When I eleven years old, I was just getting into wrestling. The WWF was my favorite, but I watched almost every federation that broadcasted on TV, from the AWA, to WCCW, to the NWA. I even watched on occasion the GLOW (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling) and the WOW (Women of Wrestling). I remember myself being hardcore into the WWF, there WAS no other federation that came close. I basically watched the WCCW because on occasion, someone currently in the WWF would wrestle there, so that was neat to see. I remember seeing such wrestlers in the WWF such as Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake, "Macho Man" Randy Savage, Hulk Hogan, "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan, Ted DiBiase, Andre the Giant, Virgil, Hercules, Haku, Jimmy Hart, "Mean" Gene Okerlund, and others. Wrestling was becoming more and more mainstream, and pay-per-views were still four and five months apart. My first pay-per-view I saw was the Summerslam '88, the one with the MegaPowers vs. the MegaBucks. After about a year of a steady wrestling diet, my parents felt that maybe I was watching too much wrestling, so they pretty much limited my viewing. I was eleven at the time, and I was getting too serious about this stuff. Most other kids my age were watching GI Joe cartoons, I was watching wrestling.
You are probably asking me what the heck this is all about, why I am admitting that my parents yanked the plug on the TV because I was watching something as irrelevant as wrestling? My point is that once I started watching it again seriously the past few years, things have changed greatly. The first thing that I learned was that there was no longer the AWA, there was no longer the WCCW, there was no longer an interest in women's wrestling, and there was this new federation called the WCW, that I would learn that no other than Ted Turner owned it. A lot changed, most of the people that I saw when I turned on the TV that night (which was Memorial Day '96...Scott Hall's first apearance back in WCW) was that all the people I had watched in the WWF were in WCW. I didn't follow the sport much in those eight years, but I knew who some of the people were, but was shocked to see the likes of Savage, Hogan, Beefcake, Haku, Jimmy Hart, Okerland, and others in WCW. Heck, Sting's hair was brown and getting long, different than that bleached crew cut of his. Things were different, but I had no idea what had happened. I followed more and more on the sport, getting all the mark magazines, going to the video store to watch the old pay-per-views on video to see what the story lines were over the past few years and was sort of shocked to see such animosity between the two federations. I had no idea how much the Nitro/Raw war had escalated, but would soon find out, and here is a brief history of how:
As you may or may not know, the World Wrestling Federation was first known as the World Wide Wrestling Federation. It broke away from the National Wrestling Alliance back in 1963 when Lou Thesz defeated Buddy Rogers for the NWA title, but the Northeast branch disputed the finish, thus breaking away and forming their own federation. That's where the fun starts.1997, present day. Raw has expanded to a two hour show, and even shows live most of the time. Nitro has answered with showing three hour Nitro on occasion, and has announced a new two hour show to start at the beginning of next year. The rivalry between Eric Bischoff and Vince McMahon has gotten so nasty, that they were even awarded feud of the year from Pro Wrestling Illustrated, and it wasn't even close. Even now, the WWF and WCW will try to outdo each other in everything they do. When there are separate cards in the same area, they both put on shows that they think will draw crowds, which hurts the sport because we can't be in two places at once. The WWF is even considering a move to Friday nights for Raw, but that will just mean that Nitro will be Fridays, also. The WWF has gotten some interest back, with the ECW angle, and the New Hart Foundation, but is most likely going to lose one of their biggest draws in Shawn Michaels if he gets his way.
Now that the two were seperate factions, they would sometimes hold a supercard, but that was in the early going, and after time, they separated completely. But in the early 1980's, wrestling was starting to gain some steam. Two of the highest rated cable programs were wrestling shows, one was from an NWA promotion called Georgia Championship Wrestling, who aired the show called World Championship Wrestling on WTBS. The other was a federation called Southwest Championship Wrestling, also a product of the NWA, which was aired on the USA Network. Both federations tried to work together along with the WCCW, also a product of the NWA, to get into new markets, and help each other out. A few things kept this from happening, the tragedy of the Von Erich family, and the WWF beginning to take some aggressive steps to expand nationally, with the beginnings of its Rock N' Wrestling connection.
In 1984, a few things happened that would have some impact in the war that would be unfolding in the upcoming years. The most importnat being the signing of Cyndi Lauper and Mr. T to the WWF for mainstream publicity. We all now know this as the Rock N' Wrestling. Vince McMahon even convinces MTV to let Hulk Hogan appear as a guest VJ in September of that year. Also, McMahon buys Georgia Championship Wrestling, and this upset the fans, mainly because there was no warning. Within the first three days, WTBS received over 200 comlpaints, and 500 before the end of the week, and McMahon is quoted as saying, "We'll show those complainers the difference between a major league and minor league production, given time."
Around the same time, seven different promotions, including the AWA, got together and created a show called Pro Wrestling USA. It was based out of New York, considered to be WWF territory, and became the first wrestling show to be aired on ESPN. The show and promotions were not well organized, and the AWA seperated itself from the other promotions, and thus started their decline.
In 1985, the WWF holds a supercard, known simply as Wrestlemania. It was shown on closed circuit TV, and was one of the first events testing the pay-per-view concept. A month later, Vince McMahon would sell his slot on WTBS to Jim Crockett and his promotion would die to the fact that he was losing money on the show, and was not getting along with Ted Turner. Crockett took the opportunity to maneuver the popular UWF off of TBS, and named his show World Championship Wrestling. Meanwhile, wrestling, namely the WWF, are experiencing new markets, and new popularity, and eventually gets a network spot on NBC with Saturday Night's Main Event. This was a smart move because cable TV was not as common then as it is now, and the WWF was even more recognizable than it had been before. Also around this time, many NWA affiliates were seceding from the NWA, which was mostly controlled by Jim Crockett Promotions. It is ironic that this would happen, since Jim Crockett was buying a lot of smaller promotions, but with doing this, the number of affiliates was growing smaller, thus making the NWA less and less powerful. Late in 1986, a wrestler named Magnum TA was critically hurt in a car crash, and would end his wrestling career. At the time, he was one of the most recognized wrestlers in the world, and was a product of the NWA, which did not help in their cause to try to regain steam in the business.
Evidence of the popularity of the sport is shown when the Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan hosts Wrestlemania III, which still holds the record for largest crowd to watch a wrestling event in the United States. A few weeks after Wrestlemania III, Jim Crockett buys the UWF, which gets absorbed into the NWA. Even before the purchase, rumor had it that Jim Crockett Promotions was starting to suffer economically. Later in 1987, November 26 to be exact, a first happened. The WWF held it's inaugural Survivor Series, showing at the same time as the NWA's Starrcade, making viewers choose which show to watch. Since the NWA had not had much of a history in its pay-per-view market, the WWF got most of the viewers. This upset the NWA, for Starrcade had always been a tradition for them around Thanksgiving time, and the WWF took most of the market away. Two months later, the WWF went one step further...during the NWA's pay-per-view, which was called the Bunkhouse Stampede, the WWF holds its innagural Royal Rumble. The difference this time being that while the Bunkhouse Stampede was on pay-per-view, the Royal Rubmle was being broadcast live and free, which made some cable operators mad. To get even with the WWF for the Royal Rumble stunt, the NWA holds it's first Clash of the Champions, on free cable, opposite the Wrestlmania IV pay-per-view. The NWA accomplished what it set out to do, costing the WWF somewhere between $2 and 4 million in lost revenue.
1988, Jim Crockett has had enough with his organization, and sells the NWA to Ted Turner, who immediatly changes the name to World Championship Wrestling. More bad blood between the two promotions start brewing as the WWF runs a free TV special on the USA Network opposite the pay-per-view of WCW's Chi-Town Heat. To retaliate that move, WCW airs another Clash of the Champions opposite Wrestlmania V. According to the magazine Wrestle America, the WWF was actually the federation which caused the Clash to take place. Apparently cable operators asked Ted Turner if he could run a pay-per-view oppsite Wrestlemania when McMahon demanded a higher percentage of the event. Ted Turner agreed, and the WWF backed away from the higher demand, and this allowed Turner to air his special for free.
August of 1989 sees Ricky Steamboat leave the WCW. This was a major blow to WCW, not because it was a loss of a recognizable star, but because it showed that there was a problem with management because they could not keep someone so prominent.
In one stretch of 1990, the war starts to heat up: In November, between both promotions, there were two Survivor Series Showdowns, a Clash of the Champions, the Survivor Series, and a Saturday Night's Main Event, all in the stretch of one week. 1991, in Sports Illustrated, Vince McMahon speaks of Ted Turner, "Ted has trouble with the wrestling genre. This is a highly specialized product requiring unique skills not available in normal marketing situations. Our competition is not from Ted, it is from the National Basketball Association, from big rock concerts, from Disney."
The seperation of the WCW and NWA. Ric Flair quits WCW, as the champion, and goes to the WWF. He actually owns the belt he had, and later on WCW was forced to buy it back for $25,000. While away from WCW, the NWA still recognizes Flair as the champ, and the two separate. Lex Luger defeats Barry Windham to claim the vacant WCW Heavyweight title, and after Flair is stripped of the NWA title for going to the WWF, Masa Chono wins a tournament to claim the NWA title.
In 1992, the WWF starts showing signs of problems when sexual allegations arise, and a former ringside physician is convicted of selling steroids. The WWF announces that wrestlers will be forced to take drug tests to test for the illegal substance.
The WWF debuts Raw in 1993, consistantly being a top rated cable show. But the decline would begin for the WWF. In February, Ric Flair leaves the WWF to head back to the WCW, and Hulk Hogan also leaves to wrestle in the WCW. Eric Bischoff gets promoted to the position of senior vice president, and he promised to do what those before him couldn't do, give the WWF a fight. Vince McMahon is indicted by a grand jury on the steroid problem, causing some sponsors to pull their investments out of the WWF, which hurt the company financially, and helped WCW approach the level of the WWF. Though he was found not guilty, the damage was done to Vince McMahon, having Hulk Hogan testify that he was encouraged by McMahon to use steroids, and probably burning a bridge for life. In 1994, the "Macho Man" Randy Savage also jumps federations, to add to another superstar to the WCW lineup.
Ted Turner grants Eric Bischoff time to air a program opposite Raw in 1995. The show would be called WCW Monday Nitro. During the first Nitro, Lex Luger makes an appearance, just one night after wrestling his last match in the WWF, and speaks negatively about his former federation. During the second week of Nitro, Eric Bischoff absolutely upsets the management of WWF, as he would announce the results of the taped Raw to the Nitro viewers. This was what brought upon the now infamous "Billionaire Ted" skits. So desperate to defeat Raw, Bischoff then manages to convince TNT to allow Nitro to come on at 8:57 pm, giving them a three minute edge on possible Raw viewers. WCW gets more attention, and money, when Time Warner announces that they have bought TBS, which is a holder of WCW. Also in 1995, Madusa (formerly Alundra Blayze in the WWF) appears on Nitro, and throws her WWF Women's Title in the trashcan.
The WWF is getting worried, and by 1996, files a complaint with the Federal Trade Commision saying that WCW is trying to monopolize the wrestling industry, even though that was exactly what they tried to do in the mid '80's. McMahon gets so worried that he places an ad in the New York Times that read, "Attention: TBS Stockholders. Does Ted Turner have a personal vendetta against the World Wrestling Federation? Time Warner Beware." WWF manages to sign Brian Pillman after Pillman is fired from the WCW due to negotiating while still under contract. Also in 1996, Nitro expands to two hours, and in that show, the New World Order is being set up as Scott Hall (aka Razor Ramon) becomes the latest to head to WCW. A week later Kevin Nash (aka Diesel) joins him. The WWF was fixing to take WCW to court for this becuase WCW was implying that duo was still under contract with Titan (hence the name the Outsiders), so scrambling, WCW came up with the nWo concept. August was the first time that Nitro overtakes Raw in a head-to-head battle, and that lead will remain to this day. Around that same time, Jim Ross announces that they have resigned Razor Ramon and Diesel, as it turns out, it is different wrestlers using the trademarked names. This does not set well with many WWF fans. JJ Dillon leaves his position as WWF front office executive to go work for WCW. With all that went on, the WWF sees an event in Madison Square Garden fall below the 4,000 mark in attendance. Evidence that the WWF has lost most of it's luster.
Being a wrestling fan right now is good, and bad. We can't be in two places at once, but since the competition is so high, each federation is trying to outdo the other. Look at Piper flat out go off on the WWF. The WWF couldn't get away with that as much since it is infringing on trademarks, and WCW has more cash flow than the WWF. So whatever your federation is, support it. I think that we will see an incline for the next few years, and then interest will decrease again, it's part of the cycle.