Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: in a match billed as one of the biggest and most important of all time, Hulk Hogan takes on a 7’4” giant at the Silverdome —
I mean, Superdome.
This time around, though, instead of the big main event being presented without commercial interruption, it *is* the interruption; the match would air in snippets during the commercials of another show. That’s what TNT and WCW tried to pull off on January 13th, 1997, exploiting a much-hyped Hogan-Giant main event to trick people into watching a new TV series more suited to Saturday afternoons on your local UHF station than to a prime-time time slot.
The idea was to force people to keep tuning into the network even after investing two hours of their Monday nights into Nitro. Just to see the conclusion of a program that was already running longer than most movies, wrestling fans would have to sit through a cheesy adventure series called, The New Adventures of Robin Hood, a show centered around the public domain hero that was meant to cash in on the popularity of such syndicated series as Hercules and Xena: Warrior Princess without having to go to the trouble of creating new characters or paying licensing fees. Executing this swindle would be a tall order indeed.
The first part of the con was to build up this main event from the very first minute of the show, with the opening video sequence being interrupted by The Giant kicking down the door to the nWo’s locker room and being restrained by security.
Paul Wight’s beef — and pardon me for any disturbing mental images suggested by the phrase, “Paul Wight’s beef” —
— was that Hulk Hogan had pulled out…
…of their scheduled title match at the nWo Souled Out pay-per-view. Sure, it made no sense for The Giant to want to wrestle Hogan at an event where every match would feature a crooked nWo official, but it was the principle that mattered: the big man was guaranteed a title shot by winning the 1996 World War 3 battle royal, a feat made even more impressive by the fact that, according to WWE announcers, Paul Wight didn’t win a single battle royal until 2015.
Half an hour later, a nearly identical scuffle erupted in the nWo locker room when The Giant again kicked down the door and again had to be restrained by security, looking like an alternate take of the scene that opened Nitro. Either this was an editing mistake, or Tommy Wiseau was directing Nitro back in 1997.
After an emergency meeting convened by the WCW executive committee, the announcers gave the fans at home the good news that the Hogan-Giant title match would be taking place right damn there and right damn then on Nitro.
For some reason, the commentators later announced that the match would not be for the world title, as WCW by-laws stated that a champion must be given 48 hours’ notice before any title defense. Of all the stupidest ways possible to try to make wrestling look like a legitimate sport, this has got to rank somewhere between fining wrestlers for excessive celebration and TV “blackouts” for non-sold-out Nitros.
Still, even without the title on the line, the announce team (which included Tony Schiavone) billed the main event as not only the biggest and most important match in Nitro history, but an event on par with the Super Bowl, which was to be held 13 days later in the same arena.
And what did WCW do to make room on the card for this most important match in history? Nothing, of course! What, did you expect them to cancel the Lex Luger-Rick Fuller classic that took place after the announcement of the “historic” main event?
Or American Male Scotty Riggs vs. a young Billy Kidman?
Or Konnan vs. this burn victim? Clearly, Nitro’s problem was that it was too tightly-booked and crammed full of important bouts for bookers to go tinkering around with the card midway through the card.
At about 9:45, the announcers informed the audience that the Hogan-Giant match, which had been built up from the opening seconds of the two-hour show, would end up running beyond Nitro’s time slot. But Turner Broadcasting, magnanimous media juggernaut that it was, was going to give the broadcast extra time — during the commercial breaks of the new TNT action series The New Adventures of Robin Hood, which, coincidentally, was premiering that very night.
The positive-thinking WCW announcers never even considered the possibility that this set-up would be an inconvenience to viewers. Instead, they casually told viewers that they’d be able to watch the main event while they “enjoyed” Robin Hood, deliberately misusing the word like a used car dealership advertising its “previously enjoyed” Saturns.
The broadcast team slyly put across the presumptuous notion that everyone watching Nitro was going to watch Robin Hood “in its entirety” from 10-11 pm anyway, so seeing snippets of the Nitro main event during the commercials would just be a cool bonus.
I don’t know about you, but if I wanted to mix wrestling and a campy action-adventure series, I’d watch Tanja, Warrior Woman.
With time ticking away on Nitro, the familiar nWo music played, but there was no Hogan to be found. Little by little, his entourage creeped through the entranceway, some tripping over the fog machine. The company was clearly not putting forth a good faith effort to make good use of the show’s last precious few minutes.
Finally, Hulk Hogan started walking to ringside with the exaggerated strut of Ric Flair stepping through eight inches of mud (which made him an easy target for this rubber chicken thrown by a fan).
With only two minutes left to go in the Nitro broadcast, Hogan grabbed the mic to recite those immortal lines, “Fe Fi Fo Fum. You know something? You sure are a big dumb-dumb!”
After the most embarrassing stall tactics pre-Larry Craig scandal, the action got under way, as the Giant delivered a body slam, three turnbuckle smashes, and a kick to the gut before Nitro signed off…
…and we got to spend the next hour with this guy.
One inordinately long, uninterrupted segment of Robin Hood later, the main event returned for 90 seconds, and fans were rewarded for their patience with two chops, a clothesline, a low blow, and a test of strength. The Giant also thrilled viewers by stomping on Hogan’s hands and trying to make him eat his bandanna, which is admittedly less cruel than Hulk Hogan trying to make mall-goers eat his crappy pasta on the debut Nitro.
“Live” footage resumed at around 10:30 pm for the last Nitro segment of the night, lasting another thrilling minute and a half. This meant, if you were to believe WCW, that Hogan had been working for over half an hour, an idea that strains credulity even more than The Giant surviving a 50-foot fall into the Detroit River to win the World title, which is what happened the first time these two wrestled.
Amazingly, after over (supposedly) half an hour of the 7’4”, 500-pound Giant pummelling Hogan, not only was Hollywood not crippled, but he was fresh enough to run away when the nWo inevitably said to themselves, “Let’s go kick some butt”…
(in the words of Robin Hood’s Little John)
…and ran in to trigger a disqualification. What, you expected the “biggest match in the history of Nitro,” which you had sat through most of an hour-long Hercules/Xena knockoff just to watch, to have a definitive ending? I guess the Giant wasn’t the only big dumb-dumb on this night!
Following this debacle, the WWF announcers had a field day rubbing it in that they wouldn’t pull a bait-and-switch and fail to deliver on their main event. This was of course easy for the WWF to say, considering that their show was usually taped in advance.
For weeks the WWF kept bragging about not jerking the audience around, even when Shawn Michaels backed out of his scheduled match against Sid and forfeited the title, and even when they repeatedly teased and postponed the Bret Hart-Sid title match during the next week’s broadcast.
Such was standard fare for the Monday Night Wars. And yes, I say, “Wars,” plural, because despite what WWE will tell you, there were a number of smaller but no less important wars being waged on Monday nights, such as the bitter proxy war between La Femme Nikita and Robin Hood, the two action series that followed Raw and Nitro, respectively.
At every opportunity, Vince McMahon, Jim Ross, and Jerry Lawler would talk about how La Femme Nikita was much tougher and physically imposing than that “wimpy” Robin Hood that went on the air after the competition signed off.
The highlight of this absurd rivalry was Vince McMahon interviewing La Femme Nikita’s Peta Wilson. Vince, with the same kind of swooning he once reserved for Hulk Hogan, commented approvingly on the “sexuality, if you would,” present on the USA action series, noting the program’s “certain degree of sex that I think everyone appreciates.”
What would Vince McMahon of 1996 have to say to the Vince McMahon of 1997?
And as for what this bait-and-switch trick meant for WCW, the company exploited the fans’ disappointment by putting Hogan vs. Giant — for the title this time — on the card of nWo Souled Out after all.
And of course, that match ended in an nWo run-in, too.