The Monday Night Wars refers to the time period from 1995 to 2001 when WCW's Monday Nitro went head-to-head with the then-WWF's Monday Night Raw. During this time period, the two individual companies rose to heights never seen before or since in Professional Wrestling.
The war began when Ted Turner approached television producer and entrepreneur Eric Bischoff and asked the latter what he believed World Championship Wrestling needed to do to overtake the World Wrestling Federation. Seeing the success of Monday Night Raw as a weekly primetime wrestling program, Bischoff proposed a weekly timeslot on Mondays to directly compete with Raw; as a result, in 1995, he got what he wanted when Nitro hit the air directly opposite Raw. At the time, Nitro aired live every week, as opposed to pre-taped episodes of Raw which the WWF had filmed days (or weeks) in advance, which allowed Bischoff and the bookers to reveal Raw results on Nitro.note In response to this, the WWF eventually transitioned Raw into a live weekly broadcast.
From approximately mid-to-late 1996 until early 1998, Nitro routinely beat Raw at its own game, mainly due to the ultra-hot "nWo" angle.note Facing an embarrassing defeat and a possible filing for bankruptcy, the WWF fired back in 1997: starting around the time of the Montreal Screwjob, the company started to become Darker and Edgier, a move inspired by the success of upstart indie promotion ECW, which resulted in what fans (and WWE) now refer to as "The Attitude Era". As the WWF's adult-oriented fare competed with WCW's more family-friendly product, the former eventually overtook the latter in the ratings.
In the last great shot of the war, WCW pulled the trigger on a potentially huge match in July 1998: live on Nitro, then-WCW United States Heavyweight Champion and up-and-coming superstar Goldberg defeated WCW World Heavyweight Champion "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan for the title. WCW won the ratings battle that night, but it gave up a ton of potential pay-per-view revenue to deliver the match on free TV; numerous pundits mark this moment down as the beginning of WCW's downfall.
While Goldberg's victory may have put the lid on WCW's coffin, the first nail came from the Fingerpoke of Doom: the combination of a Shocking Swerve ending to a world title match that led to the reformation of the nWo coupled with the over half million viewers Nitro lost when announcer Tony Schiavone revealed that Mick Foley would win his first WWF Championship on a pre-taped episode of Raw, with Schiavone quipping "That'll put butts in seats" after the spoiler, all but killed the promotion that night note
The WWF flourished due to its Attitude Era content and WCW's constant missteps. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, The Rock, Mick Foley, Triple H, The Undertaker and Kane practically became household names during this time, and the WWF's success turned it into the most powerful wrestling promotion in the world. On the flip side, WCW kept pushing the nWo angle for far longer than it should have, and it failed to build new stars who could ultimately replace the older stars on the roster (thanks to a number of those older stars working on the company's booking team and/or having a "creative control" clause in their contract that gave them veto power over their own booking); these problems caused WCW to start losing viewers at an astonishing rate.
From 1999 to 2001, WCW tried, and failed, to mirror the WWF's successful changeover to the Attitude Era by doing everything from hiring Vince Russo to instituting a Hardcore Title to trying to cross-promote the company using music and movie stars, including its infamous decision to make David Arquette the WCW Champion. After the AOL/Time Warner merger went down, however, the conglomerate put WCW up on the chopping block in an attempt to get rid of what it saw as a money drain. Since Turner could no longer protect WCW (he had left Time Warner after the AOL deal proved to be a huge mistake following the dot com bubble bursting), and WCW couldn't turn itself around fast enough, it was eventually sold to the WWF. Bischoff tried to purchase the company in the weeks prior to its sale so he could eventually reboot the entire promotion, but those plans eventually fell through.
The Monday Night Wars ended on March 26, 2001; after WCW held its final edition of Monday Nitro, Vince McMahon appeared live on both Raw and Nitro as part of a special simulcast (with Vince at Raw). As part of the first major storyline to come out of the purchase, Shane McMahon, Vince's son, appeared at Nitro to announce that he had bought WCW instead of his father. This led into the Invasion angle, which would eventually put the WCW brand to rest for good. WWE eventually produced a DVD, The Monday Night War, that covered this timeframe in wrestling history; WWE's Rise and Fall of WCW DVD set covered the Monday Night Wars as part of WCW's overall history.
The book The Death of WCW, co-authored by WrestleCrap writer RD Reynolds, examines many of the problems and decisions that led to WCW's ultimate downfall. The book includes numerous historical facts and figures, such as pay-per-view buyrates and earnings, that trace WCW's rise to prominence in 1997 all the way to its eventual demise.
When Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff arrived in TNA in 2010, that company soon moved its weekly show (Impact) to Monday nights in what looked like an attempt to reignite the Monday Night Wars. Impact ended up getting only a third of the ratings of Raw (at best), and it eventually moved back to Thursday after a mere four months.note
While having weekly national wrestling shows programmed against each other was different, many of the cheap shots and dirty tricks had been done before in the late stages of the territorial era, making this concept qualify as Older Than They Think:
- In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Poffos (Angelo, Lanny, and "Macho Man" Randy Savage) were running International Championship Wrestling in Lexington, Kentucky, which was an outlaw (runs in the same territorial areas as an established promotion in opposition) promotion against the Continental Wrestling Association in Memphis, Tennessee run by Jerry Jarrett and Jerry "The King" Lawler. ICW's TV announcers would give away the real names of CWA wrestlers, issue challenges on the air, and Savage even once attacked CWA wrestler "Superstar" Bill Dundee at the CWA's gym. ICW closed in 1984, leading to the Poffos going to Memphis to actually feud with Lawler and co.
- The Malenkos (Boris, Joe, and Dean) cut ties with Eddie Graham's Championship Wrestling from Florida in the early 1980s and set up their own outlaw promotion, Sun Belt Wrestling, in Jacksonville, Florida. It did not last very long.
- Ann Gunkel's All-South Wrestling Alliance ran as an outlaw against the established Georgia Championship Wrestling for two years (November 1972 to November 1974).
- Vince McMahon programmed the first Survivor Series PPV on Thanksgiving Night, November 26, 1987 and told the PPV providers of the time that they could air either Survivor Series or Starrcade, which was the NWA's PPV debut airing the same night, but not both. Most chose Survivor Series, and the following year Starrcade was moved to December, where it stayed for the next 12 years, with the last one airing in December 2000. The cable companies told all involved to never do that kind of stunt again with PPVs.
- Vince McMahon debuted the first Royal Rumble event on the USA Network on January 26, 1988 as a counter to Crockett's Bunkhouse Stampede PPV.
- Crockett responded by putting the first Clash of the Champions event on TBS as a counter to WrestleMania IV, March 27, 1988.