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We’re up to the montage part of the WWE documentary of WCW – they’ve chronicled the debut and the growth of the NWO and quickly they’ve gotten to soon-to-be-arrival of Bret Hart and the Hulk Hogan vs Sting match at the end of December 1997. The only comments they’d have made in the meantime were of how WCW’s business was booming (which it undoubtedly was) and how they were smashing Raw in the ratings (Which they were sometimes with an almost incredible lack of effort).
But while all that remains true, at closer inspection the month-by-month of WCW was hardly the thrill-a-minute that the bullet points might suggest. In truth, as is often the case, while business was indeed booming that was trailing the hot angles that saw the debut of the group in the summer of 1996. WCW had momentum on their side but things both on and off screen weren’t all as they seemed.
Off screen, tensions were rumbling with the formation of two contrary factions backstage – one lead by Hulk Hogan and largely including allies in the NWO like Kevin Nash and Scott Hall, and one lead by Kevin Sullivan (WCW’s head booker) and Ric Flair. “Player power” would increasingly be an issue for WCW as the years went on, with those holding any kind of sway generally having some kind of issues with the fine print of company storylines.
On screen things were… well, weird. The run of Nitro’s that ended with NWO run-ins had diminished, but they’d been replaced by some memorable if utterly bizarre segments like the Outsiders attempting to kill the Steiners in a car crash, a shoot-laden Kevin Sullivan promo and Roddy Piper holding open trials in a 20 minute stinker of a segment (that would see Piper get booed, something otherwise unfathomable in his run). Still, it’s a sign of WCW’s dominance at the time that as bad as that segment was it recorded a 3.0 rating… a 3.0 ratings *difference* - scoring a 4.5 against perhaps what would be Raw’s lowest ebb… a 1.5 rating from a pre-tape in Germany.
Other things were in play too. Hulk Hogan, still WCW’s World Champion, had gone off to film a movie and, despite WCW’s litany of main event talent, had left without really any major options for new opponents when he would come back. There would be a third chapter in his feud with Roddy Piper, but that would be on ice for a while. It says a lot that in a bizarre tag match on this show two of the four guys vying for a shot at Hogan’s title were Booker T and Stevie Ray, two guys that had done almost nothing to warrant that kind of billing, at least not yet anyway.
So Hogan was away, as was Scott Hall too, checking himself into drug rehab a couple of weeks prior. Hall, arguably WCW’s most important act from 1996, was due to be on the card in a tag match alongside Nash against The Steiners – which WCW didn’t stop promoting formally until the show started. On Nitro six days earlier, the show ended with a solo-tirade from Kevin Nash venting about Hogan and Dennis Rodman, along with saying that with or without Hall he’d fight everyone in WCW.
The Ultimate Dragon vs Rey Mysterio Jr
I’ve been down on some of the WCW Crusierweight matches in the past year or so. Some, it should be said, just haven’t been very good and others have been athletically spectacular but light on drama. This, while it’s not likely to win many plaudits, I thought presented one of the better balanced lightweight matches the company had put on.
For once it was a cruiserweight match that started off slow. With a lot of mat and submission based work that built the crowd slowly into the match. The major spots of the early goings were a fantastic running powerbomb by Dragon followed by a jumping tombstone. Mercifully Dragon pulled up from the pin rather than having Mysterio kick out. There’s a series of sleepers that for once seem to be used for good (after Dragon locks one in about four separate times there’s a pop when Mysterio is able to get one in himself).
The action builds to some nice high spots, a countered victory roll before Mysterio hits a lovely hurricanrana from the second rope for the three. This isn’t a match that will necessarily get the plaudits, but in terms of a match that fulfilled its job as an opener that told a good story and built the crowd without burning them out, I doubt you’d find many better candidates.
During the match, and subsequent to it, was an angle backstage involving Lee Marshall attempting to get comments from Kevin Nash from the NWO lockerroom. After a false start during the match he returned to find Nash pissed off – Nash said he’d take on both Steiners 2 on 1, but that he wanted Nick Patrick to be the ref. In amongst a melee of security and Scott Steiner, Nash spat in Steiners face causing him (apparently) to strike a police officer. Steiner was quickly maced and put in hand-cuffs. That was the last we’d see of him all night and for the second pay per view in a row we were a Steiner down.
Medusa vs Akira Hokuto (w/ Sonny Ono) for the WCW Women’s Heavyweight Title
The Women’s division, if we can call it that (basically Medusa and a series of imports from Japan) was hardly making waves. This match, like many women’s matches we’ve seen from both WCW and the WWF (almost all involving Medusa) in the past couple of years was fine. Medusa plays up the pro-USA stuff which gives the crowd something to latch onto, and we get the usual women’s spots like throwing them around by the hair and Medusa’s running slams. Still, after Lee Marshall on commentary references Medusa throwing “a woman’s title” in the trash, Luna Vachon runs out and cuts off a Medusa powerbomb enabling Hokuto to retain the title.
Lord Steven Regal vs Prince Iaukea for the WCW Television Title
Bless, they’re still trying with Iaukea. To be fair to Regal, who really does work really hard to get some boos and (as a result) get Iaukea some cheers. It works a bit, but Iaukea’s been a shot horse ever since he arrived and WCW seem like they’re telling a story to get the belt off of him. This match never really got going, Iaukea’s rally got barely any reaction before Iaukea picks up another cheap roll up win. Regal attacks him post-match, but this needs to stop.
Mean Gene gives a plug for his hotline telling us to find out about a “new clique” forming backstage (the Sullivan/Flair group, I think). Speaking of Flair, he comes out largely to cut a nothing promo. He wishes Arn Anderson the best for his surgery on Tuesday and says that he’s been cleared to return next month. He says he’s called footballer who’s been cleared to wrestle by the Carolina Panthers – more impressive that Flair says he wants to team with Greene (something that makes no sense) alongside the rest of the Horsemen against the NWO in May.
The Public Enemy (Rocco Rock and Johnny Grunge) vs Steve McMichael and Jeff Jarrett (w/ Debra McMichael)
There’s a lot of things to like about the Public Enemy, but it’s hard to deny that the scope of things they are good at is pretty minimal. We spent the first two thirds of this in a normal wrestling setting, the main story being the now seemingly harmonious relationship between Jarrett and Mongo. Still, we eventually spill into a brawl, including both Mongo and Rock fighting up at the excellent Spring Stampede old-Western type staging. Eventually we return to the ring, Rock hits Jeff Jarrett with the briefcase, sparking him out and picking up the win for the Enemy.
We get the now infamus “Hulk Hogan, we coming for you” promo from Booker T. He grimaces after he says it but the Heat otherwise hold it together for a solid promo previewing their match later in the evening.
Chris Benoit (w/ Woman) vs Dean Malenko for the WCW United States Heavyweight Title
This, for a while, threatened to be really good. As Heenan said at one point during the match, the crowd aren’t that loud but they are all watching, and it says a lot about how highly regarded these two were. I’d say we were about sixty percent of the way through a really good match before shenanigans started happening, lots of them.
Jacquelyn comes out, goes after Woman. Then Jimmy Hart comes out and nicks the US title belt. Then Eddie Guerrero comes out to stop Jimmy Hart leaving with the title. Then Arn Anderson comes out and gets a shot in on Malenko. Then Kevin Sullivan comes out, walks straight past arn and whacks Benoit with a cane for a DQ. Blimey that was one of the busiest finishes I’ve ever seen.
Kevin Nash (w/ Syxx, Ted Dibiase) vs Rick Steiner for the WCW Tag Team Titles
So, Nick Patrick is reffing this and yes it is a singles match for the WCW Tag Team Titles. This was a bizarre match. Kevin Nash hits a jackknife powerbomb fairly early on and Rick kicks out – which I can’t recall happening previously. The match was basically a story of Steiner fighting off the numbers game. After a bungled and long attempt for Syxx (and DiBiase) to remove the turnbuckle pad, Nash drops Steiner on it four times. DiBiase gets cold feet, telling Nash to end the match before walking off. Even Nick Patrick is reluctant to make the count before Nash threatens him and picks up the win after a second jackknife. All very weird.
Harlem Heat (Booker T and Stevie Ray w/ Sister Sherri) vs Lex Luger and The Giant – winner will get a shot at Hulk Hogan
Not for the first time WCW presented a mess of a multi-man match in a tag match form. This was essentially a four way, with instances of both Luger wrestling Giant and Booker wrestling Stevie. It was convoluted, but the action otherwise was quite decent when it was kept to a more traditional tag format. The Heat get their stuff in, Giant has things setup for the win but tags in Luger and lets him pick up the win and the title shot. The two faces embrace. Can’t help but wonder if this would’ve been better as a formal tag match.
Randy Savage (w/ Liz) vs Diamond Dallas Page (w/ Kimberley) in a No Disqualification Match
This was Randy Savage with his working boots on. This wasn’t a great match, but both guys worked really hard to try and make it so, including a brawl that went deep into the crowd and lots of work from both women on the outside. After failing to put him away, Savage hits a piledriver on Mark Curtis before hitting a top rope elbow drop. Out comes Nick Patrick… Savage picks up Page for something, but Page snaps a Diamond Cutter and even Nick Patrick counts the three.
After the match the NWO comes out and everything breaks down. Patrick gets a jacknife for his troubles, Savage goes after Kimberley but Bischoff drawls the line at that, Savage ends up shoving Bischoff and we cut away. All in all a good match striving to be a great one but not quite getting there. Still a good showcase for Page in the main event of what ostensibly was a B level pay per view.
Score Rating: 5.5/10
Go Back and Watch: Action was decent, but the finishes weren’t. Nothing on here you need to see but the opener is decent and the main event is a nice change from WCW’s norm.