depressing that it took 20 years for women to be taken seriously in the major wrestling promotions.  Madusa got the win after a German suplex.
  • Meng defeated Arn Anderson- This was a plodding, uneventful match that ended with a press kick by Meng to Anderson, after interference from The Barbarian.
  • Eddie Guerrero defeated Chris Benoit by coun tout- Yasss. This is the kind of stuff I was most looking forward to watching when I decided to start this column. Give me any version of any combination of Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, Rey Mysterio, Chris Jericho, etc. and I will keep coming back every single week. This match was great, despite the count out finish.
  • Lex Luger defeated Big Bubba Rogers by disqualification (I think)- Of course, the natural follow up to Benoit v Guerrero would be the former Big Bossman v the former narcissist. This match was dreadful, but it was the aftermath that was the important part, anyway.

The Moments:

  • The show began with a recap of the events that transpired at Bash at the Beach. Announcers Tony Schiavone and Larry Zbysko called that show “the most important show” in the company’s history. They also set the tone for the rest of the show by saying that Hogan and company would indeed by on the Nitro later in the evening.
  • The Dungeon of Doom was interviewed about the Steiner Bros match and, though they were heels, they also commented on Hogan’s turn, which added a hint of legitimacy to it. Kevin Sullivan, Big Bubba (the former Big Bossman), and Jimmy Hart all gave brief comments, with Rogers foreshadowing his match later in the evening with Lex Luger. Sullivan also commented on his feud with Chris Benoit, which is kind of icky to think about now in retrospect.
  • We get a Glacier promo because Mortal Kombat was a very successful video game/movie so of course wrestling had to have its own version of Sub-Zero.
  • This show also featured a highlight video for Rey Mysterio Jr. Mysterio was an innovator 25 years ago. And he is going to be in the main event of Smackdown this week. Underrated is a word I’ve used a lot in this column so far, but I hope one day Mysterio gets his just-due. The guy really is legendary.
  • The beginning of the 2nd hour of Nitro featured Eric Bischoff and Bobby Heenan on commentary. I know people don’t like to admit it, but Bischoff actually did a pretty good job as the straight-laced play-by-play guy. While the two were talking, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall showed up at the top of the MGM studio, covering the WCW logo with sheets adorned with the soon-to-be-legendary letters: NWO. Throughout the rest of the evening, the camera would periodically pan back to Hall and Nash, watching the show ‘sarcastically,’ if that’s even possible.
  • Kevin Greene, a former NFL player is in the midst of a feud with Steve McMichael, another former NFL player. I don’t care about football, so I don’t really care about this feud. Greene did have a couple of good lines about Hulk Hogan (because part of Hogan’s contract said that every other wrestler has to dedicate 25% of their interview time to talk about him).
  • Nash and Hall interfered in the Big Bubba v Luger match and started attacking the future Total Package. As they put the boots to Luger, ‘Hollywood’ Hulk Hogan slowly meandered towards the ring, foregoing his red and yellow. He was clad in all black for the first time on this night and I’m sure this had to have been jarring for those who grew up with the McDonald’s colors version of Hogan. Nash gave Luger a jackknife powerbomb and Hogan slapped him around a little bit. Hall rolled Luger out of the ring and then helped Big Bubba to his feet. It looked as though Bossman was going to join the NWO; he even went so far as to shake the hand of Hogan. But then Hall gave him a forearm from behind and they all took turns beating upon him, before tossing him out of the ring.
  • Then, it was time for Hogan to speak. In a scene very reminiscent of the previous week’s Bash at the Beach, Mean Gene Okerlund entered the ring to interview Hogan one more time. The speech itself didn’t cover any new ground. It was basically a retread of his Bash at the Beach speech, complete with fans throwing trash into the ring again. Hall and Nash did look like total badasses though. The most important/only takeaway was that Hogan challenged The Giant for a WCW Championship match at the upcoming ‘Hog Wild’ pay-per-view.

The Verdict: This was a sufficient follow up to the pay-per-view. Hogan was the star of the entire show, even though he didn’t even show up until the final 10 minutes of it. Still, you could tell something special was on the horizon. The NWO had arrived and wrestling was about to enter the pop-culture vernacular for the first time since Hogan revolutionized the business the first time.

Meanwhile, on WWF Raw…

WWF Raw- July 15, 1996

Running Time: 48 minutes

Venue: The Brown County Expo

The Matches:

  • Ahmed Johnson defeated Bart Gunn to retain the Intercontinental Championship- Ahmed could have, should have, would have been a star. He radiated charisma and coolness and the Pearl River Plunge was a great finishing move. Unfortunately, WWF just never got firmly behind him. Johnson was the Intercontinental Champion at this time, and the belt had a brown/gold strap which was an interesting look. Also, Sunny was a total babe.
  • Marc Mero defeated TL Hopper- This was as bad as you would expect. The only good part of this match was when they cut to a brief interview with Stone Cold Steve Austin. Austin wasn’t quite the megastar he would be in a year, but the bones were there.
  • Shawn Michaels defeated Billy Gunn- This match was unsurprisingly great. That’s to be expected when Shawn Michaels is involved, but Gunn held up his end as well. It was absolutely the best match on Raw, and it could be argued it was the best match of the entire night.

The Moments:

  • The show began with WWF Champion Shawn Michaels and Ahmed Johnson entering the arena, only to be confronted by Vader, the British Bulldog, and Owen Hart.
  • God, I do love the opening theme song to Raw. It reminds me of the old WWF Raw Super Nintendo game.
  • A brief interview with Shawn Michaels featured the Heartbreak Kid promoting the upcoming ‘International Incident’ pay-per-view. Michaels teased the return of Psycho Sid, which was an effective way of building anticipation for the show.
  • Jim Cornette, British Bulldog, Owen Hart, and Vader had a brief promo, with Cornette doing the majority of the talking for the group. God, he was such a great character. It’s a shame that he’s such a terrible human being in real life.
  • After the Cornette Family interview, the show cut to a promo package for The Undertaker (making sure to include the bit about when he soundly defeated Diesel at the previous WrestleMania). It’s truly amazing how legendary The Undertaker has always been.
  • The show ended simply and effectively, with Shawn Michaels getting the win and celebrating in the middle of the ring. No shenanigans, no cliffhangers, no reason to be excited for next week’s show.

The Takeaway: Raw would be so much better these days if it was only an hour long.

Which Show Was Better: Nitro, by far

This should be obvious. WCW had the biggest story in wrestling. It had Hulk Hogan’s first appearance since turning to the dark side. It also had some great matches. I’m not sure which show actually won the ratings war, and I’m too lazy to try and look it up, but I’d assume Nitro did by far.

Conclusion: Monday nights used to be so much more fun. The key to effective pro wrestling television is to give the audience a reason to come back week after week. Nitro excelled at this, especially in the early days of the NWO. Each week added a new chapter to the story and fans knew they couldn’t miss it.

And that’s it, folks. Come back next week and we’ll cover the July 22, 1996 episodes of Raw and Nitro. Bear with me in terms of formatting; we’ll be changing things up as we progress, keeping what works and losing what doesn’t. If you have suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comment section, and don’t be afraid to share, share, share. We’ll see you next week, wrestling fans, for another edition of DDT Monday Retro!