On March 23rd, 2001, WWE acquired rival WCW, ending a near 20-year rivalry between the two companies. Three days later, the final Monday Nitro would air.
From the WCW buyout’s inner workings to what it felt like to be behind the curtain on that final Monday Nitro, those who were there speak.
An Oral History of the Final WCW Monday Nitro
"For nearly three years, my company World Championship Wrestling kicked Vince McMahon’s ass. Nitro – WCW’s flagship show – revolutionized wrestling. Everything that makes Raw distinctive [today] – from its multiple hours live format; its backstage interview segments – and above all its reality-based storylines – was introduced first on Nitro…"
TED DIBIASE SR:
"WCW was the worst organized company I had ever worked for. What everybody needs to understand is that Ted Turner stuck with wrestling because wrestling helped his company survive in the early days of cable television. His network TBS was the first nation-wide cable network, he was fond of wrestling, but he knew nothing about it.
Originally he and Vince had a deal where Vince was going to put his programming on their network, but that wasn’t good enough for Ted — he wanted his own show, and, of course, Vince wasn’t going to do that, so that is what created the initial friction between Ted Turner and Vince McMahon…"
"What happened was that the superstars we created got bought off by Ted Turner. Ted buys things. He’s always been like that. He tried to buy the WWF on many occasions.
When our stars’ WWF contracts came up, Ted opened his checkbook and paid them up to 10 times what we were paying. I had a fraternal, we ‘re-brothers relationship with our stars, guys like Hulk Hogan – and I never thought they would leave.
They gave me every personal assurance that they wouldn’t. But exorbitant money can change minds…"
"Ironically, Vince would accuse Ted Turner and me of stealing his talent when in fact, that’s exactly what he did to these regional promoters in the 1980s. A lot of the big names who had been at AWA had moved on to work for Vince…"
"I feel that Vince McMahon is the best thing that happened to our business. He treated wrestlers better than they had ever been treated when the expansion first started.
Over the years, he’s changed, but he’s changed because a lot of wrestlers kind of stuck it to him, and he had to learn.
Being in business myself, I know how sometimes employees can take advantage of you and expect too much, and just taking and taking and taking. He made guys a lot of money, and they ended up burning him. He had to get hard…"
"I was really concerned about going out of business competing with Ted Turner. And we came close to it…"
"The media called our conflict the Monday Night Wars, but it was more like a rout. Nitro beat Raw in the ratings eighty-something weeks running. Then Vince caught on to what we were doing, and the real battle began…"
"All Bischoff wanted to do was shut down Vince. They should’ve just said, my God, we’re making money, we have this opportunity. Let’s just see where we can go with it ourselves without worrying about this guy…"
"The superstars that Ted Turner purchased and the promotional machine he owned all combined to put him ahead… it’s not easy competing with a billionaire and Time Warner. Still, we knew we could create new stars, and this time around, we’d keep them, knowing that the guys that Ted bought would get old quickly…"
"At WCW, the inmates were running the asylum. You don’t do that in other companies – so why there? They put control into the talent’s hands instead of management. You have to have a consistent balance. I love Eric Bischoff; I would follow him into battle any day. But he would say even that he gave up too much. He let them control it…"
"Hulk Hogan was obviously in charge. Everyone said that Eric was in charge, but Hogan was pretty much running the show. He did what he wanted to do, so when you worked with Hogan, it was like working with the President of CNN. He called the shots, and we did what he wanted to do…"
"WCW was like being in Hell…it was the worst place in the world. Nobody was happy there. It was horrible. Everybody hated their job, from top to bottom, and when everybody’s unhappy, it’s a miserable place to be.
There was no boss in charge; anybody could do whatever they wanted; everybody would bitch all day. The only thing that was good about that place was the money. They paid you good money…"
"It’s not just the [huge] salaries they were getting, it was the lack of effort…because everybody was ‘Me, Me, Me,’ there was no ‘We ‘…and there’s no way you can strive for the same goal, not be unified and be successful. There’s no way…"
STEVE SMALL (WCW television production manager, 1996-2001):
"After we won the Monday Night Wars, it seemed we were adrift about what to do next. We’d fly in talent in case they were needed on our show. They’d then walk out of the building because we didn’t have anything for them to do.
It was obvious that guaranteed contracts that allowed certain people not to make appearances at house shows [cards not broadcast on television or pay-per-view] were mistakes. We were hemorrhaging money…"
"You can make a bunch of small mistakes, but you can make very few big ones – otherwise, the nose of the plane goes down, and once that big plane goes down, it’s hard to pull it up…"
"A lot of people think WCW unraveled because of things like ‘guaranteed contracts’ for wrestlers and the decision to give Hulk Hogan creative control over his matches.
The fact that we overpaid some wrestlers WAS one reason WCW ended up in a position that was difficult to recover from. But it had nothing to do with why WCW failed.
The company failed because of what happened inside Turner Broadcasting after Time Warner bought it. Turner’s merger with Time Warner, and Time Warner’s ultimate merger with AOL, was the single largest disaster in modern business history. WCW was just one of many casualties…"
"AOL made it clear that they didn’t want to have anything to do with wrestling…"
"When two big companies merge, and one of them says they don’t want to have anything to do with professional wrestling… it’s pretty much a cut and dried situation where you know it’s only a matter of time before that entity is gone…"
"Towards those last two months, we would hear a different story every week on who was buying the company. It would just be it was Colonel Sanders this week; it was Ronald McDonald the next. We just heard so many stories we didn’t know what to believe…"
"For me, the final Nitro was just another day at work, to be honest. Man, I knew Vince buying WCW was going to happen. I mean, we all knew it was coming…"
CHAVO GUERRERO JR:
"We got to Panama City, and it was like, ‘What the heck is going on?’ Nobody knew what was going to happen that night or afterward. My uncle [Eddie Guerrero] was in WWE, so we were talking, trying to keep each other abreast. But the WWE guys didn’t even know…"
"With all the rumors, I felt that the company was working us a little bit because they didn’t want us to know how bad it was. We didn’t know what to believe from them. Even when we saw the signs – it had ‘WWF’ on one of the doors or whatever – we still didn’t believe it. We didn’t believe it until Shane McMahon walked into that room…"
"When I showed up that day, it totally shocked the audience and totally shocked all the WCW talent there as well…because we didn’t let anyone know I was there. They were just blown away that WWE had purchased WCW.
It was a very interesting backstage [atmosphere]. Historically, it was enormous. It had never been done. The fact that my dad’s show is on one network – and I show up on the competing network! I mean, it was just…I’m getting goosebumps now, just thinking about it.
It’s never been done in the history of cable television, or anything – period. It was awesome…"
Watch Shane McMahon on the final episode of WCW Monday Nitro:
"It was wild because we just knew that this was something that was going to change the future of the industry – not just for us but for fans and everybody that’s involved or watches the business.
We knew that this was a monumental moment. It was wild, and don’t let anybody tell you anything different. But there was a lot of fear for a lot of guys.
Everybody was worried about their jobs, from top guy to bottom guy. None of us knew. Were they just going to get rid of the company? Was it going to take us all in?
None of us knew what the hell was going on…"
"You have to remember – we beat WWE for 82 weeks straight, and Vince obviously took that personally…so he wanted to bring everyone in that was on top in WCW and bury them…"
"I was actually scared. I was scared because I didn’t know if I was going to be left without a job or not…"
"When Vince McMahon bought WCW, I was ready to get out anyway. I was actually the happiest guy in the world. Not because WCW had closed, but because I needed to be away from wrestling.
I went through some pretty big personal stuff in the months leading up to it, so it was actually a relief to me. Because then I could focus on my marriage, focus on my family, being a husband, being a dad — I could try to make up for a lot of lost ground. But it was a double-edged sword. Because wrestling, after all those years, it just stopped.
One day in Panama City, I wrestled my last match against Ric Flair, and then it was over. I was freaking out a little bit, thinking, what am I gonna do now..?"
"I felt glad. We should have closed down a year before. We had turned into such a mockery – we had become the laughing stock. The guys in the WWE were just laughing at us. It was an embarrassing nightmare for anyone that had ever become successful in our business. It was terrible.
I was emotionally upset for the people who had worked there for years, like the production people and wrestlers losing their jobs. When there are two entities, and it becomes one, the marketplace becomes a lot smaller.
Everybody got a month of severance pay for each year they had been there, so a guy who was there for ten years would only get paid for a year in severance. One hundred fifty people went out of business in one day — some of them made it, and some of them didn’t. Nobody gave a shit — it was pretty sad and very insensitive…"
DIAMOND DALLAS PAGE:
"I wasn’t as worried as some other people. WWE contacted me pretty early, so I knew I had a job. I didn’t want to talk about it, though, when so many other people weren’t sure.
The big deal for me was the guys backstage, the crew guys who’d been with us 20 years. They were hard-working, talented guys who’d done nothing to cause our problems. What was going to happen to them?"
"I was looking around at everybody backstage, trying to figure out where they fit in. There were guys in WCW who’d burned bridges when they were in WWE and weren’t going to be taken. But it was exciting to watch this up close.
I guess it was a mixture of hope—about possibly being picked up—and sadness that, for all the work some of these veterans had done in WCW, it would all be for nothing…"
WCW After WWE Took Over
"I didn’t watch the show when WWE took over… I couldn’t. There was so much of me wrapped up in it…"
"I was sad because it was an end to my father’s company…at the same time, I was happy a wrestling person had it…"
JEFF BORNSTEIN (WCW Lighting Director, 1990-2001):
"David Crockett gave an emotional speech about his father creating the brand that became WCW, and his hope that his family legacy would move forward. Shane was very respectful. He told us that we were a great brand, and there’d be a lot of television for this crew to do…"
"To me, WCW was never a bad thing…they were the competition, they were the team we played and wanted to beat every Monday night. We had no parade, no celebration when we bought them out. It was just another day…"
"Perseverance is extremely important in life and in business. I didn’t feel any ego boost…no sort of, ‘Way to go, Vince. You crushed them…’ I looked at it just as business as usual…this asset was available, and we got what I thought was a great deal…"
DIAMOND DALLAS PAGE:
"The tape catalog cost $1.7 million. That’s it. If I’d know that at the time, I would have bought it…"
"At least [by Vince buying WCW] it wasn’t just going to disappear…it was going to have a life…and I felt good about that…"
"They just buried the brand. I didn’t expect that. If they wanted to play it, there could have been real competitiveness between the companies. But there didn’t seem to be the inclination…"
"WCW should have remained very separate from WWE, building up to a yearly Super Bowl. But the way it was done, the luster of that inter-promotional dream war was gone. When you saw WCW vs. WWE guys on television every week, it took everything away. You knew that Vince bought the company, and these were just guys on the card…"
"Most of the contracts carried over, but if the [WCW talent] wanted to work for him, they would get $0.50 on the dollar. I wasn’t going to stand for that…"
"Vince had to pay if he wanted you, so guys like Luger, Sting, and Goldberg just stayed home and got paid…"
"I sat out and made my money. What kind of moron would go to work for half the amount of money when they could sit at home and collect what’s written in a contract?"
"I still had like a year left on my contract. I still had a lot of money coming to me. I could have just sat at home and collected money for a whole year and do nothing. I was sitting on the bench, and they were like, ‘Just sit it out…’ I was like, ‘Nah, I got to get back to work.’
Ric Flair told me a long time ago that a wrestler’s worst enemy is time off. That was something I thought about. I made sure I was ready to perform all the time…"
"The uncertainty for us [in WWE] was, ‘What will our lives be like without competition?’ It was always feasible to go to WCW if there was a problem with WWE. Now, we wouldn’t have that choice. So I was worried that, with a monopoly, we were going to lose our bargaining power…"
"I thought it was horrible for the business. You kill your competition, what’s it do to the marketplace?…"
"There has to be at least two companies, or else we’re all screwed. You need other places to go. When I signed with WWE, I went from making a million dollars a year to $220,000. Two weeks later, I was fired anyway…"
"I chose to take a fifty percent buyout just to fly with WWE so I could get to working. I didn’t want to be out of sight, out of mind. Being in the game all the time was very important to me just to keep my household name status. That’s what I was worried about more than anything.
I never really worried about my spot or anything. A lot of guys were worried about what was next for them, but I knew what was next for me. I had so much momentum going; I was the Heavyweight champion, I was United States champ – I was dual champion, undisputed. So, it was time for me to move on.
I thought that sitting out and collecting that money would have been a bad move when I thought that if I just got back into the game, I’d make that money back in no time. I was willing to step right in, leave all my accolades behind and start all over from the bottom and prove that I belonged…"
"The Wednesday after Nitro, everybody was supposed to report for a 10 a.m. meeting about the future. I walked in, but I purposely didn’t bring my laptop with all my contacts on it.
We were in the Power Plant [WCW’s training facility], and someone from human resources at WWE got in the ring and started saying they’d be happy to accept applications if we were willing to move up to Connecticut [where WWE’s corporate headquarters are located].
During that meeting, we later found out, the phones were disconnected, and the email accounts were disabled. When we left, David Crockett’s security key didn’t work. So that said it all…"
"Coming into the WWF locker room was REALLY BAD. I knew it was going to be bad. The first ones through the door, you’re going to get a little bit bloody. No matter what, I’m going to take someone else’s job away. That’s how they looked at us…"
"WWE was just a totally different atmosphere…it was more of a business-like atmosphere and, to me, it wasn’t as fun. It was like we were infiltrating a tight-knit family, and we weren’t wanted. You don’t need to demean and knock the character down because they were once part of the competition…"
CHAVO GUERRERO JR:
"The competitiveness of wrestling kind of died with the end of Nitro. The Monday Night Wars pushed WWE to do its best. The boys in WCW were making good money because no one wanted you to leave. And the fans were winning, too. In fact, they were winning the most…"
"I don’t think we drove WCW out of business. That was certainly never our intent. That was the mindset of Ted Turner and WCW, but not WWE. See, if you spend all of your energy trying to kill the other guy, your product suffers.
If you don’t kill the other guy, then he’s going to come back at you, and when he comes back, you won’t have done anything to make your house better. It’s no different than being in a fight and knowing that if the other guy keeps on hitting you, that son of a bitch is going to wear himself out pretty fast.
In the end, their guys got tired of traveling each and every week to do TV. They just didn’t have the same passion as we did. They were just working for a paycheck.
It was only a matter of time until they burned out…"
Watch The Final WCW Monday Nitro:
These stories may also interest you:
- Dangerous Alliance | Their Short Yet Impactful Influence on WCW
- Sting Recalls the Scary Moment He Almost Died Rappelling in WCW
- Ric Flair in WWF – Why He Shockingly Left WCW for Arch-Rival in 1991
- WCW Big Bang – The Pay-Per-View That Never Was
Sources used for this article: IYH Radio, AskMen, Baltimore Sun. The Rise And Fall Of WCW, shiningwizards, ‘Controversy Creates Cash’ by Eric Bischoff, australiansportsentertainment, wrestlinginc, Playboy, ctpost, wrestling101, slamwrestling, WWE Magazine, and Keith Elliot Greenberg’s ‘An Oral History Of The Last Nitro’ for Bleacher Report
Quotes used in this article were originally compiled by Matt Pender and shared here with thanks to our friends over at ‘Wrestling’s Glory Days’ Facebook page.
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