The Monday Night War was a fascinating period in professional wrestling. After running unopposed for mainstream success for decades, the WWE (then WWF) suddenly found themselves with direct competition in the form of billionaire and network owner Ted Turner and his newly rebranded World Championship Wrestling (WCW). It’s a period known for cut-throat business dealings and endless one-upmanship as well as being one of the most fun and unpredictable eras in wrestling. This 20 episode documentary charts the two companies’ battle for Monday night ratings with plenty of archive footage and talking head interviews with past and present personalities from both sides explaining what life was like in the barracks as well as what it was like as a wrestling fan watching at home.
As someone who was watching wrestling during “The Attitude Era”, it’s a slick, informative look at some of the crazy stuff that went down. What astounded me was Ted Turner’s “take no prisoners” attitude, creating a live show in a primetime slot to directly compete with WWE’s Monday Night Raw, with a similarly fuck you name of Monday Nitro. After the ’80s, WWE was in a state of flux, believing the age of veterans like Hulk Hogan and Macho Man Randy Savage to be over and put all of its eggs in the new talent basket. WCW boss man Eric Bischoff thought differently and was soon signing WWE alumni to wrestle for them, including both Hogan and Savage. Bischoff’s business savvy, his eye for new and exciting talent and his fresh ideas started paying off and soon WCW was regularly crushing WWE in the ratings for years. In response, Vince McMahon ushered in the Jerry Springer- esque Attitude Era, filled with more violence, sexual content and cuss words.
The documentary covers everything from humble beginnings as regional wrestling promotions to complete mainstream success and influence on pop culture. It also examines stand out superstars like Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Chris Jericho, Sting and Goldberg as well as some of the more memorable factions like the NWO and D-Generation X. The context provided by the contemporary personalities is great. I loved Hulk Hogan talking about his famous heel turn at Bash at the Beach. I also really liked the short post episode studio discussions between Sting and Triple H. They seemed surprisingly candid.
I do have a couple of problems with the whole thing though. My main problem is how one-sided the presentation is. I get that history is written by the victors, but the main thrust of each episode seems to be “here’s how WCW fucked up and the plucky WWE hung on in there”, rather than focusing on what they were giving the audience that WWE weren’t. I never really watched WCW so I was more interested in learning about what made the WCW such a worthy rival than how WWE eventually beat them. Little points like people attributing the success of WCW’s NWO angle to the fact that they were three ex-WWE wrestlers “invading” WCW rankled after a while.
Honestly, WWE should watch their own documentary some time. Some of the points they bring up as contributing to the failure of WCW is what they’re doing with the current product. They mention WCW stifling character progression and sticking too rigidly to a formula and preconceived notions of who the crowd should boo or cheer. Anyone who is a current WWE fan will recognise similarities and the possible unheeded lessons held within. Having said that, the landscape is completely different now. There’s no direct mainstream competition and WWE is now a publicly traded company.
This is a minor point, but it irritated nonetheless. The episodes are in a vaguely chronological order, but insist on dragging the timeline from the start to the end of the era in nearly every episode, meaning you’ll hear the same stories multiple times. I hope you like that one DX barbecue skit where Triple H talks about “jumbo weenies” because you’re going to see it a lot.
Still, as long as you go in with the attitude of taking what’s being said with a pinch of salt, it’s a cracking documentary and well worth your time if you love all things wrestling. Hardcore fans may not learn that much from it, but it’s a well put together (apart from the timeline bullshit), coherent take on a completely transformative era in “sports entertainment”. Recommended.