Nitro Files: How Dennis Rodman went from NBA champion to professional wrestler
- Eric Bischoff on Dennis Rodman: “And he was a natural born wrestling character."
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.
WCW continued its invasion of the northeast with its June 16, 1997 Nitro, which was live from the United Center in Chicago, Illinois.
Nitro opened with The Outsiders in the ring to start hour number two, conveniently right as rival Monday Night Raw opened on the USA Network.
“The audience was really engaged and resonated with Scott Hall and Kevin Nash,” said Bischoff. “That wasn’t much of a risk. We knew the pattern, we knew the results, so we knew that was going to work.”
Nitro won the ratings battle for the fourth consecutive week, this time by a score of 3.3 to 2.4.
For the first time in the history of the business, fans were cheering bad guys and booing the good guys. While a group like the New World Order was overwhelmingly popular, the babyface veterans like Randy Savage, Sting, and Lex Luger–were extremely unfamiliar and uncomfortable with the new dynamic.
“That’s an understatement,” said Bischoff. “There was a tremendous amount of angst amongst talent that trained, grew up in, and performed in the traditional heel/babyface environment and formula. The NWO turned that on its head, as they were heels only in the new sense of the word. They were dangerous, they had edge, and they were cool.
“Particularly, early on, with guys like Sting and Randy Savage, and Lex Luger was clearly another guy steeped in the old formula. A lot of guys were really concerned that the heels were getting babyface reactions, which was counter-intuitive to the traditional wrestling formula. It was more than just a little bit of a problem; it was a real challenge.”
The show delivered a main event of Lex Luger and The Giant versus “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan and Dennis Rodman, who received an overwhelming positive reaction from the crowd in Chicago. Rodman had just won another title with the Chicago Bulls, and his acquisition was a major coup for WCW.
“I was in a meeting in Atlanta, and Hulk reached out to me with the news that Dennis Rodman was interested in doing something in wrestling and that he was talking to WWE,” said Bischoff. “Hulk gave me the number to Dennis’ agent, and I obviously knew who he was–and the Chicago Bulls were hotter than hell.”
There was no actual match for the main event, as Hogan and Rodman beat down and spray-painted the New World Order initials on the backs of Luger and The Giant to the delight of the Chicago crowd.
“Dennis was an active player at the top of his game,” said Bischoff. “And he was a natural born wrestling character. He didn’t have any clause in his contract that prevented him from wrestling in the off-season, but you would really have a hard time getting away with that now.”