For those of us who were wrestling fans during the Monday Night Wars, we know all too well about how WCW was beating the WWF. WCW Monday Nitro was winning the ratings war over WWF Monday Night Raw and was enjoying a level of success over Vince McMahon that no other wrestling brand was able to obtain. We also know full well how it sank like a rock almost as quickly as it rose. I was watching both shows weekly for the first few years, but had given up on WCW by 1999 and placed my loyalties firmly in the WWF camp. In March 1997, Nitro was the hottest wrestling show on TV and WWF was in shambles. March 1999, WCW’s Monday night show was unwatchable and WWF Raw was the hottest thing on TV. In March 2001, the show was airing its final episode as WCW had been sold to the WWF.
What caused the downfall of quality for Nitro and by extension, the WCW brand as a whole? Much has been written about and documented about that very subject, so spending time going into all the details. However, what I will point out is the disturbing state Monday Night Raw is in right now and how the WWE’s main show is eerily similar to what Nitro became in its final years.
The similarities are startling. One of the first warning signs of Nitro’s decline in quality was the addition of a third hour to the program. That is simply too much content to maintain week to week. It makes the programming bloated, unfocused, repetitive, and the stars themselves become overexposed as they are being thrown out there to fill the time. Well, doesn’t Raw have that exact same problem now? Triple H himself admitted on the Stone Cold podcast that the third hour makes it tough to maintain an interesting program from week to week. Having that long of a run time per episode just hurts the pacing of the stories they are telling and makes me tired of seeing people on their roster because I see them every week. Nitro had that same problem and WWE is experiencing it now with the 3 hour Raws. I would even argue that even a 2 hour show runs into those problems, but it is obviously more pronounced through a weekly 3 hour timeslot.
With that comes the added problem of repetition. How many Nitros opened up with the entirety of the New World Order pouring into the ring while Hogan and Bischoff talked on about Lord knows what? I won’t comment on both men’s age (yet) but probably the match I got the most sick of in WCW was the constant pairing of Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair. In 1999, the two were still feuding and still in main events, a full five years after their first WCW encounter in 1994. The fact that this match was still being used as a Nitro main event in 1999 just drove me crazy and was one of the determining factors in me ultimately choosing the more exciting WWF product.
Fast forward to 2015, and how many episodes of Raw have to open up with the Authority? How many times do we have to see the same matches week to week? It feels like I’ve seen Paige Vs. Sasha at least five times already. How many times do we have to be subjected to Orton Vs. Sheamus and other overplayed pairings? I feel like I am seeing the same guys wrestle each other every week. It is almost like they decide on a feud and then insist that those people have to do nothing but work with each other for weeks on end until they decide to stop.
The problem with repetition is that if I feel like I’m seeing the exact same show every week, then I am not going to be interested in watching. Throw that on top of the fact that the show is three hours long and a chore to sit through, and you have an uninteresting product. Nitro ran into that same issue and you’re seeing it with WWE Raw.
However, the biggest indicator of Raw’s similarities to Nitro was front and center on this week’s edition of WWE’s flagship show. One of all the biggest criticisms of WCW was dealt at the time of its downfall, it was the over reliance on older wrestling stars. I touched up on it earlier with Hogan and Flair, but WCW seemed obsessed with living in the past. Guys like Hogan, Warrior, Flair, Hall, Nash, Piper, and the like are all wrestling legends for one reason or another, but WCW displayed a stubborn unwillingness to establish a future for themselves. On the other channel, WWF became all about being new and exciting. They were always on the lookout for new stars, and even wound up making stars of the guys that WCW discarded like Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero, and the wrestler that we’re not supposed to remember, Chris Benoit. In 2000, you had Austin on the shelf, Foley retired, Undertaker months away from his return, and they still managed to fill the show with guys like The Rock, Triple H, and newcomer Kurt Angle. One show appeared to be stagnant and old and the other show was fresh and exciting with all these colorful and exciting new faces.
Now what do you see on Raw? Yeah, they have those young talents and Seth Rollins is currently the WWE champion, but how often do they constantly rely on the past stars to generate interest? They just brought back the Dudley Boys to breath some life into a tag team division that has the talent (New Day Rocks), but suffered from the same bad booking that’s been plaguing the division for years. Instead of fixing the issues with the booking, they went with the quick fix of simply adding The Dudleys to mix, and already having them beat up The New Day and beat them in a non-title match, because the old guys are always better. And on this week’s edition of Raw, what was the show built around? It was Sting’s first Raw match. They relied on a 57 year old man to try and hold the ratings against Monday Night Football. His advertised opponent? The Big Show, a guy that fans chant “please retire” at and who wrestled Sting at least a dozen times in WCW back in the day. They built their show around a main event that relied entirely on the past. Sadly, that is just one example of it as I could sit here all day and talk about their overreliance on the past, citing The Rock, The Undertaker, and Triple H as examples. The last few Raws have been centered around WWE Champion Seth Rollins being told he isn’t as good as Triple H is now and getting humiliated by Sting. I’m not saying the older stars can’t play a role of some kind, but WWE nowadays seems completely obsessed with telling us that the past is better than the present and future, and then they seem dumbfounded when they can’t make new stars.
The key difference between 2015 Raw and Nitro in its dying days is the state of the wrestling business as a whole. In 1999, Nitro couldn’t afford to fall as hard as it did because WWF on at the same exact time of the week. In 2015, there are no wrestling equivalents to WWE. They have the monopoly here in America. There are other wrestling shows like TNA, ROH, and Lucha Underground, but have nowhere near the brand recognition or exposure that WWE has. And TNA tried to go up against WWE on Monday Nights, and we all know how that turned out. WWE is the brand that is synonymous with wrestling now and as long as there is a wrestling fanbase, WWE will have viewers and they can afford to have stale and repetitive shows now, a luxury that WCW couldn’t afford back the late 1990s.