Eric Bischoff on WCW in Boston: “It was critical for WCW to move into the northeast, and we decided to bet on Hulk Hogan to make it work.”
The Nitro Files with Eric Bischoff will delve into a moment from WCW’s Monday Nitro era. Bischoff – who was the president of WCW during the company’s most successful years – also hosts his weekly “Bischoff on Wrestling” podcast with 120 Sports’ Nick Hausman, and has also created the IRW Network, which is currently highlighting over 1,500 hours of independent wrestling, and officially launches on June 1. Bischoff plans to prove every week in the Nitro Files that the truth is out there.
The June 9, 1997 Nitro was live from Boston.
Boston was a McMahon family staple since the days of Bruno Sammartino in the 1960s, but Bischoff had an ace up his sleeve as he poised himself to bring the “southern wrasslin’” of WCW into the town that Paul Revere helped make famous.
“It was critical for WCW to move into the northeast,” said Bischoff. “And we decided to bet on Hulk Hogan to make it work.”
Hogan wrestled Lex Luger in a highly anticipated match-up that saw Luger defeat Hogan in a non-title match with the Torture Rack.
“There may have actually been a better match-up specifically for that house in Boston, but we walked a fine line because that was perfect for the television audience,” said Bischoff. “I felt like it was a safe bet. I knew I could always bet on Hulk. He and Lex made the show feel pay per view worthy.”
WWE had built a legacy and a footprint with wrestling fans with decades worth of shows at the Boston Garden, so Bischoff knew the importance of delivering a memorable Nitro.
"If you go back in time and look at a map of all of the television markets where wrestling was most popular, historically, the deepest concentrations of those markets were in the northeast. The northeast was critical to our formula.
“It was particularly important for us to penetrate the market place, make a foot-hole in the television market place, and it was critical to establish ourselves as a viable competitor in what was, traditionally, WWE’s home territory.”
Roman Reigns would appreciate knowing that, in 1998, the northeast was Vince McMahon’s yard.
“That certainly is true,” confirmed Bischoff. “A lot of the buildings we tried to book at that time wouldn’t let us bring Nitro there. That had nothing to do with money and everything to do with the long-standing relationship going back to Vince McMahon Sr. It was not only Vince’s yard from a perception point of view, but also in terms of business. It was incredibly hard for us to break into that marketplace.”
Since Nitro was on for two hours and Raw only aired for an hour, Bischoff started the Hogan-Luger right before Raw was set to air, effectively ending Vince McMahon’s chances to compete in that evening’s battle for ratings. Nitro clobbered Raw, 3.4 to 2.2, in the ratings.
“That was my number one focus,” said Bischoff. “My number one focus was to become number one. Not everything we did was right, but we constantly asked, ‘How does this solidify our position as number one?’”
Later in the show, Chris Jericho lost to Alex Wright. Play-by-play man Mike Tenay mentioned during the match that Jericho had just competed in New Japan’s “Best of the Super Juniors” tournament, which Bischoff believed added another element to his product.
“We were working with New Japan, so it made sense to put a spotlight on New Japan whenever we could in a positive way,” said Bischoff. “Also, part of my strategy in branding WCW was making us feel different and feel bigger than the WWF, so I did that by embracing our relationships with international wrestling organizations. That was all part and parcel of making WCW feel like a world class promotion.”
The main event featured a tag team title match pitting The Outsiders, defending their belts, against Ric Flair and Roddy Piper. The match, which was the same main event on the upcoming Sunday’s Great American Bash pay per view, ended quickly in a beatdown by the NWO before Sting descended from the rafters. Sting came to the rescue of Diamond Dallas Page, who had also tried to even the odds for Piper and Flair against the NWO, and actually ascended back to the rafters with DDP.
Bischoff was asked if Sting’s ascending and descending to the ring were a concern behind the scenes.
“We were all concerned,” said Bischoff. “We knew the potential danger and risks involved, but Ellis Edwards was the guy who worked for us, and he oversaw, coordinated, and managed all of the stunts. Ellis still works, to this day, for WWE, and he does a lot of the same things for WWE. We tested and re-tested, using weighted crash dummies that weighed as much as Sting and their joints would articulate like they would in a scientific crash test, so we could see exactly what this was going to look like. It was a very dangerous stunt.”
By the time the show in Boston finished, Bischoff could not wait to bring Nitro to Chicago.
“We were clicking,” said Bischoff. “I was chomping at the bit to see the ratings on Tuesday morning and then get to the next town for Nitro. Leaving Boston, I was pretty excited to get to Chicago.”