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It shouldn’t be interpreted as a criticism, but WCW pay per views were beginning to have an air of predictability about them. Undercard matches that were either good or very good with very little build, followed by the big boys coming in and largely stinking up the joint. In that respect, Starrcade going in threatened to offer much of the same. But this wasn’t any ordinary pay per view, in fact, it included the “match of the decade” as they constantly told us on television. The bigger question was, which decade were they referring to?
While Hulk Hogan’s character had undergone a change that would surely see it survive for another few years yet, quite what Roddy Piper bought to the table in 1996 was anybody’s guess. Two years prior for the WWF Piper had headlined King Of The Ring opposite Jerry Lawler, in a match that barely would’ve belonged in 1989, let alone five years later. Quite what the WWF were thinking when they bought Piper back is difficult to think, but the impression you get was that Piper was a shot horse.
Still, where Piper was concerned there was one thing that time had improved, and that was the promotion he was walking into. WWF in 1994 was flat as anything, WCW in the latter half of 1996 was – for both good and bad reasons – the hot ticket in town. For all of the flaws with the NWO angle, by the end of 1996 they’d caused WCW to be must watch. Tickets to WCW events were starting to shift more quickly than they used to, and the audience was tangibly hotter than it was even six months prior. And, while one of the main criticisms of the NWO was that it hadn’t yet spawned a credible, viable opposition, that fact played nicely into Piper’s hands.
Piper said that he wasn’t here for the NWO, but he wasn’t here for WCW either. Given the collective ineptitude of the WCW roster to form anything that resembled a coherent opposition (including perhaps the most bizarre six week stretch of Ric Flair’s career as Jeff Jarrett’s cheerleader), Piper coming in and rejecting both sides was probably the best place for him. It was working pretty well for Sting too.
Piper’s presence did bring a certain spark to Nitro, one thing about Piper was that he’d been a star for so long he was an instant hero in front of crowds that wanted to cheer people. Another thing about Piper was that his promos, while often nonsensical, just carried an aura about them screamed “he’s a star”. Piper’s focus, of course, was Hulk Hogan - the man Hogan had never beat. The segments between the pair were a mixed bag, but both had enough about them to create a match that it was hard to not want to watch. It also helped that WCW had decided that this was the match of decade, and they were going to talk about it at every available opportunity. To be fair, that was more an annoyance than it ever could be a criticism.
Elsewhere, the other main storyline centred around the Four Horseman. With Flair now largely shorn of having to tune Jeff Jarrett’s guitar, he was in and out as the focus was on whether the group could even stay together in its current form. With Arn the defacto leader when Flair wasn’t around, the storylines actually surrounded the increasing relationship between Chris Benoit and Woman, and the rivalry developing between Woman and Steve McMichael’s wife Debra. Debra, who’s experience in showbiz to this stage seemed limited to beauty pageants, settled into the heel manager role shockingly well – her promos were quickly becoming a riot. That storyline wasn’t done as things moved into 1997.
The Ultimo Dragon (w/ Sonny Ono) vs Dean Malenko in a unification match for the J-Crown Titles and Malenko’s WCW Cruiserweight Title
Well… this was rather excellent. I was critical of both at World War 3 in their respective matches – as both had their faults. But with a slightly altered focus and, more importantly, a hot crowd these two put on a fine match, one of the best in WCW for the year. The big spots here are really well received, and not over done as the match builds. If there is a criticism, it’s the final stretch of the match where Malenko hit a series of big looking finishers, all of which didn’t end the match. Still, the big sequences didn’t stop coming and Dragon eventually takes it with a double underhook bridging German suplex.
Akira Hokuto (w/ Sonny Ono and Kensuki Sasaki) vs Medusa for the new WCW Women’s Title
WCW’s venture into Women’s wrestling was a bit… odd. Having signed Medusa a year prior essentially for the sole purpose of having her dump the WWF’s Women’s Belt in the bin they were left with a busted hand as Medusa had nobody to work with. What we got for most of 1996 was Medusa randomly popping up in dire angles with Col Robert Parker and Sister Sherri. Thankfully with the advent of the Women’s title they had a mandate to take it seriously, and with Medusa being seemingly the only female wrestler in the entirety of North America, a series of Japanese wrestlers were shipped in for a tournament, and this was the final.
The tournament being a bit of a mess, and these characters having basically zero character development meant even in front of this crowd this was probably the flattest match of the night. Both of these are capable of a lot more, but I suspect but together something basic given the short time they were allotted. This is just a series of good moves with little transitions or build, we end with Medusa hitting a bridging German suplex, before ref Nick Patrick gets distracted and Ono hits Medusa with an American flag. Hokuto hits a brainbuster and becomes the first WCW Women’s Champion.
We then perhaps get a peak Roddy Piper promo. Piper goes off in random directions (emphatically calling himself “a midget” after saying people thought he was going to crush Hogan) but delivers a promo with such force and ferocity it actually completely screens how nonsensical the whole thing was. Okerlund concludes by asking Piper how his hip is. Piper responds by hopping off the set.
Jushin Thunder Liger vs Rey Mysterio – the winner faces Ultimo Dragon at the Tokyo Dome next month… which might be a bit of a giveaway of who is winning this.
Rey Mysterio is just excellent. Sometimes where he dominates matches he doesn’t sell enough and the whole thing becomes a bit of a circus show, but where he’s the equal half in a match it’s rarely not great. Liger dominates the early going with a lovely tilt and whirl backbreaker (probably not a person in the world you’d choose over Mysterio to take that move). Mysterio responds later with a great moonsault to the outside as Liger had to scramble to get in the right place to catch him. Liger finishes it with a Liger bomb for the three. Something to be said for both of WCW’s regulars losing to guys who are a bit more part time… still.
Chris Benoit (w/ Woman) vs Jeff Jarrett
Thankfully, for all concerned, the Jarrett as leader of the Horseman train bolted about three weeks after it began (still, October 1996 is vintage for that very reason) – but they did snowball it into a feud where Jarrett wanted to know what happened with Flair’s endorsements. This lead to this match which, with Benoit involved, was predictably decent. Jarrett’s ability to have a good match with a great wrestler is not in question. Still, it wasn’t really long enough and the end was, in a word, convoluted.
WCW attempted three different things with this finish: an attempted kidnapping of Woman (thankfully halted when Woman booted Hugh Morrus in the nuts), Arn Anderson DDT’ing Jeff Jarrett and Taskmaster hitting Benoit over the head with a wooden chair. To be fair to the talent, they largely hit their queues, but directorially this was all over the place as the cameras just about caught each bit. The finish saw Arn roll Jarrett into the ring, only for Jarrett’s hand to flop over Benoit’s chest for the three. Just bad.
The Outsiders (Kevin Nash and Scott Hall w/ Syxx) vs The Faces of Fear (Meng and The Barbarian w/ Jimmy Hart) for the WCW Tag Team Titles
They show a sign in the crowd that says “Hogan and the NWO are just rejects from the WWF” – and when I say show it I mean, deliberately… front and centre. This was a weird one… it worked last month with the Nasty Boys in as the defacto babyfaces, but without them we had the Faces (funnily enough) working as heels and the Outsiders didn’t really have anyone to rebel against. Still, the match was stiff, as you’d hope, even if it never really got going. Still, a rare clean victory for the Outsiders, retaining their titles thanks to a Jacknife from Nash.
Diamond Dallas Page vs Eddie Guerrero for the WCW United States Title
These two have had better matches, but this was another solid outing. Guerrero’s ability to get himself over hasn’t really been supplanted by sufficient levels of storytelling, and Page is being a sorta babyface as he teases the NWO. This was good – nothing special but another match which could’ve easily been match of the night on a WCW PPV even eighteen months previously. We finish with the Outsiders and Syxx coming out, Hall hitting a Razor’s Edge on Page and Guerrero picking up the win to take the vacant title.
The Giant vs Lex Luger
Giant dominates most of the proceedings with his usual languid style, with him and Luger this is hardly spectacular but it’s good enough to work. Eventually we get a ref bump, so out comes Nick Patrick… Luger puts Giant in the rack but Patrick takes him out by the back of the knee… out comes Sting. Sting ends up taking to both Luger and Giant before leaving his baseball bat in the ring. Luger low blows Giant, then hits him with a couple of bat shots before pinning him. Other than Syxx and Patrick, Giant is pretty peeved that none of the NWO came out to help him in what was the first big loss for the group.
Hollywood Hogan (w/ Vincent, Elizabeth and Ted DiBiase) vs Roddy Piper
The match, quite importantly, isn’t for the WCW World Title. Not that WCW particularly told viewers that one way or another. Still, all of the build over the previous weeks had the crowd at fever pitch, even with the bizarre sight of people in NWO shirts cheering Piper and booing Hogan.
The match in itself was pretty awful. Plenty of stalling, and even when they were trying neither man could offer much in the way of entertainment. Still, though that was never really the point and the crowd were all over the match in the early goings. It did flatten out a bit, but I’d put that down to them waiting for something to happen.
And they were right to, because out came the Giant. The whole thing setup for a big concluding angle, which all took a left turn when Giant hoisted Piper in position for a chokeslam and Hogan rather than executing the angle (quite rightly) went to deal with a fan who tried to get into the ring. Problem being, Giant didn’t really have much option just to hold Piper in position and wait for Hogan.
Still, they just about pulled it off. Piper kicked off of Hogan, bit Giant on the nose and slid out to put Hogan in a sleeper. Hogan collapsed to the mat, the ref raised his hands three times and each time it collapsed, including the third time. Hogan had passed out, Piper had won. Much to the surprise of many.
Score Rating: 7/10
Go Back And Watch: A typically solid WCW pay per view of recent months, Malenko and Dragon is excellent – the rest “only” good but very watchable.