Last Monday night I got to experience a past that I was once a part of but that I missed out on. Ok, admittedly that’s a bit of a convoluted sentence. Let me explain.
During the late 90’s two rival wrestling company waged war against one another every Monday night. In one corner was Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation and Monday Night Raw on the USA Network, with stars like the Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Mankind, Triple H, The Rock, and Stone Cold Steve Austin. In the other corner was World Championship Wrestling, owned by Ted Turner, managed by Eric Bischoff, and featuring stars like Hollywood Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Sting, and Goldberg TNT’s Monday Nitro. The two companies would compete head to head Monday nights, trying to outdo one another. It made for great action, great storylines, and compelling reasons to watch to grown men in tights beat one another up. For wrestling fans, the Monday Night Wars was our golden age.
Except the thing was, if you lived in Canada, we didn’t really get to experience the war firsthand. You see, TSN had the rights to both programs, which meant we would see a simulcast of Monday Night Raw in its proper 9pm timeslot and then watch Nitro either an hour later or the next day. So it really wasn’t much of a battle. Eventually, in the late winter of 2001, McMahon would end up buying WCW and the war was over. The competition was gone – the wrestling business belonged to one man. And while a company out of Nashville calling itself Total Nonstop Action began making waves a year later, it wasn’t really perceived as competition to the WWE juggernaut.
Not at first, anyway. But in the ensuing seven years TNA has begun making genuine waves in the wrestling business. Former WWE and WCW stars like Sting, Kurt Angle, and Booker T made their way to TNA, young stars like Samoa Joe and AJ Styles started getting noticed, and the company managed to get a prime time slot Thursday nights on Spike TV. It’s been a slow and steady climb for the company, but all in positive ways. And then came…The Hulkster.
I’ve already written about my love for Hulk Hogan on the site elsewhere, so it should come as no surprise that I was thrilled to hear that Hogan was coming back to wrestling, hired to act as both a figurehead on TNA television and for various duties behind the scenes. To show that the company meant business, TNA announced that Hogan’s first televised appearance would come on a Monday night, with a live broadcast of TNA Impact going head to head against Monday Night Raw. It would be the first time two wrestling shows aired against one another since 2001. The Monday Night Wars were back, at least for one night.
Though they’d never admit to being concerned, to combat the competition WWE announced a fairly huge draw for their first show of 2010 – the return of Bret The Hitman Hart to the company for the first time since 1997. I won’t go into the long details of what went down between Hart and Vince McMahon – if you’re unaware, just Wikipedia Montreal Screwjob. Of course, this decision was going to prove a problem for this fan. What was I going to watch? Before the announcement of Hart’s return, I was all set to watch TNA Impact, but there was no way I was going to miss the Hitman back on tv. I suppose that’s why the good lord invented pvr’s.
All day Monday, I was eagerly anticipating that evening’s wrestling bonanza. First up was TNA Impact, which began at 8pm and would run unopposed for the first hour of its three hour broadcast. Having not spent very much time with the company, I was enjoying what I was seeing. The tease of Hulk Hogan arriving on the scene…the appearance of old school WCW stars like Scott Hall and Sean Waltman…the surprise appearance of recent WWE champion Jeff Hardy…and some solid wrestling from some of the companies young talent. When Hogan finally appeared I was even surprised to see him clad not in his legendary red and yellow attire but in black with some slight stubble. It was his Hollywood Hogan attire, the same as when he was ruling wrestling as the head of the New World Order, the evil faction that helped make WCW in the 90’s. He was soon joined by his old boss Eric Bischoff and suddenly we were back in 1996. Which wasn’t such a bad thing in my book.
Of course, it was around the time of Hogan’s arrival that Monday Night Raw started its telecast and for the first time I was having my own Monday Night War. To be honest, it wasn’t much of a choice for the first 15 minutes or so. Seeing Bret Hart in a WWE ring again was enough for me to turn the channel, though admittedly with some reluctance. It was an amazing scene though, seeing Hart and his longtime enemy Shawn Michaels have a verbal tete-a-tete after 12 years of bitterness.
But when that moment was over, I was quick to flip back to TNA. That’s pretty much how the rest of my evening went, hitting the last channel button on my clicker, not wanting to miss a moment of either show. The whole time I kept thinking that this is what it must have been like for millions of wrestling fans ten or twelve years ago, when the industry was hitting its stride and generating a whole new fan base. I wondered if it could happen again.
While I won’t deconstruct both shows, I will tell you that only one left me eager to see what happens next. And that was TNA Impact. I don’t think I was alone either, seeing that even against the institution that is Monday Night Raw, TNA’s first direct foray against WWE was the young upstart companies highest rated broadcast ever. In the meantime, even with the welcome return of Bret Hart, Raw’s ratings remained the same as the previous week’s. Whatever happens next, it was extremely cool reliving something for the first time. And if it happens again on a Monday night, all the better for those of that remember when wrestling was exciting and compelling.
There’s still a few of us out there.