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We should, first, take a step back to the end of 1994. WCW had formed Kevin Sullivan, Avalanche and The Butcher formed together as "The Three Faces Of Fear" – a group that had aligned to try and take down Hulk Hogan. After a series of dismal matches – including perhaps the most undeserving main event in Starrcade history - the group imploded in on itself and Avalanche, Sullivan and Butcher (kinda, sorta) went their own different ways.
Hogan, having dispatched of The Butcher, turned his attentions to Vader in the opening third of 1995. But being no stranger to people attempting to "end Hulkamania" would not be feuding with Savage, Sting or even the returning Ric Flair – who Hogan "retired" prior to his feud with the Three Faces of Fear.
The genesis of the Dungeon Of Doom happened at Slamboree in May 1995. After a horrid match between Kevin Sullivan and "The Man With No Name" (The Butcher, who had suffered a personality crisis... I think), King Curtis Iaeuka came on the screen and started shouting some nonsense. Sullivan, acting like he was possessed, followed blindly high into the bleachers before disappearing, and we saw nothing of him for the rest of the show.
I may be overstating it saying that this was the last moment that really made sense, it's probable it never did. But WCW Saturday Night bought us the first of a series of regular TV segments that... well, I'll get to them. The first promo involves Sullivan being beckoned through a forest with the bellowing words of Iaueka ringing in his ears. Bizarre, given that most wrestlers seem to find their way to the Dungeon without even trying to be there, so quite why he needed to run there I've no idea. Again, best not to overanalyse this – just move and fire.
Into the Dungeon itself, like something out of The Crystal Maze. Iaeuka is sat on a throne, and talks Sullivan around into taking on the task of yes, you guessed it, attempting to take down Hulkamania. Sullivan doesn't even want to at first, but then gets magically repackaged as "The Taskmaster" - now wearing some black face paint and some Hogan colour inspired track pants.
There was no shortage of the vortex pulling powers of the Dungeon, and a group of familiar faces soon appeared. Avalanche was back, now without any semblance of subtlety shouting "SHARK ATTACK, SHARK ATTACK", holding his right arm in a shark fin pose with his left arm. He was now called "The Shark". Ed Leslie went from a man with no name to "The Zodiac"…... yeah, oh and Kamala is here. Iaeuka had given Taskmaster a group of warriors fit to take down Hulkamania.
Unsurprisingly, they didn't. They were at least able to beckon Hogan to the Dungeon, Hogan landed and said "where am I", which proved at least that he wasn't watching WCW Saturday Night. Hogan went over to a fountain of water, held out his hand before recoiling sharply in pain. "AH, it's not hot" - said Hogan. (I'm trying here, I really am).
But the Dungeon of Doom did at least bring us The Giant. Paul Wight was a 7ft 2inch wrestler bought in essentially to be Andre The Giant. Literally, he was bought in as the son of Andre. As WCW attempted to recreate the WWF roster of the mid-80s, they assembled Hogan and Savage, recreated Andre and, when The Ultimate Warrior couldn't be bought, created a crappy imitation of him called "The Renegade".
At least, though, the company attempted to make something of The Giant. The rest of the group were absolutely useless, often losing in three, four and five on one attacks against Hogan. Were they a good foil for Giant? Maybe, but it certainly harmed the credibility of the group that there was so much fodder. Hell, they could've built Giant with exactly the same momentum as they did without the Dungeon.
But build them they did. August bought along the Clash Of The Champions. Hogan, not wrestling on that show ($), but did wrestle in the pre-show against Kamala. After a predictably horrendous match out ran the rest of the Dungeon (minus the Giant). Hogan actually seemed to have the whole thing handled rather easily but Randy Savage still ran out to make the save.
This paled in comparison to what took place on the show itself. They advertised a live Dungeon of Doom segment, promising Hogan would once again be entering it. Again, if you approach this logically they seem to be implying that the Dungeon itself was in Daytona Beach, or that there was a portal backstage to help them get there.
But Hogan just walked in... (through the official entrance). He tells Taskmaster to bring all that he's got. Giant comes from behind and drives Hogan into the ground, followed by a comedically cartoonish attack from the rest of the Dungeon. More bizarrely still was Vader and Sting coming to Hogan's aid from behind the camera – the Dungeon had one entrance, until it didn't.
They wanted to align a story that Hogan and Vader were being bought together in an attempt to take down the Dungeon Of Doom. WCW's best booking answer was seemingly to pile all of their top talent onto the babyface side (Sting, Savage and Hogan were joined by Vader, Luger once Vader left and for a brief period in September – Flair) in an attempt seemingly to clear the path for the Giant.
The Dungeon did at least add Meng to its ranks. On one of the podcasts in the middle of 1994 I (somewhat preposterously) argued that such was the unstoppable push they were giving Meng that they could set him up as fodder for Hogan at Starrcade. As farfetched as this was it's hard to believe it could've been any worse than what they actually went with. Mid-1994 Meng was being used as an enforcer, a year later he was still being maintained but in matches that were far too long for him to ever draw effectively. He joined the Dungeon wearing a Giant mask and now weilding a spike. What had become of legitimately one of the toughest members of the roster?
In September we got to find out as Meng, with no real backstory at all, was added to the group. He would team with Zodiac, Shark and Kamala to face the team of Hogan, Sting, Savage and Vader. That was until Vader got suspended for getting into a fight backstage with Paul Orndorff. Vader, in more ways that one, was replaced by Lex Luger for the match.
I've written before about my general disdain for the War Games match and this one was no different. The Dungeon of Doom just weren't over, or credible. It seemed like Hogan eventually decided "Ah, now's the time to end the match" - so he locked in a submission on Zodiac who gave up.
Again though, in amongst this sea of darkness was the unforgiving yet seemingly quite effective push of The Giant. In the pre show on WCW Main Event, Hogan was hanging out with some fans sat on his bike. Then, seemingly out of nowhere emerged a monster truck all decked out in Dungeon of Doom regalia, driven by the Giant. Hogan, Okerlund and the fans scarpered as the truck ran over the motorbike more than once.
At the end of the War Games match, Giant emerged and attacked Hogan, violently "snapping his neck", this attempt at murder put Hogan off of TV for a whole two weeks – he was still producing video packages where he was "doing lifts" (well, lifts of the title belt) using his broken neck.
Then, randomly, Hogan started coming out dressed entirely in black. Depending on what you want to track, Hogan's heel tendancies either showed themselves during his first night in the company (he was booed), his first few matches (back rakes, eye pokes, steel chairs – heel 101) or at the time where he decided his "bad side" was coming. When Kevin Sullivan came out of the crowd at a Nitro dressed as an old woman and started attacking him, before sheering off his mustache, it certainly created a different vibe. Giant snapped Hogan's neck again for good luck (presumably), the Immortality of Hulkamania was definitely on show.
Then came Halloween Havoc, possibly the high point of everything, let alone simply The Dungeon of Doom. The monster truck angle at Fall Brawl was "paid off" here, with a monster truck sumo match pitting The Giant's Dungeon of Doom truck against the Hulkamania truck (complete with roided arms), this was before the two would face each other for the WCW World Heavyweight Title.
The sumo monster truck match, if you want to call it that, was largely a disappointment. With the trucks welded together and driving against each other it didn’t make much of spectacle, even if Hogan’s truck did Hulk up at one stage. It was the quintessential Hogan match, he eventually “won” after his truck drove Giant’s truck out of the circle.
Then things got weird.
Giant and Hogan exited their trucks, entering into a shouting match and a getting into a struggle by the edge of the building. Giant and Hogan ended up on the ledge of the building, before Hogan went to bat Giant away, Giant lost his balance and fell off the building. Five stories up, and kinda sorta surrounded by the Detroit River (Cobo Hall was actually surrounded by a car park, but the river ran close enough where WCW could’ve got away with it if they wanted it).
Hogan walked out for the main event, ready to explain that Giant had died, presumably. Then Giant walked out... unharmed. He wasn't even wet. In the 15 minutes since his purported fall to either a car park or the Detroit River, he... well, I dunno. Giant wrestling his second ever match held his own, the match wasn't a classic, nor was it even good, but it held its own. Eventually Jimmy Hart interferes, turns on Hogan (causing Giant to win by DQ... somehow) and we end the show with Hogan getting dry humped by the Yeti and Giant, Luger coming out and turning on Randy Savage – the whole thing was a schmoz.
It's hard to really have an opinion on the Dungeon of Doom. Time has turned a horrendous angle into something oddly nostaglic, something so bad that it has become good. But if you want to apply this from 1995 it's very little more than a gravy train for Hogan's friends to get some main event time during a run where they were clearly being outshadowed by the next generation.
The booking of The Giant since his early appearances in the early part of the summer was actually very strong, but let's not confuse the issue too much – The Giant got good in spite of his connection with the Dungeon of Doom, not because of it. If they were trying to recreate Hogan vs Andre it's quite tricky to work out why they didn't do just that, hell, bring Bobby Heenan out from behind the announcers table and remake the feud.
The group would continue in WCW for a while yet, but once the feud had broken with Hogan (which it didn’t, fully, until early 1996), the group became far less relevant. Mercifully the Dungeon segments rarely made it to Monday Nitro, and as that show pivoted and became more important so did the influence of the group on WCW storylines. Nostalgic? Maybe. Utterly horrible? Yes.