Firestein: The anniversary of one of the most important days in pro wrestling history
THE MEMORY DOESN'T REMAIN
by Martin Firestein (
I've been watching professional wrestling for approximately 25 years now, if I date the start of my fandom from right around the time of WrestleMania III. In those 25 years, I've seen so many things that have been etched into my memory. I've seen amazing matches and promos. I've seen shoot comments that shocked me. I've seen face or heel turns that were memorable. I've seen storyline reunions and breakups. I've seen wrestlers die. I've seen others retire and get the glorious sendoffs they deserved. I've seen humiliation, honor, respect. In short, I've seen the very best and the very worst this business has to offer.
More often than not, it was the memories of **what** happened, rather than the date they happened on, that stayed with me. I couldn't tell you the date Austin defeated HBK to win the WWF title and cement himself as the company's top star. I couldn't tell you the date on which WrestleMania VII took place, even thought I've never forgotten the amazing career ending match between "Macho Man" Savage and the Ultimate Warrior, or the subsequent reunion of Savage with his lovely wife Elizabeth. Nor could I tell you the date Hulk Hogan turned heel and joined the Outsiders to form the nWo, even though that storyline revolutionized the business and put the WWF behind the 8 ball for the first time since the national expansion.
But there was one date I thought I'd never forget: March 26, 2001. That was the day the Monday Night War ended. It was the day Vince McMahon made his purchase of WCW official and appeared, for the first time ever, on a WCW Nitro broadcast. It was the last ever televised Nitro, and indeed, the last WCW program ever. It was truly the end of an era. And that date was important to me for what it represented.
To me, the Monday Night War made wrestling interesting again. From 1993 until 1996, wrestling was at a low tide. The WWF hadn't successfully made the transition to something new after the end of the Hulkamania era, and they were trying to recreate that formula with .... someone, anyone. And it just didn't work. They were still stuck in the "cartoon/this is for kids" mentality, and had all kinds of crappy characters fill the "WWF Universe". Make no mistake about it: I still watched. But it was nothing like it was in the late 1980's with Hogan, Savage, Warrior, and others.
Then, WCW created Monday Nitro in 1995, and got their hands on former WWF talent. Suddenly, we had new and intriguing matches to look forward to. The storylines themselves weren't anything special, but at least it was something different from the crap the WWF was putting on at the time. Then in 1996, everything exploded. We were introduced to cruiserweight wrestling. The nWo was formed. New and exciting talent who had experience in the US, Mexico, Canada, and Japan started filling up TV time. It was amazing. WCW had so much depth and so much talent that it was impossible not to have great matches every week on TV. Compared to what WCW could do, the WWF and its "New Generation" looked like crap (which it was - minus Michaels, Hart, and the Undertaker, of course).
In order to survive, the WWF would have to do something drastically different, which they eventually did. People can rightly argue where the idea for the Attitude Era came from. I don't particularly care. What was important was that the WWF fought back and created new and exciting characters that captured the fans' imaginations: Rock, Austin, DX (Triple H/New Age Outlaws/Chyna), the evil McMahon character. In time, they also brought in people who could work, and put on exciting matches: Edge, the Hardys, the Dudley Boys, Kurt Angle, Jericho, Benoit, on and on. Now, the WWF was back from the brink and able to take on WCW not with petty shoot comments or mean spirited segments mocking the competition (although, to be fair, those were fun to watch), but by putting on the best product possible. WCW was able to respond in kind, at least until the end of 1998.
It was such an exciting time to be a fan. There were so many surprises and swerves, in addition to there being so much talent on display from both companies. That's why March 26, 2001 stood out in my mind for so long. It marked the end of that period. WCW was dead. There would be no continuation of the Monday Night War. There would be no competition for Vince McMahon and the WWF brain trust to fight back against. And that competition drove the business to heights it never achieved before. It was a bitter sweet day for me, even as we hurled towards the epic confrontation the Rock and Steve Austin were to have later that week at WrestleMania X-7. As great a show as that was, it was also a sad time for me because WCW meant that much to me and to the business as a whole.
And yet here I stand, 11 years later, and I had forgotten what day it was today, until I saw a tweet from Lance Storm. Think about that. It took a tweet from a former WCW talent to remind me of the most historic, important, and frankly sad day that I've ever experienced as a fan. I think the faded memory of that day speaks to a lot of things. It speaks to just how far off the rails WCW went after 1999. I think it speaks to a resignation that WCW is gone. And I think it speaks to the fact that it will be some time, if ever, before "happy days are here again", It's sad commentary on what WCW became, and how the business has suffered from the compnay's death. And it makes me think wistfully for what might have been if WCW had lived.
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