The ratings war was part of a larger overall struggle between the two companies, which included the use of cutthroat tactics and the legitimate defections of several wrestlers and writers between the two companies. Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW), while not a party to the ratings battle, was also involved as a tertiary player. It ended with the sale of WCW's assets by its parent company, AOL Time Warner, to WWF.
War is Declared
WCW Nitro premiered on September 4, 1995 as an hour-long weekly show, with Eric Bischoff being instrumental in the launching of the show. During their mid-1995 meeting, Ted Turner asked Bischoff how WCW could compete with Vince McMahon's WWF. Bischoff, not expecting Turner to comply, said that the only way would be a prime-time slot on a weekday night, possibly up against WWF's flagship show Monday Night Raw. Surprisingly for Bischoff, Turner granted him one live hour on TNT every Monday night, which specifically overlapped with Raw. This format expanded to two live hours in May 1996 and later three. Bischoff himself was initially the host; he handled the first hour along with Bobby Heenan and former NFL football player Steve McMichael, with Tony Schiavone and Larry Zbyszko hosting the second. Other co-hosts included Mike Tenay (usually for matches involving cruiserweights or international stars), Scott Hudson, and Mark Madden.
The initial broadcast of Nitro also featured the return of Lex Luger to WCW. Luger had worked for the company from 1987 to 1992, when it was still affiliated with the NWA, before joining the WWF the following year. WCW's coup of obtaining Luger was significant for several reasons. Because Nitro was live at the time, premiering major stars on the show would signal to the fans the amount of excitement the broadcasts would contain. Secondly, Luger had just come off a successful run in the WWF and was one of the company's top stars. In fact, he had been in line to get the WWF World Title (he had had several previous title matches), and worked a WWF house show the night before. Since nobody but Bischoff and Luger's good friend Sting knew that Luger would return to WCW, the shock value generated by his appearance was great. Thirdly, Luger's defection created speculation among fans as to which other big-name stars would "jump ship". Notably, Luger would be followed by former WWF Women's Champion Alundra Blayze, who appeared with the WWF Women's championship belt on the December 18, 1995 edition of Nitro and insulted her former employers before throwing the belt in the garbage.Raw and Nitro traded wins in the "Monday Night Wars" early on, but WWF has conceded that by December 1995 "WCW had the advantage over WWE in the storied Monday Night War". Nitro began airing a weekly segment entitled Where the Big Boys Play! composed of stock footage of matches featuring current WWF wrestlers who had started their careers as jobbers in WCW, all of which ended in the WWF wrestler suffering a humiliating loss. Bischoff also began to give away the results of Raw matches on Nitro, as Raw was usually taped a week prior to airing. These moves prompted retaliatory tactics by the WWF; in January 1996, Raw began airing skits before and after commercial breaks entitled Billionaire Ted's Wrasslin' Warroom, depicting parodies of Ted Turner ("Billionaire Ted"), Hulk Hogan ("The Huckster"), Randy Savage ("The Nacho Man"), and Gene Okerlund ("Scheme Gene"). While the material involving Hogan and Savage usually poked fun at their old ages, the skits aimed at Turner were decidedly more inflammatory in nature and contained material that could have been considered slanderous. The sketches stopped airing on the USA Network at the request of network president Kay Koplovitz, and were ended permanently in a short presented before WWE WrestleMania 12, which killed off all the characters.
WWE WrestleMania 12 also began a brief turning point for the WWF, after which Raw would overtake Nitro for two consecutive months. The event saw the return of 1980s fan favorite Roddy Piper, who made a face turn to fight Goldust. Another 1980s fan favorite returning that evening was The Ultimate Warrior, who would go on to enjoy a brief revival in popularity. The main event, a heavily promoted match between Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart that lasted for more than an hour, launched Michaels' popularity in addition to marking the beginning of Hart's decline with the organization, both backstage and in the ring.
WCW and the New World Order
WCW was about to gain the upper hand again and retain it for an extended period of time. On the Memorial Day 1996 edition of Nitro, Scott Hall, who had competed in the WWF as "Razor Ramon" and had just signed with WCW, interrupted a match and challenged the best WCW wrestlers to stand up and defend the company against the onslaught of Hall and his companions. Though Hall was employed by WCW, the storyline implied that he was in fact a WWF employee and that his presence represented an invasion by the rival promotion.
Two weeks later, the second WWF defector, former WWF Champion Kevin Nash (who had wrestled as Diesel), appeared on Nitro. Hall and Nash were dubbed "The Outsiders," and would show up unexpectedly during Nitro broadcasts, usually jumping wrestlers backstage, distracting wrestlers by standing in the entranceways of arenas, or walking around in the audience. A week later, they announced the forthcoming appearance of a mysterious third member of their group. At WCW Bash at the Beach 1996, Hall and Nash were scheduled to team with their mystery partner against Lex Luger, Randy Savage, and Sting. At the onset of the match, Hall and Nash came out without a third man, telling Okerlund that he was "in the building," but that they did not need him yet. Shortly into the match, a Stinger Splash resulted in Luger being crushed behind Nash and being taken away on a stretcher, turning the match into The Outsiders vs. Sting and Savage.
Hall and Nash were in control of the match when Hulk Hogan came to the ring. After standing off with them, he attacked Savage, showing himself to be the Outsiders' mysterious third man and thus turning heel. In a post-match interview, Hogan christened his alliance with Hall and Nash as the New World Order (nWo). Hogan's statements, which broke with his earlier face persona, inspired enough vitriol in the audience that they began to pelt the ring with debris: A wayward beer bottle broke Okerlund's nose, and one fan jumped the security railing and attempted to attack Hogan.
The following evening on Nitro, most of WCW's top stars gave interviews, expressing their feelings of betrayal and disappointment with Hogan's actions. The ensuing storyline, in which the nWo waged a campaign of anarchy against WCW, blurred the lines between reality and scripted entertainment, a unique presentation that acknowledged fans' growing awareness of backstage wrestling politics and kayfabe. Another aspect that helped WCW grow was the introduction of young exciting cruiserweight wrestlers like Rey Mysterio Jr, Chris Jericho, and Eddie Guerrero. WCW and the nWo, continued to grow in popularity, and for the next 84 consecutive weeks Nitro beat Raw in the ratings.
At the outset of the storyline, the WWF filed a lawsuit against WCW, alleging that WCW was illegally representing the nWo as a WWF affiliate and that Hall's persona was too close to his "Razor Ramon" character (itself a parody of Al Pacino's character in Scarface), to which the WWF retained the rights. WCW countered that in June, Hall and Nash had emphatically stated on-camera that they were no longer WWF employees, and that Hall's current persona was in fact a reworking of his previous WCW character, The Diamond Studd. The lawsuit dragged on for several years, culminating in the WWF agreeing to drop the suit in exchange for the right to bid on WCW properties should they ever come up for liquidation.
Raw, and the WWF in general, was considered to be at a creative nadir before Nitro started. Into the early 1990s, the WWF had continued the creative formula that had given the company success in the 1980s: clear-cut face vs. heel storylines, colorful wrestlers with themed gimmicks, and alluring female valets who nonetheless maintained a "PG-13" level of sex appeal. Although the formula had been popular during the MTV-fueled "rock n' wrestling" era of the 1980s, fans in the 1990s began to gravitate towards more morally ambiguous characters, wrestlers whose personas were more grounded in reality, and metafiction storylines that acknowledged their awareness of backstage politics via the use of the Internet. With the introduction of the nWo, the June 10, 1996, episode of Raw would be the last ratings victory for the WWF for nearly two years.
On the November 4, 1996 episode of Raw, the WWF aired the infamous "Pillman's Got a Gun" angle involving Stone Cold Steve Austin and Brian Pillman, two former friends who were feuding with each other. In a series of vignettes broadcast from Pillman's real-life home in Newport, Kentucky, Pillman – supposedly debilitated following an attack by Austin – vowed to protect himself and his wife with the help of a group of friends should Austin appear. At the end of the evening, the final vignette depicted Austin breaking into Pillman's home, prompting Pillman to pull a 9mm Glock on Austin, and the feed being "interrupted" in the ensuing chaos, with Vince McMahon (serving as a commentator) stating that he had been informed of "a couple explosions." When the feed resumed, Austin was shown being dragged out of Pillman's house as Pillman screamed, "That son of a bitch has got this coming! Let him go! I'm going to kill that son of a bitch! Get out of the fucking way!" None of the profanity was censored.
The angle polarized fans and shocked the USA Network, which was not accustomed to airing a program with the profanity and level of violence presented in the vignettes. Although the WWF (and Pillman himself) were forced to issue apologies to avoid Raw being canceled for breach of contract, the ensuing discussion of the incident in the fan community generated the most attention the WWF had received since the beginning of the Monday Night Wars. This prompted the WWF creative team to begin looking into the idea of more adult-oriented storylines and characters and mimicking WCW's metafiction elements. On February 3, 1997, Monday Night Raw changed to a two-hour format. In an attempt to break the momentum of Nitro, the WWF entered into a cross-promotional agreement with ECW. Raw commentator Jerry Lawler insulted and "challenged" ECW on the show's February 17 episode, and in the weeks to come, several ECW wrestlers appeared on Raw in a story arc similar to the nWo storyline playing out in WCW, with the WWF pursuing the "renegade" ECW. On March 10, 1997, Raw was officially renamed Raw Is War in reference to the ongoing ratings battle.
Throughout 1997, Raw Is War began to become more and more controversial. Storyline elements included racist graffiti targeted at the Nation of Domination (a stable loosely based on the Nation of Islam), drinking beer on camera by Stone Cold Steve Austin, and emphasizing the sexuality of valets Sunny, Sable, and Marlena. These women began appearing on-camera in increasingly revealing clothing and in swimsuit and lingerie-oriented spreads in WWF's Raw magazine, a lad mag designed as an alternative to the family-friendly WWF Magazine and a competitor to the likewise family-friendly WCW Magazine. Although these elements helped to garner the WWF more attention than it had enjoyed in the wake of the nWo storyline, the injury of Steve Austin at WWE SummerSlam 1997, which put him out of action for three months, proved to be a severe blow to Raw Is War's popularity.
The main storyline that dominated the WWF throughout 1997, was that of Bret Hart turning heel. Hart had been the arguably the most popular superstar on the WWF roster since winning the WWF Championship from Ric Flair in 1992. After losing the title to Shawn Michaels at WWE WrestleMania 12, Hart took a hiatus from the WWF, returning in late 1996 at WWE Survivor Series 1996 after signing a long-term contract. However, the fans began to sour on Hart and his upstanding character, and would often give reality-blurring interviews on how Vince McMahon screwed him (up to that point, McMahon was only known as an announcer to the general public). At WWE WrestleMania 13 during his submission match against Stone Cold Steve Austin, Hart had officially turned into an anti-American heel (although he was still cheered as a face in other countries, particularly his native Canada).
In October 1997, Hart, who had been one of the few consistent mainstays of the WWF throughout the 1980s and 1990s, signed a contract with WCW. Hart, at the time the WWF Champion, wanted to part ways with the WWF amicably, and had agreed to vacate the title following a farewell speech on a broadcast of Raw Is War. Although McMahon agreed to the arrangement, he later decided to renege on the deal and have Hart unwittingly lose his final match in the WWF at WWE Survivor Series 1997, to real-life rival Shawn Michaels. The incident—which took place in Hart's home country of Canada—became known as the Montreal Screwjob, and inspired the documentary film Wrestling with Shadows.
It shook WWF wrestlers' faith in their own company, resulting in a near strike the following evening; Hart himself (who assaulted McMahon in his dressing room later that evening) prevented a walk-out by asking his former coworkers not to risk their careers for his sake. Rick Rude, a wrestler who had been popular amongst both fans and his fellow wrestlers during the 1980s and who had recently made a comeback in the WWF, left the company as a result of the incident and followed Hart to WCW. Rude would debut in WCW on a live broadcast of Nitro to insult the WWF for its treatment of Hart the same night that he appeared on a taped edition of Raw Is War. Hart's brother, Owen, likewise attempted to quit the WWF, citing a knee injury, but was unable to get out of his contract.
Hart's departure would ultimately turn the tide of the "Monday Night Wars." With Hart now on the WCW roster, Nitro boasted the most well-known names in wrestling; WCW had also been highlighting new talent, with up-and-coming stars such as Chris Jericho and Eddie Guerrero. Additionally, WCW had also taken advantage of the popularity of wrestling amongst Hispanic, Latin American, and Asian fans by introducing a cruiserweight division, largely made up of stars from Mexico, Central America, and Japan, who performed the acrobatically-based wrestling maneuvers popular in their home countries.
WCW's Starrcade pay-per-view in Washington, D.C. drew WCW's highest buyrate to that date, including the highly anticipated main-event of Hulk Hogan vs. Sting, a match that fans had been waiting to see since Sting first appeared as the leader of an anti-nWo faction a year before. The ending to the match—which saw Bret Hart making his WCW debut to accuse the referee of corruption, making himself the referee, and awarding the championship belt to Sting, only for the belt to be stripped on a technicality—was seen as an anticlimactic finish to an event fans had awaited, and the numerous reversals and technicalities employed to further the storyline were received as confusing and convoluted.
WWF enters The Attitude Era
Despite losing to Nitro week after week, Raw Is War rallied in the ratings when it introduced its new "WWF Attitude" concept, in which the family friendly and clear-cut face vs. heel dynamic of the 1980s and early 90s was jettisoned in favor of morally ambiguous wrestlers and adult oriented, often heavily sexualized storylines. The concept was spearheaded by McMahon along with head WWF writer Vince Russo, who changed the way wrestling television was written and constructed. Russo's booking style was often referred to as "Crash TV": Matches were shortened in favor of story-building backstage vignettes, with an emphasis on shock factor. Like WCW's nWo storyline, the WWF began to blur the line between real life and kayfabe: Vince McMahon, taking advantage of fans' genuine dislike for him following the Montreal Screwjob, recast himself as the evil Mr. McMahon. This presentation both mimicked Nitro's "Anything can happen" atmosphere, and acknowledged the growing phenomenon of "smarks," wrestling fans who used the Internet to gain a wide base of knowledge on the real-life, backstage workings of the industry.
Many other wrestlers' personas were retooled, and wrestlers who had been growing in popularity were given pushes. Mick Foley, who had been wrestling as the psychotic heel Mankind, was made into a face after a series of out-of-character interviews documenting Foley's career, the toll it had taken on his body and his marriage, and his youthful ambitions of being a popular wrestler with a hippie persona named Dude Love. Foley alternated characters, variously appearing as Mankind, Dude Love, and his former persona of Cactus Jack. The Rock, who had failed as a babyface character named Rocky Maivia, was recast as an arrogant jock who spouted catch phrases. Shawn Michaels, Triple H, and Chyna formed D-Generation X (DX), a rule-breaking, frat boy themed stable of wrestlers who laced their vignettes with sexual innuendo and lewd gestures. Although an injury would cause Michaels to take a four-year hiatus from wrestling, the stable soared in popularity under the leadership of Triple H, who added The New Age Outlaws and Sean Waltman to the group's ranks. Waltman, who was a member of the nWo, had recently left WCW after wrestling there for several years as Syxx, and returned to the WWF as X-Pac. The Undertaker was also rebranded as a dark cult leader instead of the undead gimmick he had run with previously.
The night after WWE WrestleMania 14, McMahon began a feud with fan-favorite Stone Cold Steve Austin. The rivalry which was cast as a battle between blue collar redneck Austin and white collar executive McMahon, became one of the defining storylines of the Attitude Era, as each engaged in ever escalating acts of sabotage and violence against the other. On April 13, 1998, an advertised Austin vs. McMahon main event was enough for Raw Is War to finally beat Nitro in the ratings for the first time in nearly two years. Two weeks later, the WWF taunted WCW's slipping ratings by sending members of DX to the Norfolk Scope in Norfolk, Virginia in an attempt to crash a live taping of Nitro. The WWF was in town, filming Raw Is War at the nearby Hampton Coliseum in Hampton, Virginia. Earlier in the day, Triple H and other wrestlers appeared outside the arena in military fatigues, challenging Eric Bischoff to come out and face them. The event was videotaped by a WWF camera crew for inclusion on Raw. Raw Is War 's ratings began to rise steadily, bringing the "Attitude Era" to its highest point.
WCW begins to struggle
Hoping to counter the McMahon/Austin feud, WCW divided the nWo into the Hulk Hogan-led heel "nWo Hollywood" faction and the Kevin Nash-led face "nWo Wolfpac" faction. Although the Wolfpac proved popular with fans, the overall nWo storyline began to grow stale. Ted Turner decided to expand the brand by introducing a second weekly program WCW Thunder, on his TBS channel. The introduction of Thunder troubled Eric Bischoff, who warned Turner that a second weekly program could potentially result in fan burnout, as viewing both programs would require five hours of viewing time a week.
WCW attempted to regain ratings supremacy by marketing ex-NFL player Bill Goldberg as an invincible monster with a record-breaking streak of 173 consecutive wins. Goldberg proved to be very popular with the fans and enjoyed some crossover success in mainstream popular culture. On July 6, 1998, airing from the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia, Nitro defeated Raw Is War in the ratings when Goldberg pinned Hulk Hogan cleanly to win the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. The match drew a 6.91 rating for the quarter-hour, the highest rating recorded in the ratings war up to that time and over 5 million viewers. However, the decision to stage the match on live cable television was questioned backstage at WCW, as some believed (including Vince McMahon himself) that the match should have been the highlight of a pay-per-view, where it could have generated more revenue.
On August 10, 1998, WCW regained the lead for six weeks. During this time WCW brought in The Ultimate Warrior, who was now known as The Warrior, and then later reformed the Four Horsemen for [Ric Flair]]'s television return. WCW's final victory in the Monday Night Wars came on October 26, following the previous night's WCW Halloween Havoc 1998. The episode included a repeat airing of the Halloween Havoc World Title match between Diamond Dallas Page and Goldberg after the original airing exceeded the scheduled 3-hour running time and subscribers lost the feed at 11 pm EST.
During this period, Kevin Nash was widely believed to be in charge of booking shows and giving himself undue attention in the storylines. This reputation of being a power abuser would further damage the company. After winning the World War 3 battle royal in November 1998, with the help of Scott Hall and his stun gun, he ended Goldberg's 173–0 winning streak and won the World Title at Starrcade 1998 the following month. However in his defense, Nash claims that he did not take up the booking position until February 1999, two months after his victory over Goldberg. Nash's booking was heavily criticized by fellow wrestlers and fans, including Eddie Guerrero in his autobiography Cheating Death, Stealing Life: The Eddie Guerrero Story. The newfound emphasis on Nash's character set the stage for the beginning of 1999 and what is widely viewed as the beginning of WCW's decline.
As 1999 began, both shows were consistently getting 5.0 or higher Nielsen ratings and over ten million people tuned in to watch Raw Is War and Nitro every week. Wrestling gained newfound popularity, as wrestlers made the mainstream media, appearing on magazine covers like Entertainment Weekly and TV Guide, and appearing in commercials. By November 1998, however, the momentum would be in the WWF's favor for the remainder of the war. On January 4, 1999, Nitro broadcast live once again from the Georgia Dome. In the second of three hours (the show had expanded to two hours in 1996 and three in 1998), Eric Bischoff, who had learned of the results of the taped Raw Is War that was set to air that night, ordered announcer Tony Schiavone to make the following statement:
“ Fans, if you're even thinking about changing the channel to our competition, do not. We understand that Mick Foley, who wrestled here at one time as Cactus Jack, is gonna win their World title. Ha! That's gonna put some butts in the seats, heh. ” Although the WWF had acknowledged the title change on their website six days previously, ratings indicated that, immediately after Schiavone's comments, 600,000 people switched channels from Nitro on TNT to Raw Is War on USA Network to see Mankind win the WWF Championship with the help of Stone Cold Steve Austin. After Mankind won the title, many fans then switched back to Nitro (which still had five minutes of air time left), suggesting that WCW had a show that the fans wanted to see and might have emerged the victor that night had they not given away the Raw Is War results. The final ratings for the night were 5.7 for Raw Is War and 5.0 for Nitro. During the year following the incident, many WWF fans brought signs to the shows saying "Mick Foley put my butt in this seat".
This Nitro 's main event was originally scheduled to be Goldberg vs. Kevin Nash for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship and was going to be their anticipated rematch. Goldberg was arrested during mid-show storyline, however, and accused of "aggravated stalking" by Miss Elizabeth. He was released when Elizabeth couldn't keep her story straight. Meanwhile, Hollywood Hogan returned to WCW after a hiatus and challenged Nash to a match, which Nash accepted. This led to the infamous moment which saw Hogan poking Nash in the chest with his finger, nicknamed "Fingerpoke of Doom", causing Nash to lie down for Hogan to win the belt. It led to another heel turn for Hogan and the reformation of the nWo. The credibility of the company, which did not present the match that had been advertised (a Goldberg vs. Nash rematch from Starrcade 1998), was damaged. Despite the incident, WCW would continue this bait and switch tactic of booking until its demise in 2001. This "match" may have started the permanent ratings slide that was to follow for WCW, as Nitro- according to Nielsen ratings numbers listed by TWNPNews.com- only got a 5.0 rating three times afterwards.
Some dispute whether the fingerpoke of doom angle hurt WCW. According to TWNPNews.com, Nitro's Nielsen ratings on January 11, the week following the incident, once again reached 5.0. During the January 18 episode, however, ratings would fall to 4.4, but would recover to 5.0 the following week. Its 5.7 Nielsen rating on February 8 (on a night when Raw was pre-empted by the Westminster Dog Show) was the last time it would get such a number.
Raw Is War was dominating Nitro to the point where WCW was making "quick fixes" to stem the tide, including hiring rapper Master P, as well as bringing in Megadeth, Chad Brock, and KISS for concerts (all of which flopped in the ratings). On September 10, 1999, Bischoff was removed from power. He states in his autobiography that he intended to resign on the day and when word leaked, they decided to remove him before he could resign. Meanwhile, Raw Is War 's numbers continued to rise; a 25-minute long This Is Your Life themed skit between The Rock and Mick Foley drew an 8.4 quarter-hour rating on September 27, 1999. It currently stands as the highest-rated segment in Raw history.
On October 5, 1999, Vince Russo and Ed Ferrara, the head writers of WWF television programs, signed with WCW, and were immediately replaced in the WWF by Chris Kreski. Russo and Ferrara contend that their reasons for leaving the WWF was a dispute with Vince McMahon over the increased workload that they were facing, with the introduction of the new WWE SmackDown! broadcast, an attempt by the WWF to compete with WCW's Thunder broadcast on Thursday nights. However, Russo and Ferrara failed to capture the magic of their WWF days at Nitro, and they became known on-screen as unseen management known as "The Powers That Be". Ferrara even became an on-air parody of Jim Ross, named "Oklahoma", who mocked Ross's Bell's Palsy.
In December 1999, Bret Hart suffered a career-ending concussion during a match with Goldberg at Starrcade 1999. WCW was entering severe financial and creative lows. Nitro 's ratings failed to increase, and in January 2000, both Russo and Ferrara were suspended from the company after they considered putting the WCW World title on Tank Abbott. The subsequent promotion of Kevin Sullivan to head booker caused an uproar among WCW's wrestlers. In spite of winning the WCW title at WCW Souled Out 2000, Chris Benoit quit in protest, along with Eddie Guerrero, Perry Saturn and Dean Malenko. All four of them entered the WWF as The Radicalz, premiering on Raw Is War 's January 31 episode—15 days after Benoit's title win. Nitro was cut to two hours in January 2000 in an effort to bolster the aggregate ratings score, but the elimination of the third hour did not mean higher ratings for Nitro, which by April averaged around a 2.5 (while Raw Is War drew double, or sometimes triple that amount).
In April 2000, WCW hired the reigning ECW World Heavyweight Champion Mike Awesome, who left ECW over a contract dispute. His appearance on WCW television led to legal threats from ECW owner Paul Heyman. A compromise was reached which resulted in Awesome losing the title at an ECW event to Tazz, who was formerly of ECW and at the time contracted to the WWF. Tazz would later appear on WWF programming with the title. The WWF used this as a symbolic demonstration of superiority over WCW. On April 10, 2000, Bischoff (now a creative consultant) and Russo, returned with equal power to work as a team and attempted to reboot WCW. Bischoff was allowed back with booking powers, but no longer had control of the company finances like he did in his previous reign. The Millionaire's Club, consisting of WCW's veteran stars such as Hogan, Flair and Diamond Dallas Page, were accused of preventing the younger talent from ascending to main event status and feuded with The New Blood, consisting of WCW's younger stars such as Billy Kidman, Booker T and Buff Bagwell. The New Blood/Millionaire's Club rivalry was aborted before the start of the New Blood Rising pay-per-view, which was supposed to showcase the rivalry. WCW became even more desperate, going as far as placing the WCW World Heavyweight Championship upon actor David Arquette, who was making promotional appearances for WCW's feature film Ready to Rumble.
In 2000, Ted Turner was no longer running the company, which had been purchased by Time Warner in 1996 and AOL in 2000. That year, WCW lost US$62 million, due to guaranteed contracts of their older performers, plummeting advertising revenues, dropping house show attendance, controversial booking decisions (like Arquette and Russo winning the WCW Title), and expensive stunts to boost the dismal ratings and pay-per-view buyrates. Goldberg, arguably the biggest star of the promotion at the time, suffered a self-sustained arm injury during a backstage vignette taping that kept him on the shelf for half the year. Upon his return, his momentum was derailed after turning heel at The Great American Bash, despite being the most popular wrestler in the company. A Fall Brawl pay-per-view commercial was later aired after WCW New Blood Rising, revealing that Goldberg refused to follow the script for his match with Kevin Nash at New Blood Rising, and it also claimed that his match at WCW Fall Brawl 2000 with Scott Steiner would have no script.
The end of the Wars
In January 2001, Fusient Media Ventures, led by Bischoff, announced that they were going to purchase WCW. The deal was contingent on the Turner networks keeping Nitro on TNT on Monday and Thunder on TBS on Wednesday. When Jamie Kellner took over as CEO of Turner Broadcasting, he removed all WCW programming from the network.
With no national television outlet to air the shows, Fusient dropped their offer to purchase the promotion. The WWF, the only company who would not need the television time slots Kellner had cancelled, then made their offer. On March 23, 2001, all of WCW's trademarks and archived video library, as well as a select 25 contracts, were sold to Vince McMahon and World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, Inc. through its subsidiary WCW Inc. WCW's assets were purchased for $3,000,000. Most of the main event-level stars including Flair, Goldberg, Kevin Nash, and Sting were contracted directly to parent company AOL Time Warner instead of WCW, and thus AOL Time Warner was forced to continue to pay many of the wrestlers for years. The actual WCW entity was reverted to Universal Wrestling Corporation solely to deal with both legal and administrative issues.
TNT did allow a final Nitro show to air from Panama City Beach, Florida which had been scheduled for the following Monday on March 26. McMahon opened the last-ever episode of WCW Monday Nitro with a simulcast with WWF Raw Is War, which aired from Cleveland, Ohio, with a self-praising speech. The final WCW World Heavyweight Championship match for the show and the company saw WCW United States Champion Booker T defeat Scott Steiner to win the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. The main event featured Sting defeating Ric Flair with the Scorpion Deathlock as a culmination of their trademark feud, then both men embraced one another at the match's conclusion. This was a direct parallel to the very first Nitro. After the Sting/Flair match, McMahon appeared on Raw Is War to close Nitro and to declare victory over WCW. His son Shane McMahon then appeared on Nitro, declaring that it was actually he who had bought WCW. This initiated the Invasion storyline that would have Shane's character leading the WCW invasion of the WWF, which lasted from March to November 2001 and marked the end of WCW as a brand. The last Nitro drew a 3.0 rating. The final ratings tally in 270 head-to-head showdowns was: 154 wins for Monday Night Raw, 112 for Nitro, and four ties.
Earlier that month, ECW owner Paul Heyman had begun an announcing contract with WWF, as ECW had also fallen to financial problems and was forced to declare bankruptcy and close. Thus, the WWF became the sole prominent professional wrestling promotion in the United States.
WWF business steadily declined in North America after the end of the wars, with a noticeable drop in buyrates and ratings. To compensate for the decrease in domestic revenue, WWF expanded their business outside of the United States. The Raw Is War logo and its name were retired in September 2001, following the September 11 attacks and sensitivity over the word war, and because the Monday Night Wars were "over." By 2002, the WWF roster had doubled in size due to the overabundance of contracted workers. As a result of the increase, the WWF was divided into franchises through its two main television programs, Raw and SmackDown!, assigning the now divided roster to either franchise while also designating championships and appointing figureheads to each franchise. This expansion became known as the Brand Extension. The franchises or "brands" act as complementing promotions under the parent company. The institution of concepts like separate rosters, "General Managers" and talent drafts was intended to emulate the rivalry that had ended with WCW.
In May 2002, the WWF was renamed to World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) after a lawsuit with the World Wildlife Fund, who also used the WWF initials. Ric Flair, Kevin Nash, and Goldberg eventually signed contracts with WWE only after the conclusion of the Invasion, though it is generally thought that their participation in the storyline would have benefited the promotion.
As a result of the Monday Night Wars, professional wrestling became a prime time tradition on Monday nights in America. It also lessened the prevalence of squash matches (where star wrestlers would defeat jobbers) on television, as both companies were compelled to show competitive, pay-per-view quality matches on a weekly basis in an effort to increase ratings.
The Monday Night Wars resulted in the creation of millions of new wrestling viewers. Consequently, the late 1990s are commonly referred to as professional wrestling's most recent boom period. Stars such as Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Bill Goldberg and Sting became household names, and some attempted to parlay their newfound fame into other mediums and found success in them, much like Hulk Hogan of the 1980s and early 1990s: notable examples being Mick Foley, who became a New York Times best selling author with his autobiography, Have a Nice Day, and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, who branched out to become a successful film actor.
WCW's closure left a gap in the market which several companies attempted to fill. In 2001, X Wrestling Federation and World Wrestling All-Stars opened, but both folded by 2004. Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA) and Ring of Honor (ROH) both emerged in early 2002 and have enjoyed moderate success since that time. At first running weekly pay-per-views, TNA has since switched to monthly supercard pay-per-views supported by a weekly show on cable television originally entitled TNA Impact and now Impact Wrestling. In late 2007, ROH also started airing bi-monthly, pre-taped pay-per-views, and in 2009, ROH began airing a weekly wrestling program on HDNet. However, it was announced in early 2011 that HDNet would drop ROH from its schedule. Since September 2011, ROH airs a weekly syndicated television show on Sinclair Broadcasting Group-owned stations and in June 2015, the weekly show began airing on Destination America as well.
WWE later purchased ECW's assets and by 2005 began reintroducing ECW through content from the ECW video library and a series books. With heightened and rejuvenated interest in the ECW franchise, WWE organized ECW One Night Stand 2005 in June, an ECW reunion event. With the financial and critical success of the production, WWE produced the second ECW One Night Stand 2006 and relaunched the ECW franchise as a WWE brand, complementary to Raw and SmackDown. The brand would continue to operate until 2010 when it was replaced with WWE NXT.
In 2004, WWE produced a DVD called The Monday Night Wars. Two hours in length, the DVD left out a large portion of the "wars," breaking off around 1997 before jumping straight to the post-WCW era of WWE. The objectivity of the DVD's content was questioned, as some believed the documentary was simply telling the WWE side of the story. On August 25, 2009, WWE released The Rise and Fall of WCW on DVD. The DVD looks back at the roots of WCW during the days of Georgia Championship Wrestling and Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, to the glory days of Monday Nitro and the nWo, and to its demise and sale to WWE.
Since the launch of the Video on Demand service WWE 24/7 (later WWE Classics on Demand), a show called The Monday Night War (hosted by Michael Cole) shows both shows sequentially for a given date (for instance, a Raw followed by a Nitro from the first official week of the Monday Night War). The sequence of which show would be shown first alternated between episodes, and at times, a short segment called "War Stories" would show following a key moment in the Monday Night Wars would follow a particular segment with interviews by the people involved. Soon, the new episodes were split, with the Nitro and the Raw from each week having their own War show (though they would be on the VOD library selection during the same time). This was to be replaced by new episodes once every two weeks. More recently, a feature called Monday Night War: The Beginning has aired. Claiming to bring viewers back to the "genesis" of the Monday Night War, it shows the old episodes of the Monday Night War show. Under this format, new episodes debut for two weeks, then are replaced by two "The Beginning" episodes, then two new episodes, and so on. The length of time in which "The Beginning" shows will air has not been announced.
WCW has also further been referenced in WWE media through the appearance of the Monday Nitro Arena in THQ's video game WWE SmackDown vs Raw 2011 and the sequel WWE '12.
Monday Night War 2 - WWE Raw vs. TNA Impact
On October 27, 2009, Hulk Hogan announced that he and Eric Bischoff had signed with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling in a press conference held at Madison Square Garden, the place considered to be the home of WWE. TNA President Dixie Carter stated "Our goal is to become the world's biggest professional wrestling company. Hulk defines professional wrestling and we look forward to partnering with him in a variety of ways as we continue to grow TNA globally."
In signing with TNA, they would be reunited with the controversial former WCW booker Vince Russo who they had vowed to never work with again after butting heads in WCW. However, they stated that Russo would not be fired, and the three would attempt to work together. A short time after on December 5, 2009, Hogan made an announcement during The Ultimate Fighter: Heavyweights Finale that TNA Impact!, which normally airs on Thursdays would go head to head with WWE Raw on Monday January 4 in a three-hour live broadcast. This would be the first time since March 2001 that two wrestling promotions would go head-to-head in a Monday night ratings competition. It was also confirmed to be the live debut of Hogan.
The WWE countered by announcing the return of Bret Hart, who hadn’t appeared in WWE since the Montreal Screwjob in 1997. Leading up to the show, TNA President Dixie Carter stated that while MTV (which owns Spike) was not expecting Impact! to beat Raw in the ratings, it would be considered a success if they managed to at least maintain their usual Thursday night Impact! rating. Spike president Kevin Kay also announced there were plans to air Impact! on Mondays quarterly through 2010 and added that if the ratings proved successful on January 4, it could be moved to Monday nights permanently.
The Monday night Impact! featured the debuts and returns of Scott Hall, Sean Waltman, Eric Bischoff, The Nasty Boys, Sting, Jeff Jarrett, Rob Van Dam, Jeff Hardy, Ric Flair, Sean Morley, Orlando Jordan, Shannon Moore and Bubba the Love Sponge in addition to Hogan. WWE Raw featured the return of Bret Hart, who confronted Vince McMahon and Shawn Michaels for the first time in thirteen years.
The ratings showed that, much alike the original Monday Night Wars, Raw came out on top, averaging 5.6 million viewers while Impact! averaged 2.2 million viewers. The show peaked with 3 million viewers for the Hulk Hogan segment but then the viewership declined towards the end of the show to near 2.2 million viewers, the replay on January 7, 2010 garnered a 0.9 rating thus giving TNA a combined viewership range of 3.5-4.5 million viewers. However, despite not beating Raw in the ratings, TNA managed to set a new record for Impact!, beating the previous one of 1.97 million viewers, and thus gaining the confidence of Spike representatives.
On March 8, 2010, Impact! moved to Monday nights at 9 pm EST to compete head-to-head with Raw. Eric Bischoff was once again competing on the opposite side of Vince McMahon's WWE and in an interview with Bubba the Love Sponge, he said that he believed "history is repeating itself". This new "war" began in much the same way as the original did; with TNA relying on established wrestlers, including former WWE talent, and with the company being led by Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff. Ironically, Spike had carried Raw from 2000 until 2005, when Raw returned to USA. WWE spokesman Robert Zimmerman responded to TNA's move by saying "We're not too concerned. We're in good shape." Bischoff later stated that TNA aren't focused on beating WWE in the ratings straight away, but rather gaining a significant share of their audience and growing TNA's own audience.
On the March 8, 2010, Raw beat Impact! with a 3.4 rating which equated to approximately 5.1 million viewers, while Impact! did a 0.98 with 1.4 million viewers, the replay of the show on Thursdays did 1.0 getting TNA combined audience of 2.7 million viewers. The following week on the March 15 edition, Impact! scored its lowest rating since November 2006 with a .84 rating. No quarter-hour segment of Impact! reached past the previous week's overall rating. The broadcast lost 15% of the audience it opened with, going from a .87 opening quarter-hour to a .72 in the A.J. Styles versus [Jeff Hardy]] main event. Impact! averaged 1.1 million viewers, an overall decrease of 21.4% in viewership from the previous week. Raw scored a 3.71 rating and averaged 5.60 million viewers, an overall increase of 10% in viewership from the previous week. The broadcast's first hour was the most viewed first hour since August 24, 2009, while the second was the most viewed second hour since January 4, 2010. On March 22, days before WWE WrestleMania 26, Raw scored a 3.2 and Impact scored a 0.86. Raw 's rating was down more than 1 million viewers equating to about 20%. Ratings for Impact! had improved slightly over the last week as they offered a Career vs. Career match between Jeff Jarrett and Mick Foley
The night after WWE WrestleMania 26, Raw scored a 3.7 rating, up from last week and Impact! scored a 0.62. After these declining ratings, Spike executives announced the April 5 live Impact! would air an hour earlier than Raw. The April 5 edition of Raw lost 14% of their viewers with a 3.15 rating while Impact! scored a 0.9 rating, their highest rating since the March 15 episode gaining a 33% in total viewers as they offered Kurt Angle vs. Mr. Anderson in a Ladder Match. After better ratings for the April 5 edition of Impact!, TNA decided to start Impact! one hour earlier permanently. The April 12 edition of Raw made a comeback with a 3.24 rating while the taped Impact! scored a 0.8 rating managing to keep most of their audience. Then on April 19, the night after TNA Lockdown, Raw scored a 3.05 rating their lowest score in two years, while Impact! scored a 0.95 rating, their highest score since April 5 as they offered a TNA World Heavyweight Championship match between Rob Van Dam and A.J. Styles. On April 26, Raw gained very few viewers with a 3.08 rating while Impact! lost 48% of their audience with a 0.5 rating, with the replay on Thursday getting a 0.7.
The feud was short lived, as Impact! moved back to Thursday nights starting with the May 13 show. On the final battle between Raw and Impact, Raw drew a 3.05 and Impact drew a 0.8 rating gaining a 37.5% in total viewers. The replay ratings of most of Monday night episodes were sufficient for survival but showed that the average audience is some 2 million viewers that prefer to watch on Thursdays.