The time: January 4 1999
In the WWF, It was a little over a year on from the Montreal Screwjob, it was entrenched in the ‘Austin Era’, The Rock was the WWF champion and rising to prominence even more, and for the first time in a long time, they were eye-to-eye with WCW. Ratings were up for both companies, the battle for superiority was hotter than ever.
In WCW, Kevin Nash was the WCW champion. Shrouded in controversy, he had ended Goldberg’s title reign the previous month at Starrcade. But heading into the live Nitro on January 4, being held at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, WCW’s home, Goldberg was due a rematch. And Hulk Hogan had a major announcement to make.
WCW Monday Nitro
Kevin Nash vs Goldberg was the scheduled main event, but when he was arrested by police on suspicion of ‘aggravated stalking’ and taken to a nearby police station, he was out of the match. And in stepped Hulk Hogan, who returned on the show to announce his retirement from wrestling in order to run for President of the United States. One promo later, Nash vs Hogan was the new main event. It was before that match that Tony Schiavone, under instruction from Eric Bischoff, informed fans that over on the taped episode of WWF Monday Night Raw, Mick Foley would win the WWF Title. Of course, WCW giving away taped results of WWF shows had been done before, but on this night, something different happened. Approximately 600,000 homes across America picked up their remote control and switched from Nitro over to Raw. And those that did stay and keep watching the show? Well, they got this;
Yep. The ‘Fingerpoke of Doom’ made it’s world debut. The biggest Nitro in WCW history ended with a screwjob that resulted in another re-formation of the nWo. But in Eric Bischoff’s mind, he had just pulled a masterstroke. Except he didn’t count on a reaction to what he told Schiavone to say on air earlier that night.
“We understand that Mick Foley, who wrestled here one time as Cactus Jack, is going to win their world title. Wow, that’ll put a lot of butts in the seats.”
So we go over to the other show….
WWF Monday Night Raw
Taped on December 29 1998, this episode was continuing the story of Mick Foley’s continued battle with The Rock and Vince McMahon’s corporation, and a title match was set between the two. Of course, WWF had their fans who were watching, hoping that Foley would finally be able to overcome the odds and become the champion for the first time. And then Schiavone said his part, and those existing fans were joined by about 600,000 more, and what they ended up seeing is one of the great moments in Raw history;
When all was said and done, WWF Monday Night Raw pulled a 5,7, to WCW Nitro’s 5.0. Maybe Raw would have won on the night anyway, but Schiavone’s Bischoff-fed lines didn’t help them one bit. From there, the tide turned to – and stayed on – the WWF’s side. Indeed, many observers see January 4 1999 as the night that changed wrestling.
But was it?
Fourteen years later, WWE.com sat down with Kevin Nash and Mick Foley, and asked them for their thoughts on that memorable night.
“That was the night that changed wrestling? Oh, I disagree. The year that [Mike] Tyson showed up for WrestleMania [XIV] in ’98 changed wrestling. Who thinks Jan. 4, ’99, changed wrestling? A lot of [know-it-all fans]? It was already back and forth at that point with who won Mondays, so how did that change anything?…When Tyson came to WrestleMania, Vince knew that everybody was going to be watching that WrestleMania. They put a movie-trailer-quality piece before every match that caught everybody up to date if you hadn’t been watching the show every week. It got a great buyrate. When I watched that WrestleMania, I said, “We’re dead in the water.” That’s what changed wrestling. You’re not talking to some [know-it-all]. You’re talking to somebody that was in the process, in the middle of it. We could never out-produce Vince. Our production was never anywhere near Vince’s production. And then Vince went edgier than we were, and all of a sudden standards and practices started pulling the cord back on us. Raw became the hip show and we became the un-hip show…The “Fingerpoke of Doom” was nothing. The “Fingerpoke of Doom” was just trying to realign The nWo to face off with Goldberg and Goldberg ended up getting injured. I love how the story of my life is how I beat Goldberg to turn around and take the “Fingerpoke of Doom” a week later. Boy, that did me a lot of good. When you look at how people perceive the whole thing, it’s ridiculous. The number one problem people have with the “Fingerpoke of Doom” is it “got” everybody. And nobody likes to be “got.” So, of course, [know-it-alls] are going to hate it the most because they never called it. They didn’t see anything coming.”
“If people say it’s the night that changed wrestling, I’ll believe it. I’m happy to take that credit, but certainly think it was a night that changed people’s perception about me within the wrestling industry. When the taping results came out, and there was the instantaneous switching of hundreds of thousands of TV sets, I think I went from being a highly recognized role player to a leading man in WWE. I still sometimes wonder if I wasn’t just a very good role player, but at least for a period of time, the results begged to differ…I wasn’t aware about what had happened on Nitro that night until I saw it play out on Jan. 4. I think too much of the credit goes to me individually when a lot of the credit should go to WCW for putting on a really bad show that night. The arresting of Goldberg I thought was terrible. And for a long time, I thought WCW had the hot hand in the wrestling war. I would watch their show and go, “Wow, they’ve just got that edge that we don’t seem to have.” But by the time the ratings tide turned in our favor, I believe we had the better show for well more than a year. I’m not picking on Nitro, because they had some great shows, but that particular night stood out to me for being particularly bad…I always say there’s no steadfast formula for getting a show right. There are some nights when Raw seems to go better than others. The show hooks people and the action is compelling. There are other nights that doesn’t seem to go so well. But I think this was a combination of WCW getting everything wrong on the wrong night and WWE getting everything right on the right night.
Foley and Nash have a lot more to say about the Monday Night War in general, and that can be read by clicking on the link below.