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WCW Saturday Night and Fall Brawl 1995 at Grandma's House

One Saturday evening at the end of August in 1995, my parents were watching my brother play hockey on the other side of town.  Or at least that's how I remember it.  August seems a bit early for hockey, but we pretty much played around the calendar, so... who knows.

In any event, wherever they were, I somehow managed to beg off and stayed home with Grandma and Grandpa.  They lived next door, and as a kid, I frequently wandered back and forth from our house to theirs several times a day.  

Longtime readers here will already know, but I've been a pro wrestling fan since I was 5 when I caught a glimpse of the National Wrestling Alliance on TBS in 1990.  I'm pretty sure it was a Rock and Roll Express (Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson) match because I remember the blond hair and the brightly colored red and blue bandanas, but it may have been The Fabulous Freebirds for all I know.  Either way, it was classic Southern-style "rasslin" and set me on a lifelong fandom of NWA/WCW over the more flashy WWF presentation.

I drifted in and out of casual fandom during the next 5 years.  Mainly because it was forbidden in my house, for fear I may try a wrestling move on my brother or a friend at school.  In any event, I'd sneak some wrestling in when I thought nobody was watching.  Or, more often, I'd just walk next door and watch it at my Grandparent's house.  They didn't seem to mind and usually left me alone with a glass of Tang, a Snickers, and the TV in the kitchen.  

Eventually, my parents gave up policing the TV, and I began watching wrestling on a regular basis.

Years later, like The Simpsons, all it took was for my Dad to watch a few minutes and enjoy what he saw to get their final approval.  He just happened to sit down beside me one day during the infamous Ric Flair interview where he stripped down to his boxer shorts and handcuffed himself to the ring.  

What can I say?  Ric Flair is the best of all time, and wrestling in the 90s was amazingly fun.

Just days after this fateful August evening at my Grandparent's house, World Championship Wrestling launched a new show called Monday Nitro.  Nitro quickly became the focus of the promotion, causing WCW Saturday Night, what had long been the flag bearer for the promotion, to take a backseat to the new Monday show.  The pro wrestling Monday Night War of the 90s had begun, and the non-wrestling world was starting to take notice.  

But what I saw that night, while sitting at Grandma's kitchen table, turned my interest in pro wrestling into a lifelong love.

Back then, I preferred the Saturday program.  There was a good chance my parents were busy on Saturdays and wouldn't notice I was watching wrestling like they would on a Monday night when they wanted to watch their own programs.  Saturday Night wasn't filmed in a big arena during the Nitro era.  Instead, it was filmed on a sound stage, giving it a gritty, old-school feel.  

Initially, Saturday Night was the flagship program of Turner Broadcasting-owned WCW.  It was the company's primary source of storyline development and pay-per-view promotion.  The September 1995 premiere of Monday Nitro (and Thursday Night Thunder's launch in 1998) caused the program to devalue further.  Eventually, it became just another weekly hour of television that was a chance to recap and promote the other weekly shows, gain advertising revenue, and get the younger wrestlers' experience working in front of a crowd.

WCW Saturday Night, as I knew it, premiered on April 4, 1992, as the showcase for the company's top talent.  The show was a continuation of two previous wrestling programs on TBS, which had once been the main viewership draw for Ted Turner's television network since 1972.   

Saturday Night has roots that go back to January of 1972 when Georgia Championship Wrestling (GCW) switched its weekly programming to WTCG in Atlanta.  WTCG would be renamed WTBS in 1979 and began transmitting its signal via satellite to become a "superstation" on cable systems coast-to-coast in the United States.  As a result, Georgia Championship Wrestling became the first promotion affiliated with the National Wrestling Alliance to broadcast nationally.  Throughout the 70s and 80s, Georgia Championship and professional wrestling were the most popular show on the entire TBS channel.  

In 1982, GCW changed the name of its main program to "World Championship Wrestling."  WTBS owner Ted Turner requested the name change to give the wrestling show on his Superstation a less regional feel.  In 1989, the Saturday Night program's filming location was moved from the WTBS studios to Center Stage Theater in Atlanta.  

On what has come to be known as "Black Saturday," on July 14, 1984, viewers tuned into the TBS Superstation expecting to see World Championship Wrestling but instead found Vince McMahon introducing his New York-based World Wrestling Federation (WWF) programming.  

Vince McMahon was hoping to expand the national reach of the WWF and, for $750,000, purchased a majority stake in Georgia Championship Wrestling (GCW) along with its coveted WTBS timeslot.  

Unfortunately for Vince, he underestimated two significant factors.  First, wrestling fans around the country have different tastes.  GCW's shows emphasized in-ring action with more athletic matches, while Vince's WWF was more soap opera-like with cartoonish characters and storylines that featured short one-sided matches.  The new, show-biz-focused presentation immediately turned off the loyal GCW core audience. 

Secondly, McMahon had promised Ted Turned he would produce original programming for the WTBS timeslot.  Instead, Vince used the new "WWF World Championship Wrestling" as a recap show, featuring matches that had previously aired in the WWF's main markets in the Northeast.  

Angry viewers flooded WTBS with over a thousand complaints in one day, demanding to know where GCW had gone.  Eventually, Ted Turned grew mad over the rapidly declining ratings and McMahon's failure to live up to the promise of original content.  Turner then asked Ole Anderson, who had refused to sell his minority interest in GCW, to create a successor promotion called "Championship Wrestling from Georiga."  

Turner gave this new company a 7am slot on Saturday mornings.  In addition, he granted rival promotion Mid-South Wrestling a similar place on Sundays.  These moves upset McMahon, and in March of 1985, he sold his timeslot to the Charlotte, North Carolina-based member of the NWA, Jim Crockett Promotions (JCP). 

Crockett filled the time slot with two hours of original programming filmed in Turner's Atlanta studios.  The program name would eventually become the promotion's name when in 1988, Ted Turner purchased the financially-failing Jim Crockett Promotions company.  

The Saturday evening show, World Championship Wrestling, would be renamed WCW Saturday Night in April of 1992.  This reflected an overhauled look and the new home studio arena at the Center Stage Theater in Atlanta.  Presented in "neon" style with a blue and pink color scheme, the wrestlers entered through a silver curtain surrounded by neon lighting.  

This neon styling was replaced in March of 1994 with the look I consider synonymous with WCW Saturday Night.  The new look featured a futuristic design with a unique entryway of sliding doors and billowing smoke. 

My favorite announcer of all time, Tony Schiavone, took over the hosting duties following Jim Ross' departure for the WWF in 1993 and remained on Saturday Night until 1998.  He would be joined in 1994 by Bobby "The Brain" Heenan and "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes.  "Mean" Gene Okerlund and Lee Marshall (the voice of Tony the Tiger) carried out backstage interview segments.

During the summer of 1996, due to the Turner production units being used by other broadcasters for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, WCW's Saturday Night was filmed at WCW's Disney-MGM Studios set, where another show, WCW Pro, was already being filmed.  

WCW Saturday Night became an afterthought after Nitro debuted on TNT in September of 1995.  When Thursday Thunder premiered in January of 1998, Saturday Night became a third-tier program used to display new talent or recent graduates of the WCW Power Plant training facility.  Television time was also used to recap major events from other shows.  The featured match on the Saturday Night show would often feature mid-level performers surrounded by recaps and video packages to promote the main storylines.  

On Saturday Nights, the WCW Hotline was frequently promoted by "Mean" Gene Okerlund.  That phone number, in Gene's voice, is burned into my memory:  

"One Nine Hundred, Nine-Oh-Nine, Ninety-Nine Hundred!"  

On April 1, 2000, WCW Saturday Night aired its final episode under its traditional format, becoming a recap/highlight show that no longer held exclusive matches.  The show was canceled a few months later, airing its final episode on August 19, 2000.  WCW closed its doors altogether just seven months later. 

If you've gotten this far, you're probably wondering what any of this has to do with that night in Granny's kitchen?  Well, you longtime readers know I like to set the stage with some background knowledge, so thanks for sticking with me this far.  

Back to Granny and Gramp's house in August of 1995!  

As I watched another edition of WCW Saturday Night, a pre-taped vignette hooked me as a wrestling fan for life.  Not just a casual fan that watched when nothing else was on.  I mean a lifelong diehard. 

What was it?  

Hulk Hogan was leading some of WCW's top talent through some military-style training as they prepared for war!  The War Games match at Fall Brawl, that is. 

The four wrestlers were Sting, Randy Savage, Vader, and Hulk Hogan.  They were calling themselves "The Hulkamaniacs" and were dressed in camouflage cargo pants with matching face paint.  The men climbed, jumped, and ran around the military-style setting.  Vader does a backflip off the top of the wall for no reason, while Randy Savage futzes with explosives.  Hogan cheers them before they all run away just in time for the (simulated) explosives to go off.  While I understand the references to "going to war" in the War Games match, I guess we were to expect they were preparing to literally blow up the Dungeon of Doom.

With my adult eyes now, I can easily tell this was filmed at Disney's Hollywood Studios (formerly MGM Studios) in Orlando at the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular.  Pretty neat to tie together my loves of wrestling and Disney.  WCW would often film at Disney's sound stages during the early and mid-90s, so it makes sense they make use of their surroundings.  Yet another article for another day.

The Dungeon of Doom, led by "The Taskmaster" Kevin Sullivan, had been on a mission to destroy Hulk Hogan, Hulkamania, and WCW for months.  The Dungeon was a collection of misfit wrestlers who had a past storyline history with Hulk Hogan, in both WCW and WWF, with a kayfabe (storyline) axe to grind.  The wrestlers were repackaged with campy, spooky, and mysterious gimmicks who fell in line under the spells of "The Taskmaster."  This collection of midcard or lower level wrestlers soon found themselves in the main event storyline against arguably the biggest star in wrestling history.  It didn't hurt that the "Taskmaster" himself was the head "booker" or scriptwriter behind the scenes.  

The Dungeon of Doom's wackiness should be an entirely separate article, and that's a challenge I'm willing to accept.

Hogan and his Hulkamaniacs were scheduled to fight the Dungeon of Doom at the Fall Brawl Pay-Per-View later that month in the infamous dual-caged match called "War Games."  Honestly, the War Games match also deserves its own article, but the basic concept was two wrestling rings built side by side surrounded by an enclosed steel cage.  Two teams of five would enter the match one wrestler at a time at set intervals, and only once both teams were inside the cell could one team win by pinfall or submission.  

Historically, the War Games was a bloody, brutal wrestling match featuring The Four Horseman.  During the mid-90s, however, that was not the case as WCW had begun offering a family-friendly product.  

Boy, I was HOOKED!  What kid wouldn't be with a storyline full of such colorful characters?  This was a genuine good against evil storyline that now featured a military obstacle course, face paint, and explosions?!  

After the WCW Saturday Night show ended, I was so enamored with the training vignette that I ran out into my Grandparent's backyard.  I began rolling and jumping around as I pretended to leap over barricades and crawl under barbed wire as if I was somehow helping Hulk and the team train for war.  I'm sure if my Grandparents had looked out the back window, they would have thought I'd lost my mind.  I remember thinking, even then, at 11, I probably was a little too old to be acting out my daydreams like that, but I was having fun.  I had a fairly active imagination and enjoyed playing out what was in my brain, especially when I didn't have suitable toys to go along with it.  

I followed along with every scrap of WCW programming I could find for the next few weeks until the Fall Brawl event arrived.  Like any of the other Pay-Per-Views back then, I didn't get to see anything but the highlights played on TV until it came out on home video several months later.  No matter how much I begged, my parents wouldn't pay $40 for me to watch a wrestling show.  Even when I had saved the money up with my allowance, the answer was always no when I asked them to add the PPV to the monthly cable bill.  

Just days before the event, an incident backstage would create a last-minute change to the main event of Fall Brawl and the Hulkamaniacs team.  Vader was involved in a backstage altercation with part-time wrestler and backstage producer "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff, leading to his dismissal from the company.   

As the story goes, Vader was at a promotional photo shoot and arrived nearly two hours late at the arena that evening.  Orndorff was arranging the day's worth of pre-taped interview segments and, unaware of Vader's previous commitment, was angry at the delay.  When Vader arrived, Orndorff demanded he report to the interview room immediately, but Vader, at over 400 pounds, didn't move fast unless he wanted to.  He told Orndorff he'd get there when he got there, causing Orndorff to get into Vader's face.  Vader slapped him, knocking the older producer off his feet.  Allegedly.

Orndoff was older by several years but was still in excellent physical shape as a part-time wrestler.  The two got further entangled in a fight in the hallway, and somehow, Mr. Wonderful ended up on his feet over a prone Vader.  While wearing flip-flops, Paul kicked Vader in the head (for real), so many times the big man went unconscious and other wrestlers had to step in to prevent further damage... or worse.

As legend has it, Vader was fined $400,000 for attacking a fellow employee backstage, despite getting the worst of the encounter.  $400,000 was half his annual salary, and when he refused to pay the fine, he was released from his WCW contract.  

Vader's sudden release just before the event caused a last-minute audible to be called by WCW management.  The video package that caught my interest continued to be played, but over Vader's face, they wrote the letters A.W.O.L. for the military term "Absent With Out Leave."  The storyline's reason for his disappearance was that his paperwork wasn't in order and that he had seemingly broken off contact.

Lex Luger, a top babyface (good guy), had just arrived from WWF in a shocking debut on the premier edition of Monday Nitro days earlier.  Since he was new to the promotion and even though it seemed the storylines were headed for a confrontation with Hulk Hogan, it was said that Hogan had a "change of heart" regarding Luger.  It was announced on the "go-home" edition of Nitro just days prior to Fall Brawl that Luger would be Vader's replacement on the Hulkamaniac team.  

Despite the backstage drama, on September 17, 1995, WCW Fall Brawl took place in the Asheville Civic Center in Asheville, North Carolina, in front of 6,600 fans.  Often considered by "wrestling historians" and fans as a mediocre event at best, the 1995 Fall Brawl has the distinct honor of being the first Pay-Per-View event of the Monday Night War era, widely considered the golden age of professional wrestling.

The "pre-show," WCW Main Event, was a Sunday evening recap program that occasionally featured exclusive wrestling matches.  On Pay-Per-View weekends, Main Event was used as a lead-in program that would hopefully entice some last-minute purchases of the Pay-Per-View.  

On September 17, WCW Main Event featured wrestling legend Eddie Guerrero's WCW debut against Alex Wright.  Main Event also hosted matches between Big Bubba Rogers (WWF's Big Boss-Man) defeating Mark Thorn and Disco Inferno defeated Joey Maggs.  The featured match on Main Event saw The American Males (Marcus Alexander Bagwell and Scotty Riggs) defeat The Nasty Boys (Brian Knobbs and Jerry Saggs).  

The Fall Brawl event kicked off with announcers Tony Schiavone and Bobby "The Brain" Heenan.  Ring introductions were made by famed ring announcer Michael Buffer.  We start with a fast-paced match starring Flyin' Brian Pillman and Johnny B. Badd in a single match that determined the number one contender for the United States Heavyweight Title.  The highly underrated Marc Mero doesn't get anywhere near the credit he deserves for playing such a great character in Johnny B. Badd.  He was a white Jewish man from upstate New York who had convinced many people, including those who worked for WCW, that he was a flamboyantly gay black man from Georgia who seemed an awful lot like Little Richard.  

In any event, this match was an exciting back-and-forth match that exceeded its twenty-minute time limit.  After the time limit expired, the referee extended the match to ensure there was a winner.  Eventually, Johnny B. Badd executed a flying cross-body block and pinned Pillman to win the match and earn a title shot against the then U.S. Heavyweight Champion, Sting.

Following the match, Ric Flair cut a hellacious promo against his "former best friend" Arn Anderson during an interview with "Mean" Gene Okerlund.  Anderson and Flair, two members of the famed Four Horseman group, who were as thick as thieves for fifteen years, had hit a (storyline) rough patch in their relationship and began arguing after several losses.  

After the Flair interview, "former special forces soldier" COBRA makes his way to the ring for a bout against Sgt. Craig Pittman.  COBRA, by the way, in just a year, would become the "nWo Sting" character.  Instead of Pittman, a "new recruit" cadet marches down to the ring, and while COBRA is distracted, Sgt. Pittman rappels from the ceiling and attacks COBRA from behind.  In a match better suited for one of the weekend syndicated shows, Pittman scores the victory in just over a minute.  

The new recruit cadet would eventually become Prince Iaukea, a decent wrestler who won the lower-tier Television Championship for a short while.

Following the throwaway match between COBRA and Pittman, we experience one of the most iconic descriptions of "this is pre-nWo WCW crazy" with a backstage vignette featuring Mr. Wonderful himself, Paul Orndorff.  Orndorff is lamenting a loss to Randy Savage on WCW Worldwide, one of the syndicated weekend shows.  Orndorff has lost his confidence after a streak of losses, but his frown is turned upside down when psychic Gary Spivey walks in wearing what amounts to a cross between a Brillo pad and a clown's wig on his head.  

Spivey was somewhat famous during the early 90s through appearances on radio and television, namely the shock-jock talk radio show "The Ron and Ron Show" in Tampa, Florida.  Ron and Ron were at one time the highest-rated shock-jock show in America, only behind Howard Stern, and was the precursor to "The Ron and Fez Show" in New York and later XM Radio. 

We return ringside as the now WWE Hall of Famer Diamond Dallas Page makes his way to the ring with his (then) wife Kimberly and bodyguard Maxx Muscle.  DDP was still young in his career and used multiple gimmicks and crutches to create a crowd reaction.  As he makes his way to the ring, you can see that he is smoking a cigar while chewing gum, with a toothpick hanging out of his mouth while wearing bright neon spandex and gold jewelry.  

His opponent, The Renegade, was one I enjoyed as a kid.  As I aged, I realized I was probably the only one who did, but he had face paint and bright colors.  Thinking back, if a wrestler had face paint, I was immediately a fan.  To others, he was just a mediocre (at best) wrestler that was thrust into the spotlight too soon with a gimmick that directly ripped off WWF's Ultimate Warrior.  The Renegade was supposed to become a WCW star who would eventually be beaten by Hulk Hogan to "avenge" his loss to the real Ultimate Warrior at Wrestlemania 5.  It was kind of the whole reason for the Dungeon of Doom, but... that's another story for another day.

DDP eventually cheats to beat The Renegade and become the WCW Television Champion.  This was Dallas' first title victory in his hall of fame career. 

Next, the tag team Harlem Heat (Booker T and Stevie Ray) defeated the Tag Team Champions, Bunkhouse Buck and 'Dirty' Dick Slater, to become new Tag Team Champions.

This match centered around another storyline that captured my attention as a kid and likely deserves its own article.  Briefly, though, the manager of Bunkhouse Buck and Dick Slater, Colonel Parker, was quite amorous towards Harlem Heat's manager, Sister Sherri, some months back.  Then, at Clash of the Champions in August, Sister Sherri was hit in the head and began making her own advances toward Colonel Parker.  On the Fall Brawl pre-show, it finally seemed that Sherri and Colonel Parker were bit by the love bug, and this made for an interesting wrinkle in the tag team title match.  

Bobby Heenan had the great line during the match while the unlikely pair were kissing in the ring that if Colonel Parker "got any closer to her, he'd be behind her!"  I laugh every time I hear it.

Following advertisements for Halloween Havoc, we fans were witness to an all-time wrestling classic.  Two of history's greatest wrestlers, Ric Flair and Arn Anderson, put on a clinic on how to have an exciting, old-school wrestling match.  The long-time friends and members of the Four Horseman had recently begun bickering after a series of tag team match losses.   To show how important this match was and how good the two were inside the ring, WCW showed many wrestlers sitting in the audience or around monitors in the backstage area watching the matchup to show that even other wrestlers were interested in this unique match.  

Arn Anderson eventually defeated Flair after Brian Pillman interfered.  Pillman, who had been watching the match with other wrestlers at ringside, attacked Flair from behind.  With Flair stunned, Anderson capitalizes with a brutal DDT for the pinfall victory.  

A video package shows The Giant running over Hulk Hogan's prized motorcycle with his monster truck.  Tony Schiavone and Bobby Heenan then introduce a highlight reel detailing the battles between Hogan and The Dungeon of Doom.  

Then, a wild promo that has to be seen to be believed airs next.  "Mean" Gene Okerlund interviews the four members of the Hulkamaniacs and Hogan's manager, Jimmy "Mouth of the South" Hart, all dressed up in war paint, camouflage, and American flag attire.  

The four wrestlers are clearly having fun here, slapping, hugging, and laughing while they scream, yell, hoot, and holler about their upcoming match.  It's a typical loud, ranting, 80s-style wrestling promo with the energy of a drug-fueled rage.  I get such a kick out of watching this interview as Sting and Savage goof around while Hogan and Luger take turns talking.  You can even see Luger and Sting crack genuine smiles throughout the interview.

As the cage lowers, Michael Buffer announces that a new stipulation was added: if the Hulkamaniacs win, Hulk Hogan will get 5 minutes locked inside the cage with The Taskmaster.   

Dungeon of Doom soon enters, and we get a close-up look at the team:  Zodiac (Brutus the Barber Beefcake), The Shark (John Tenta), Kamala, Meng, and The Taskmaster Kevin Sullivan.  

The Hulkamaniacs receive a large crowd reaction as they enter with a patriotic flair full of fireworks and American flags.

Sting and The Shark are in the ring first, and The Shark dominates for most of the first 5 minutes.  The clock counts down, and we find out that The Dungeon has won the coin toss, so Zodiac enters next to gain the upper hand for the Dungeon.  Zodiac and Shark beat Sting down in a 2-on-1 for two minutes until Randy Savage bursts into the ring and cleans house.  

Kamala is in next, and the Dungeon regains the numbers advantage.  Luger enters next to even the odds, and the announcers question Luger's loyalty to Hogan.  As if on cue, Luger accidentally hits Savage on the back of the head, and the two begin a shoving match.  Sting is forced to separate his teammates when Meng enters the ring and takes out the three distracted Hulkamaniacs.  

When the final period expires, Hulk Hogan enters the cage last to an explosive fan response.  Hulk starts throwing "gunpowder" into the eyes of his opponents and begins attacking the members of The Dungeon.  The Hulkamaniacs quickly regain momentum.  

Eventually, Hulk gets The Zodiac in a reverse chin lock, and Zodiac submits, giving the Hulkamaniacs the victory in the 1995 War Games!  Kevin Sullivan tries to escape, but the head of security Doug Dillinger, forces The Taskmaster back to the ring.  

Hogan beats Taskmaster from pillar to post for several minutes until The Giant arrives.  They had been portraying The Giant as the "real" son of Hogan's old nemesis from WWF, Andre the Giant.  The Giant quickly overpowers Hogan and puts him in a sleeper hold.  He then twists his neck in a motion that, in any movie, would signal an immediately broken neck.  The Hulkamaniacs run down to the ring to make the save and send Giant and Taskmaster running backstage.  

As the Pay-Per-View goes off the air, Hogan is being attended to by paramedics in the ring.

Well, so there you have it.  My favorite storyline, my favorite match, and my favorite Pay-Per-View of all time, despite the fact it's often considered the worst Fall Brawl in WCW history by many.  The Dungeon of Doom storyline is frequently considered one of the "Wrestle-Crap" segments that made many people tune out of WCW in favor of WWF.

None of that matters to me, though.  Had I not been watching that one evening to see Hogan and crew decked out in war paint and camouflage, I probably wouldn't be anywhere near the wrestling fan I am today.  Perhaps I would have "outgrown" wrestling altogether and never watched again after the Monday Night War ended.  

Thankfully, I was watching that night from Grandma's kitchen table.  

The rest, as they say, is history.


  1. As a wrestling fan since the old NWA days ( with Dusty Rhodes and Ric Flair ) I really enjoyed your trip down the isle! Although I stopped watching around the era you wrote about I think we all have our “Grandma’s Table” we can relate to. Thanks for another trip down memory lane as always.