Great-ing Gimmicks of the Past: NWO Nitro – WCW, 1997
By November of 1997, the New World Order had been running roughshod over WCW for over a year, and the fans loved it.
For several weeks, nWo boss Eric Bischoff had been taunting commentator Larry Zbyszko, which may have not been the best idea on Bischoff’s part. After all, Zbyszko had an impressive list of credentials to his name – he was a two-time AWA world champion, an AWA North American champion, a WCW television champion, and a WCW tag team champion.
As for Bischoff? He knew karate.
Things hit the boiling point on the November 24th Nitro. New World Order leaflets were falling from the ceiling that showed Scott Hall defeating Zbyszko at Halloween Havoc, and Larry was furious. He jumped in the ring and demanded Hall come out. Instead, he got Bischoff, who informed him that Hall and Nash were too busy defending their tag belts. In the end, Bischoff agreed to fight him.
The next Nitro opened with Bischoff realizing what he’d done and trying to get out of the agreement. First he tried to claim that he’d only agreed to fight Zbyszko the week before, and since they hadn’t fought, he was free and clear. Larry didn’t buy it. Finally Bischoff said that he’d only fight if Nitro was on the line. That was no problem, because Larry didn’t have the authority to do that. Bischoff left, feeling very proud of himself.
Until later in the night. JJ Dillon came out and said that he would put Nitro up, and the match was on for Starrcade. Bischoff was speechless.
Bischoff didn’t have much of a presence on the next Nitro. All that happened was that he and Rick Rude came out and threatened the announcers (Tony Schiavone, Bobby Heenan, and Larry Zbyszko).
Bischoff was absent again the next week. However, an nWo video did air showing Zbyszko getting beaten up repeatedly, which caused the Living Legend to go off from the commentary booth.
Things went berserk the next week on Nitro. The nWo started by kicking all of the announcers out of the announce booth, and then Buff Bagwell demanded to know if the cameraman was nWo (the camera nodded up and down, so I suppose he was). We then saw various footage of nWo members forcing crew to put on nWo shirts, and stripping everything with the WCW initials from the entire arena.
After a commercial, we saw Bagwell spray painting the group’s initials in the center of the ring while Rick Rude welcomed us to nWo Monday Nitro. Bischoff and the stars of the group made their way out and Bischoff told Hogan he had some gifts for him.
First up was a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, customized with Hogan’s face. Next was a Mercedes stretch limo convertible with a hot tub (complete with two girls).
Backstage, JJ Dillon stopped Rick Steiner and told him he didn’t have to wrestle that night if he didn’t want to. Steiner went ahead and beat Scott Norton as we got to hear from our new announce team – Rude, Bischoff, and Kevin Nash.
After Curt Hennig beat the Disco Inferno, Bobby Heenan made his way out and begged for a job. They agreed to let him join the commentary team.
Harlem Heat then beat Scotty Riggs and Lodi. Rude also forced Mike Tenay to join the commentary team during this match.
After Bagwell beat Chris Jericho, the nWo made its way back out. Bischoff presented Hogan with a ring that was a replica of the heavyweight title, and they also honored him for being the only wrestler to ever appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated… in 1985.
In the main event, Randy Savage defeated Lex Luger (with help from Bagwell and Nash). Afterward, Hogan had another present. Bischoff said it wasn’t his, and Bret Hart came out by the limo and smiled. Hogan opened the box and discovered his own severed head. As Bret kept smiling, Sting began lowering from the rafters, and that was the end of the show.
That brought us to Starrcade, where Dusty Rhodes, Schiavone, and Tenay were the commentary team. To open the show, we saw footage of wrestlers in the crowd – Harlem Heat, Sonny Ono, Hugh Morrus, Glacier, Rey Misterio Jr., Juventud Guerrera, and Ultimo Dragon.
The Bischoff-Zbyszko match took place in the semi-main event. Everything was going Larry’s way (even though special referee Bret Hart would break his holds) until Scott Hall interfered. Hart locked the sharpshooter on Hall and then awarded the match to Zbyszko due to outside interference.
NWO Monday Nitro was dead after less than one episode. Even Cop Rock lasted eleven.
On the surface, this actually seemed like a good idea. WCW was preparing to roll out a second TV show called Thunder in January of 1998, so WCW would have that show and the nWo would have Nitro. It’s the same thing that Vince McMahon has done for several years now with the brand extension of Raw, Smackdown, and now ECW.
The problem was that the one show that did air was completely boring. Although roughly only 10 minutes of a three hour show was dedicated to the changeover, that was still 10 minutes of time that the live crowd and fans at home weren’t seeing anything wrestling-related. Instead we saw crew people being forced to put on other shirts and a set be remodeled. Not exactly thrilling television.
Perhaps it was best that the nWo took over Nitro a week early. Even though WCW did blow a lot of money on all of the set dressings, it’s better to lose that money than a chunk of the viewing audience who hated the idea of nWo Nitro. At least they had a show to come back to the next week.
Where Are They Now?
Larry Zbyszko kept doing commentary on and off with WCW until the company closed in 2001. Larry made headlines later that year when he sued the WWF for referring to Chris Jericho as a “Living Legend,” which was Larry’s longtime nickname.
Zbyszko made a quick stop in TNA to manage AJ Styles during 2003, then returned in 2004 as part of the “Championship Committee” along with Harley Race and Terry Funk.
In 2005, Zbyzsko replaced Dusty Rhodes as the Director of Authority. At the 2006 Lockdown pay-per-view, it was announced that Zbyzsko had been replaced as DoA (it was later revealed his replacement was Jim Cornette). Further, at the 2006 Victory Road, Larry lost a hair vs. hair match to longtime rival Raven.
Eric Bischoff was sent home in 1999 by order of the Time-Warner board of executives, who were growing concerned about WCW’s falling popularity. The following April Bischoff returned, now teamed with Vince Russo. Bischoff would leave again six weeks later.
Later that year, the company was put up for sale by Time-Warner. Bischoff gathered a group of investors, tried to buy it, and was rebuffed. A deal was finally struck that would give the Bischoff group ownership of WCW. The problem was that the decision was made to discontinue all wrestling programming on the Turner networks. Bischoff’s partners backed out after the TV shows were gone, and Bischoff had to watch as the company was sold to Vince McMahon.
In 2002, Bischoff made a surprising return. He was now Vince McMahon’s general manager in charge of the Raw brand. In late 2005, Bischoff was fired from the GM role and has not been seen in the wrestling business since. Bischoff does have a book called Controversy Creates Cash coming out in October of 2006, where he looks back at WCW.
May 27, 1996. Is there anything else I need to say?