A LOOK BACK AT THE FIRST NITRO
I was at the very first TNT Monday Nitro at the Mall of America in Bloomington, MN, on Sept. 4, 1995. I was employed very peripherally by WCW, doing 900# commentary and some magazine work.
It was obviously a turning point for WCW, and for the wrestling business in general. But that first show was nothing remarkable, the intensity of the debut dialed down by the setting. For every legit wrestling fan, there were a dozen people who happened to be wandering through a mall.
The show was memorable for the Brian Pillman-Jushin Liger match, and for Lex Luger’s surprise appearance.
Lex wasn’t far removed from his Lex Express tour with WWE. He had wrestled for them at house shows over the weekend prior. Lex was working without a contract, his no-compete expired in the process of negotiating an extension, and he was able to walk from one show right onto the other.
That was his mistake. More on which later.
I saw Lex after the show. He was often given to fits of arrogance but is, in general, a good guy. I had spent a day on the Lex Express to research a story that appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
“Never saw that coming, did you?” Lex said, and I hadn’t.
Lex and WCW were genuinely pleased that the dirt sheets hadn’t spoiled the surprise, a sentiment that would only grow – to obsessive and damaging proportions – when the Internet took hold of wrestling and sunk its talons into the feeble mush of brains like Vince Russo’s.
Luger’s WCW return was an impact moment and when it passed, WCW had an impact player, his reputation as a main-eventer burnished on the other guys’ TV. The trend that followed was a mixed bag: The OTHER show was the big show. THEIR guys were the big stars. Get enough of them, YOUR show is the big show.
Fair enough, but it leaves home-grown performers in a rut. You only seemed special if you jumped or, later, “invaded.”
Lex’s move was career suicide in the long run. He fooled Vince McMahon, not in a wrestling sense but a business sense. That GUARANTEED Luger would never work for WWE again. Besides limiting his options, it lessened his leverage. Luger merited the truly big money too many WCW main-eventers got, but stopped getting it because he had nowhere to go.