Guy Evans takes us behind the curtain as ‘NITRO’ explores the rise and fall of WCW from a viewpoint that successfully merges the worlds of both wrestling and business in presenting the most complete exploration of what caused the death of the promotion.
‘The Death of WCW’ ranks alongside books like ‘Have A Nice Day’ in terms of the likelihood that a wrestling fan has read them. Just like you didn’t need to even necessarily be a wrestling fan to find something moving about Mick Foley’s struggles to the top of the wrestling world, you didn’t need to have watched WCW to experience the guilty pleasure of reading about the ridiculous storylines, awful booking decisions, and mindless swerves that would lead to WCW’s demise in 2001. It was a book that aimed to celebrate the absurdity in the downfall as much as anything else.
‘NITRO: The Incredible Rise and Inevitable Collapse of Ted Turner’s WCW’ – to give it its full title – largely eschews the muckraking and reductive pointing of fingers to give the true story of what was largely going on behind the scenes as Nitro took off into the stratosphere for a brief while, before crashing unceremoniously back down to Earth. Whilst this makes it a more challenging read than the aforementioned ‘The Death of WCW’, it is a much more interesting prospect because of it. Though WCW would sadly limp along towards its inevitable death, the narrative affords the promotion a level of dignity that it was unable to maintain itself.
The research that went into this book appears vast, with Guy Evans mixing interviews, articles, and news stories in an effective attempt to present all sides of a complex story. Most importantly, the world of business is presented alongside the ways of the professional wrestling promotor in a level of detail not seen before. This adds an additional layer to the story as the wheeling and dealing, moving and shaking of the board room helps to give additional understanding as to the successes and failures of the promotion across this period of time. Whilst it does also mean the book gets bogged down with information about the business workings of the promotion that could go over the head of the average wrestling fan, it is what makes ‘NITRO’ the most complete exploration of an otherwise well-trodden path.
What Evans does best is to allow the reader to make their own mind up as to what really happened over the course of the six years of Nitro’s existence. By incorporating views from across a wide spectrum of both wrestling talent and business people, yet never seeking to pass his own judgment on the veracity of often contradictory trains of thought, Evans leaves it in eyes of the beholder as to what they truly want to believe. The clues are all there – Eric Bischoff, Vince Russo, wrestlers such as Kevin Nash, Kevin Sullivan, and Diamond Dallas Page, as well as Turner executives from across the time period are all well represented – but with a mixture of worlds that are well known for massaging the truth and self-promotion, it is up to the reader to make their own conclusions.
To me, ‘NITRO’ is also a love letter to what could be the last real wrestling boom for many years. ‘The Attitude Era’ may not hold up from a critical viewpoint when watched with modern eyes, but the drive and determination of Vince McMahon and Eric Bischoff to beat each other week by week saw wrestling bleed over into the mainstream in a way that hasn’t really happened since. It was excitement at the forefront of the sport, a duel that forced innovation and excitement, alongside a liberal dose of shock value. With the pale imitation of a legitimate competitor that WCW would become in its waning years, it is sometimes easy to forget the better times, times that saw Eric Bischoff take WWF to the brink, and force Vince McMahon to raise his game immeasurably to challenge once more.
It is too easy to laugh at what WCW became and how it got there without really digging much deeper; Evans and ‘NITRO’ gets the balance right in remembering the better times, whilst also presenting the realities of the ultimate demise of the promotion.