The WWE had a stranglehold on American televised professional wrestling after acquiring most every major territorial promotion in the United States. The federation would continue to dominate the scene until one promotion, backed by the wallet of Ted Turner, decided to challenge the titan.
WWE saw its first (and last) major competition when WCW was given a prime-time slot. The prime-time slot of Monday Nights was where WWE aired its flagship program, RAW. WCW added its new program, Nitro, to the mix. The years that followed saw a brutal war over Nielson ratings in a battle remembered as The Monday Night Wars.
Eric Bischoff had risen quickly through the ranks in WCW and was now a main producer and executive for the promotion. According to Bischoff it was Ted Turner’s idea to compete with WWE. The young promotion that was created as an off-shoot from the NWA would wage war with a known elite in the industry.
The tactics from Bischoff were often underhanded. From sniping talent to giving away the results to RAW’s taped episodes on live television, the war was waged. On Nitro’s first episode, Lex Luger appeared. Luger was a known entity in WWE and had jumped ship after he’d been working for WWE without a contract.
The next major shot fired in the war was when Madusa, then WWE women’s champion, dumped the championship in the trash can on Nitro programming. This not only spit in the face of the history of WWE’s women’s division but it showed Nitro had the audacity to challenge the tradition. Many saw it as a sign of disrespect, others saw the move as a rebellion.
WCW would continue to steal talent from the WWE. The next major acquisition came in the form of Scott Hall and Kevin Nash. The two posed as outside invaders from the WWE who’d come to overthrow WCW. When WWE filed lawsuit, Hall and Nash had to admit they were not working for WWE to destroy WCW. The two would go on to recruit Hulk Hogan in a surprising heel turn as the leader of their new order. The New World Order would dominate the WCW for years to come.
WCW was well ahead of WWE in the ratings war, having won almost an entire year in the feud, when one announcer made a vital mistake. When giving away the results to WWE’s RAW program, Tony Schiavone told television audiences that Mick Foley was set to win the WWE championship then commented that he doubted it’d put “butts in seats”. After that remark, over six-hundred thousand homes changed stations to WWE.
The event that saw Mick Foley take home the WWE championship was the first time RAW would win in the ratings war in nearly one year’s time. The companies would continue to feud well into the year 2000 with WWE well in the lead.
In 2001, Vince McMahon would take an opportunity and buy WCW when Turner Broadcasting merged with AOL and wished to no longer host a wrestling show. McMahon and the WWE had won the wars by purchasing their competition. This would be the last time WWE would see a major competitor in American television markets.
Had WCW never made that vital mistake in 1999 would they still be dominating wrestling ratings? Would the company have ever been put up for sale? What would the scope of the wrestling world look like today had WCW won? We will never know. We do know that no one has stepped up to challenge WWE since.