On the June 10, 1996 edition of WCW Nitro, Kevin Nash returned to WCW and joined Scott Hall to form the Outsiders, plus Ric Flair & Arn Anderson fought Sting & Lex Luger in the TV main event. Despite that, Raw won the ratings battle with an Ultimate Warrior-Jerry Lawler angle and an Undertaker vs. British Bulldog TV main event. Raw posted a 2.7 to Nitro's 2.6. Nitro, though won the next ratings battle the following week and never looked back, building a winning streak of 83 straight head-to-head battles.
That streak ended on Apr. 13, 1998 as Raw drew a 4.6 average compared to Nitro's 4.3. The WWF had shown signs of momentum in the ratings the last two weeks. Expectations were that both WCW and the WWF would go full-out to win this past Monday. Instead, the WWF put forth one of its best programs ever (in terms of storylines and interviews, but certainly not quality of wrestling) while WCW presented a Nitro that, outside of the final segment, resembled a flat edition of TBS Thunder.
As a result, despite the WWF having legitimate reason to celebrate having the monkey off their back and at least one week to "brag" about being wrestling's most watched program, WCW has a case to not be especially worried. WCW managed to remain within three-tenths of a rating point despite not having Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Roddy Piper, Ric Flair, or Scott Hall in prominent matches or roles during the show. WCW tried to make it appear that Hogan and Piper were there with a pre-taped segment "backstage" at Target Center in Minneapolis. But otherwise, WCW appeared to almost concede the ratings battle putting forth a flat show other than the strong main event of Sting defending against Nash for the second straight week.
The WWF didn't give away one marquee match, but they teased the most intriguing main event they could possibly present -- that being Steve Austin vs. Vince McMahon. While the match never actually took place, the build-up was sufficient to draw huge ratings. The finish of the show involving Dude Love was confusing, but managed to build logically toward the next pay-per-view main event which is expected to be Steve Austin vs. Mick Foley (in one of his personas).
The climax of the Austin-McMahon storyline at the end of Raw drew a 6.0 rating, an all-time high quarter hour ratings for either Raw or Nitro in a head-to-head situation, beating the record set by last week's Nash vs. Sting match which drew a 5.8. This week's Nash vs. Sting rematch drew a respectable 4.3 rating. Raw won five quarter hours, Nitro won two, and there was one tie. Raw beat Nitro in both hours, 4.3 to 4.2 in the first hour and 4.6 to 4.3 in the second hour. Nitro drew a 4.4 in its first unopposed hour. While Raw's ratings are growing, Nitro's ratings aren't suffering at all.
WCW's take on the situation is that they were without their big guns, that the WWF hotshotted an angle that can't be topped, that the WWF will turn off viewers because they didn't deliver the match as promised, and that Raw's win is merely a one-week blip. Also, WCW had the disadvantage of believing Ric Flair would be there, but instead Flair no-showed.
Next week's Raw was taped the next night in Uniondale, N.Y. and features more of the Austin-McMahon storyline, including a verbal confrontation at the end of the show that leads to McMahon challenging Austin to a match. The angle insinuates that McMahon may pick himself to be Austin's challenger at the PPV. (And he might, although that match, if it ever takes place, will probably be saved for a time when it is outright advertised, not just hinted at.) Raw's TV main event for Apr. 20 is The Legion of Doom & Owen Hart vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley & The New Age Outlaws.
WCW will surely try harder next Monday than they did this Monday to beat Raw in the ratings. They have the advantage of knowing ahead of time what the WWF has taped and thus can counter-program accordingly. There is also a chance of a backlash against the WWF for not delivering the Austin-McMahon match, yet if that were a major factor in TV ratings, Monday night ratings would have crashed over the last two years, not doubled.