January 4th, 1999: The night that changed everything
Some dates in the wrestling world just stand out over others. November 9th, 1997, the Montreal Screwjob. July 7th, 1996, the night the NWO was created. During the Monday Night Wars, one day is highlighted more than others. January 4th, 1999, the wrestling world was sent into a frenzy. Two different shows on one day changed the course of professional wrestling as we know it.
As everyone knows at this point, the late '90s in the wrestling world was a battleground, a war to be exact. The World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling were in head to head competition with one goal in mind; destroy the other brand at all costs. Ratings were the treasure chest and the two wrestling companies were the pirate vultures all vying for the buried treasure.
The ironic thing about this is for WWE, this night laid the groundwork for things to come and for WCW this was supposed to be the culmination of things that had happened.
Let us start with WCW. They had monster household names already that made their name elsewhere. Names like Hulk Hogan and Kevin Nash. They had one homegrown superstar that was taking over WCW in Bill Goldberg. He was a monster athlete full of power and strength. They built him as the undefeated man.
In July of 1998, WCW held a show at the Georgia Dome where Goldberg captured the World Title from Hulk Hogan in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. It was one of the loudest reactions in WCW history. This was during the NWO vs. WCW storylines and we can never forget what Bobby "the Brain" Heenan said as he watched from the announce table:
“Oh, thank you! Thank you! Thank you! We got a new heavyweight champion of the world! The first undefeated man in the history of this sport to ever win the World Championship, and have a record of 107, 108 ... who cares?! There's zero on the other side! We've got a new champion! Listen to this! Wow.”
Fast forward now to December of 1998, Starrcade was considered the WrestleMania of events for WCW. Kevin Nash had won a 3 ring, 60 man, over the top battle royal to face Goldberg at Starrcade.
During that night's main event, in what was the biggest sign of things to come, Scott Hall came out and tasered Goldberg allowing Nash to administer the powerbomb and capture the title thus ending Goldberg's undefeated streak at 173. It was (at the time) one of the most bizarre things ever witnessed in the world of professional wrestling. More on this later.
From the WWE side of things, the main story involved the Corporation led by the Chairman himself Vince McMahon. This was during the Austin vs. McMahon feud that had taken over WWE. In November of 1998 at the Survivor Series PPV, a tournament was held to determine the new WWE Champion. Stone Cold had made it to the semi-finals before the McMahons interfered costing Austin a chance at the title.
The finals came down to The Rock and Mankind. Reminiscent to the prior year's Survivor Series, The Rock had Mankind locked in the sharpshooter when the bell rang. It appeared Mankind had not submitted. It was then The Rock was not only announced as the new WWE Champion but the new Corporate Champion. He had officially joined forces with the McMahons.
This brings us to January 4th, 1999. WCW was trying to recapture the magic of the summer by holding the show live from the Georgia Dome. Announced was the Starrcade rematch between Goldberg and Kevin Nash. Earlier in the night, Goldberg was arrested for "aggravating stalking" of Miss Elizabeth leaving the main event in question.
Meanwhile, on the pre-taped episode of Raw, the show opened up with the McMahons, The Rock and the Corporation making their way to the ring. Shawn Michaels who McMahon fired the week before appeared with D-Generation X and claimed he can not be fired and was still the Commissioner of WWE. He claimed Vince McMahon was also entering the Royal Rumble at spot number 2.
Back on Nitro, Hulk Hogan appeared on TV for the first time since he retired the previous month. He took back control of the NWO Black and White. Nash revealed a member had defected over to the Nash-led Wolfpac. That member turned out to be Scott Hall and the Outsiders were officially reunited. Nash offered the now open title shot to Hulk Hogan which he accepted.
Back on Raw, Mankind vs. Triple H took place for a spot in the Royal Rumble. Shane McMahon who was the ref, fast counted 3 for Triple H costing Mankind yet again. Triple H delivered the Pedigree to McMahon and Mankind locked him in the Ring of Saturn refusing to break the hold. He demanded Vince give him a No DQ title match with The Rock for later on that night which Vince agreed.
It was then Eric Bischoff (then Vice President of WCW) made a decision that shaped the wrestling world forever. This goes down as a monumental moment in the Monday Night Wars. Speaking to announcer Tony Schiavone, he told him to utter the following world to a live TV audience of millions of people.
"Fans, if you're even thinking about changing the channel to our competition, fans, do not. We understand that Mick Foley, who wrestled here one time as Cactus Jack, is going to win their world title. Ha! That's gonna put some butts in the seats"
600,000 people immediately changed the channel over to Raw. SIX HUNDRED THOUSAND PEOPLE. This marked the beginning of wrestling supremacy for WWE and the demise of WCW.
On the Nitro main event, we got Michael Buffer's introductions of challenger and champion. It was Nash vs. Hogan. The leader of the black and white versus the leader of the wolfpack. A match that had been in the making since the spring of 1998.
As the bell rang, the two men stare at each other, feeding off the Atlanta crowd, getting ready for an epic clash. In what some call the moment WCW died, Hulk Hogan went back as if he was going to clobber him with a punch, came back, stuck his pointer finger out and poked Kevin Nash to which Nash acted as if he was struck by lightning. He covered him for the 3 and was your new World Champion.
Everyone gathered in the ring and laughed at what had just happened knowing that they just set everyone up. (Little did they know the joke was on them). Goldberg, freed from jail, ran down and tried to beat down the newly reformed NWO until Hogan nailed him with the belt. Lex Luger rand down, a WCW fan favorite, and turned on Goldberg applying the Torture Rack. To cap off the cluster mess this was, Scott Hall started to taser Goldberg.
The aftermath of this was substandard, to say the least. WCW never recovered. They only hit a 5.0 rating three times after with one of them being a night where WWE was not on TV. They would fold some two years later after being bought out by the WWE.
On Raw, The Rock vs. Mankind in a NO DQ match was taking place. All members of the Corporation were at ringside as well as all members of D-Generation X. After a back and forth clash, Ken Shamrock entered the ring and swung a chair right at Mankind which caused all hell break loose at ringside. An all-out brawl was taking place outside of the ring between the two factions. As that moment, the glass shattered and out came Stone Cold Steve Austin.
I kid you not when I tell you it is still one of THE loudest pop in the history of professional wrestling.
Austin entered the ring, smashed The Rock over the head with a chair, threw Mankind over him and watched as senior official Earl Hebner counted to 3 and Mankind had won the WWE Championship.
The aftermath of this set up one of the greatest rivalries and some of the best matches in WWE history. This led to some classics between The Rock and Mankind including an Empty Arena Match during halftime of the Super Bowl, plus the epic I Quit Match at the Royal Rumble. Piggybacked on that was the beginning to one of the greatest rivalries in WWE history between The Rock and Stone Cold with the first being one of three matches at WrestleMania.
January 4th, 1999. Two wrestling promotions. Two title matches. Two very different outcomes. One historical night.