January 4th 1999.
It was a day that changed everything in the world of wrestling. Well, that's what you've been told.
January 4th 1999 was the night RAW put the WWE World Title belt on one of the unlikeliest wrestlers to ever put the World Title on (according to Wrestling With Wregret’s Top 8 Unlikely World Champions video on YouTube) and Eric Bischoff decided to use the fact Mick Foley had actually beat The Rock for the title on the 29th December when the 4/1/99 edition was taped, as a way to get people to watch the main event of rival show Nitro by getting the lead announcer of the show Tony Schiavone (whatever happened to that guy)to announce and spoil the result of the main event of RAW. What happened next has gone down into wrestling folklore.
A hell of a lot of people switched over to RAW to watch a historical moment in WWE history (only the second time the World belt has switched hands on Monday Night RAW) and those who stayed on TNT and Nitro watched a main event between Kevin Nash and Hollywood Hulk Hogan that ended with a finish better known as the “Fingerpoke of Doom”. This was the night that changed the war between the WWE and WCW to WWE decisively according to the stories told in the quarter of a century since but it actually wasn't.
In the start of a new series, where we look in depth at stories and opinions in wrestling history and look at the actual truth in them, we will, 25 years after the most famous night of the Monday Night War (god, I feel old right now) talk about 4/1/99 or 1/4/99 if you live on the wrong side of the calendar in America and the shows themselves and talk about some of the folk tales from that period and that they are not what they seem.
First off, we need some context. 1998 was the year that WWE got back some of the initiative in the Monday Night War. After 83 weeks of WCW being the top show on Monday night (I’m not sure if you guys are aware of that fact) the streak was broken on 13/4/98 when a main event advertised between Steve Austin and Vince McMahon produced a rating of 4.6 million over Nitro’s 4.2 million and then for 12 of the next 16 weeks, RAW beat Nitro in the ratings
From August 10th to October 5th things were in Nitro’s favour thanks to a mixture of things.
Goldberg was the WCW World Champion, curiosity about the Ultimate Warrior’s arrival to WCW and USA Network pre-empting RAW with coverage of the US Open Tennis (yes folks, USA Network did use to show things that were not WWE and Law and Order repeats) but from October 12th to the end of 1998 12 of the 13 Monday night battles were won by RAW with 26/10 being the anomaly thanks to a showing of the final two matches of the previous nights Halloween Havoc after the PPV cut off when the feed cut off halfway through Hogan/Warrior II when the PPV overran it’s 3 hr window (yes kids, wrestling PPV’s used to be 3 hours) with the winning margin being an average of 0.6 million compare that to the other two swings of momentum in the final 3 quarters of 1998.
A re-emphasis of the Austin-McMahon feud which had taken a slight backburner to the drama of Austin vs Undertaker and then the breakout autumn of The Rock and the plot twist of Rock’s union with Vince McMahon at Survivor Series were the positives of WWE in this time while WCW saw the mega-push of Kevin Nash in his pursuit of Goldberg’s WCW World Title and the Ric Flair vs Eric Bischoff feud which saw real life animosity escape onto television in wrestler vs executive feud which felt very much like the Austin/McMahon feud and while WWE were winning Monday nights, WCW were hold steady in this time with the jump on the final Nitro of 1998 being attributed to the fallout to Starrcade in which Nash beat Goldberg for the WCW World Title. A rematch was set for the following week’s Nitro and in the main event of 28/12, Ric Flair beat Eric Bischoff in a Career vs Presidency of WCW for 90 days Match to unseat Bischoff as President of WCW (even though Eric had been fired as President in storyline in 1997 but that’s not important right now)
The 4/1 episode of Nitro was to take place at the Georgia Dome. The former home of the Atlanta Falcons was the big-time arena of WCW. A July 6th episode of Nitro which saw Goldberg win the WCW World Title (the sole WCW win in the ratings in the months of May, June and July) The Dome was being primed to be the place where the big Nitros were to be promoted and this Nitro with a rematch of the controversial Starrcade World Title match thanks to Scott Hall interference was going to be big.
To those who tuned into RAW, it was primed to be just another RAW. The Royal Rumble was in the sights of the promotion and while the last RAW of 1998 saw a main event angle of Mr. McMahon fire Shawn Michaels as Commissioner after failing to follow his orders while he was McMahon’s stooge in his role with HBK then superkicking McMahon and tried to simulate a sexual act on him before The Corporation stable ran out (yes that actually happened) produced a point of interest for the show, the 4/1 episode felt colder in anticipation than Nitro
I’m not going to do a full review of RAW and Nitro because if I wanted to do full show write-up I’d harass Bryan Alvarez to give me a job on F4wonline. So, I’m going to give a brief bullet point rundown of both shows
Glacier bt Hugh Morrus
Ric Flair has his inauguration as WCW President (14 year-old Charlotte Flair is in this segment) David Flair offers himself as Ric’s future tag team partner.
Booker T and Chavo Guerrero beat Emory Hale and Norman Smiley respectively in singles matches
Chris B****t beats Horace Hogan
Goldberg is seen being arrested
Hulk Hogan, who had retired two months before, announcing he was running for US President (this was actually a thing) is seen arriving into the Georgia Dome, meanwhile Miss Elizabeth is in the background being interviewed by cops)
Chris Jericho bt Saturn via DQ
Goldberg is interviewed by the cops on suspicion of stalking Elizabeth
Psicosis/Juventud Guerrera bt Kidman/Rey Mysterio
Kevin Nash claims that Hogan is behind the accusations levelled at Goldberg (there was me thinking Nick Hausman was actually behind it all) and challenges Hogan to a match. Ric Flair makes the match if Goldberg doesn’t make it back to the Dome in time.
Turns out Elizabeth’s story has holes in it bigger than the portals in the new Monarch Monsters show on Apple TV
Hogan says in a interview with Mean Gene (his first with MG since Bash at the Beach 1996) that he was in Atlanta to announce his VP running mate (bet it was Brutus Beefcake) but he’ll be happy to face Nash (btw imagine an alternate timeline in which Hulk Hogan is the President in the days after 9/11)
Schiavone spoils the main event of RAW
Konnan bt Scott Steiner via DQ after Buff Bagwell interference
Wrath vs Bam Bam Bigelow is a double DQ
Turns out Elizabeth is lying about Goldberg
DDP bt Brian Adams
Hogan beats Nash via fingerpoke of doom. Goldberg arrives too late and Hall tasers Goldberg with Steiner, Bagwell and Lex Luger all joining in the assault on Goldberg to form a new nWo
Shawn Michaels announces that he's rejoined DX after turning on them a month earlier and that he is still Commissioner and that he outranks Vince McMahon in power
Steve Blackman bt Ken Shamrock
Mankind has a promo (with a oral sex joke included) Mr. McMahon interrupts and makes a Rumble qualifying match between Mankind and Triple H with Shane McMahon as ref
Mark Henry bt Goldust via DQ after Shattered Dreams
Chyna then introduces Henry to his friend Sammy (Sammy is a whole different rabbit hole) and suggests a threesome. Henry faints
Dennis Knight is shown chained up
Godfather bt Test via DQ when Test threw Godfather into the ringpost
Triple H bt Mankind after a Shane fast count. Mankind then puts Shane into a submission demanding a WWF Title match in the main event which he gets
D-Lo Brown and Edge goes to a no-contest after D-Lo accidentally causes Terri Runnels to have a miscarriage (I think the wrong team won the Monday Night War)
Kane bt Pat Patterson and Gerry Brisco (Pat offers Kane a condom to get off from being in the match) Kane then tries to chokeslam Shane but Mr. McMahon tells he’ll section Kane if does slam his son
RoadDogg bt Al Snow in a Hardcore Title match (this is actually a banger)
DX locks Michaels outside the arena where he gets attacked by the Corporation (are the two warring main event factions in cahoots?)
Mankind beats The Rock to win the World Title (DX and Corporation have a big fight outside the during this match)
Early 1999 wrestling television was not good folks
After Tony Schiavone (under orders from Eric Bischoff) spoilers speech, 500,000 switched from Nitro to RAW. The five-minute overrun on Nitro would see many of those tune into TNT to see the fingerpoke of doom. What was supposed to be a big night for WCW, a night that was going to kickstart their 1999 turned out to be a disaster and it was their own fault with THAT main event and those spoilers. But was it the actual beginning of the end of WCW?
While the next eight Monday Nights saw RAW win by an average of 1.2 million, the monthly average rating for Nitro rose.
Monthly Monday Night ratings (1998 and first 2 months of 1999)
The February WCW PPV, Superbrawl which saw Hogan defend his belt against Ric Flair actually drew more buys than the WWF’s Feb PPV, St Valentine's Day Massacre with Steve Austin and Mr. McMahon headlining in a Cage Match (485,000 to 450,000) So for Nitro’s ratings to increase and the February PPV to do better than the PPV with the feud that rejuvenated the New York Territory and won the Observer Feud of the Year in consecutive years main eventing and also was WCW 3rd best PPV number ever tells you that the Fingerpoke of Doom on Jan 4 1999 may not have been the beginning of the end but an actual boost in business. So what were the nails in the coffin for WCW?
March saw Nitro average a 4.1 rating over the month, April’s average was the same and then May saw an average of 3.4 in that month, with June and July (3.3) and August (3.1) being the normal in what was a big downtrend for WCW and their ratings on Monday nights. The PPV numbers were also condemning of the problems that were now happening in WCW
P.S The anomaly that was Road Wild was a Loser Leaves WCW Match between Kevin Nash and Hulk Hogan (it didn’t end with a finger to the chest that time around)
So, from May onwards WCW declined massively and never rebounded properly besides one week surges thanks to resets when Vince Russo took the reins as head booker. So, why did the big decline happen?
First off, in a rematch of Superbrawl where Flair and Hogan faced each other in a First Blood Cage Match (which was garbage) in which we saw a double turn where Flair turned heel in the midst of winning “Big Gold” and remaining WCW President meaning that in storyline WCW had a President that was a heel (that sound familiar?) Even then the ratings were not completely collapsing after this, with ratings staying at the 4 to 4.4 range for the next month (bar one week on 29/3) it was the 19/4/99 edition of Nitro that would be the last where WCW scored over 4 in the ratings on a night where they went head to head with their rivals. So, what happened?
On April 11th, WCW put on Spring Stampede. It’s a really good show, the last really good WCW PPV show in which the main event saw Diamond Dallas Page win the World Title. Page was one of the most popular wrestlers in the company, finishing 4th in PWI’s most popular wrestler poll in 1998. It was a feel good moment in a company that was lacking in them in a heat heavy booking style in 1999. Then DDP turned heel the next week.
With a heel owner who was one of the most beloved faces in WCW in the previous 6 months and a heel champion whose journey to the top had been solely as a face, the trust fans of WCW had in the company was now gone. Those who had stuck with the company through the nWo’s domination and had the happy ending of Sting winning the World Title at Starrcade 1997 overshadowed by a Montreal Screwjob homage and then saw a face WCW authority figure turn heel only 3 months into his role, then saw a beloved wrestler turn heel as soon as he became champion. Those who stuck with WCW through the heavy heat and unhappy endings finally got worn down.
The May to September PPV main events from WCW which was the last five months of Eric Bischoff’s run as the head of WCW (in real life) saw the following main events/World Title matches (champion is in red)
DDP vs Kevin Nash (now a face) (DDP was shunted to the tag team division after losing the belt)
Kevin Nash vs Randy Savage (ended in DQ)
Kevin Nash/Sting vs Randy Savage/Sid Vicious for the WCW World Title (yes, the singles World Title)
Kevin Nash (who is now a heel) vs Hulk Hogan
Hulk Hogan vs Sting (Sting turns heel when winning the match)
WWE’s World Title scene would see the likes of The Rock and Triple H, who both had never been in a World Title match on PPV before November 1998, in the mix that included Steve Austin, Undertaker and Mankind. WWE while not the greatest booked company in wrestling history in 1999 (potential future column?) felt fresh. WCW did not.
The rest is history. 2000 WCW is an all-time bad year and in March 2001, the company was bought by Vince McMahon and WWE and would hold a tight grip on wrestling in North America until 2019, holding Wrestlemanias in stadiums from 2007, including XXVII at the Georgia Dome.
WWE is the brand name for pro wrestling like Kleenex is for tissues but they were on the ropes in the mid 90s to which they survived the round and prospered all because of the bad mistakes WCW made in 1999 but not the one that everyone thinks of.