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And so it had come to pass, after nearly 18 months of build we were finally here for Starrcade, for Hogan vs Sting. Whether the build had been perfect, whether they’d ran out of a bit of steam - honestly it didn’t really feel like it mattered any more. WCW in 1997 was a train with no breaks and seemingly no limits – it was frequently dull yet usually that didn’t matter, Nitro was the hot ticket in town and Hogan vs Sting was the match seemingly everyone wanted to see.
You’d be forgiven, however, for thinking that Nitro in the lead up to the show might be rocking. December 1997 offered a lot of very tepid television, even the things that were noteworthy weren’t that good. Bret Hart made an effective if inauspicious WCW debut, landing a couple of nice lines on Eric Bischoff as he made himself the special guest referee in Bischoff’s match with Larry Zbyszko.
Even the build to Hogan and Sting had ran out of any kind of legs. They’d changed gear a couple of months ago with the home stretch in sight but kind of ran out of ideas. The usual formula, Hogan would call out Sting, Sting wasn’t there. Then when Hogan “least” expected it, Sting would rock up. The final two Nitro’s ahead of the pay-per-view literally ended with “Sting’s walking towards Hogan… see you next week folks”.
If there was one noteworthy thing on the TV ahead of the show it was the last 90 minutes. With WCW launching a second show (Thunder) in the New Year, they finally seemed to green-light the idea of creating an NWO only programme, despite all of the evidence that it would be a bad idea. To underscore this they did an NWO-takeover of Nitro. It was bad, that much was predictable, but the rating wasn’t so much. Nitro’s rating crashed by almost half a ratings point and for the first time in a year Nitro had conceded an entire hour to Raw. It would cause a change of course and finally bury any hopes of a NWO only show, thankfully, even if it was about five warnings too late.
Dean Malenko vs Eddie Guerrero for the WCW Cruiserweight Title
A good match in front of what was, for now at least, a hot crowd. But you can’t help but feel this was only good. The action was crisp – if there was one thing to say about the show this seemed to be the night of the *great* powerbombs. Malenko caught Guerrero coming off the top and just smashed him with one, then picked him up and hit another. I guess it just never gets out of third gear, that is to say it’s good but forgettable compared to the standards that we’ve come to expect from these two. Malenko hits another powerbomb, but Eddie gets on top and hits a frog splash to retain the title.
Scott Hall comes out, he says that Kevin Nash won’t be here tonight. Nash had called in citing health/heart issues – something which could possibly have been true (and it certainly nothing to screw around with), but the timing of Nash’s absence put the kibosh on a match with Giant again. Hall, being the great friend that he is, took one for the team, antagonising Giant and eating a monster powerbomb.
Scott Norton, Vincent and Randy Savage vs Ray Taylor and the Steiner Brothers (Rick and a short haired Scott with Ted DiBiase)
So this was a weird one. Randy Savage, who wasn’t originally booked to be on this card, was asked to fill in after Konnan had issues getting to the show. Quite why Savage wasn’t on the show is anybody’s guess (he wasn’t the only one – neither was Rey Mysterio). Savage said he’d do the match, but only if he got to pin Scott Steiner. Scott, as you can imagine, wasn’t happy, and did very little to disguise that fact as he walked out.
The match itself wasn’t much, despite their best efforts to crowbar some significance in the result that could influence what happened later in the card. Scott (Steiner) does at least get to get a few solid hits in as Vincent largely gets played as the rag-doll. He hits a Frankinsteiner off the top, Norton then electric chair drops him, Savage drops and elbow from the top and that will do that. After the match, there’s a sign in the front row that says “TRAYLOR WILL JOB FOR FOOD”. Vincent, surely?
We get an announcement that Nick Patrick has been randomly selected to referee the main event. I’m sure that will end well.
Bill Goldberg vs Steve McMichael
A bad match… still short enough and Goldberg wins cleanly. They set a table up, after an age Mongo tamely falls through it (for an equally as tame “ECW” chant). Goldberg hits a jackhammer for the three.
Perry Saturn vs Chris Benoit
So Raven still isn’t fit, I’m not particularly convinced Saturn was either. Just the guy you want to wrestle when you’re not 100% - Benoit. Benoit is still great, but this is not a good use of him. The match is solid but it’s as much story as anything else as he has to fight off the rest of the Flock. Benoit puts in the crossface, here come the flock. Benoit hits a diving headbutt, before having to fight off the flock. There’s a big pop for a potential confrontation with Raven, but Raven twats him with a DDT, Saturn puts in the rings of Saturn and picks it up.
Buff Bagwell vs Lex Luger
Both of these guys are over, both of these guys have over finishers, both of these guys have good looks. However, they are not good wrestlers, and given 16 minutes (the longest match on the card) this was a bad, bad move. They flexed, they brawled a bit, they did just an endless set of rest holds (which seem to a set-piece of any Bagwell match). Savage comes out, Luger racks him, Norton comes out and hits Luger, Bagwell pins him for the win and nothing of much was lost – other than 15 minutes of my time.
Curt Hennig vs Diamond Dallas Page for the WCW United States Title
Another late change on a card full of them, as Flair wasn’t deemed fit enough to compete. This was probably an improvement on Flair and Henning, but not by that much. Fortunately, the crowd were into it, and the story is a good one – particularly with Hennig blocking the Diamond Cutter at every turn. Eventually though his resistance wears out, Page hits the Diamond Cutter for the clean win and a big crowd pop.
Eric Bischoff (w/ Scott Hall) vs Larry Zbyszko (w/ Special Guest Referee Bret Hart) in a match for the control of Nitro
There’s a case that in the final few weeks of Nitro this was actually built better than the main event and was, without question, the second most hyped match on the show. Bischoff allegedly had blown his knee out training for the match (something that neither made much sense as a lie nor seemed particularly true). Zbyszko looks in good shape for his age, Bischoff looks thin by comparison.
This wasn’t really a comedy match, or good enough to be a serious one, such was the dancing around they did for most of the match. Bischoff throws a barrage of horrendous looking kicks and the story of the match, comedically enough, is that Zbyskzo is letting Bischoff wear himself out. You see, Bischoff is knackered, but at least it’s part of the story, right?
Bret’s role in all of this was quite minor, there were teases that he might turn heel but it never materialised. His role was quite important in the finish, as Hall stuck a metal plate to Bischoff boot, only for it to go flying off before it made contact. That was the finish, so they kinda had to go with it, Zbyszko sold like he’d been shot, Bret smacks Bischoff then puts Hall in the sharpshooter and he taps. Zbyszko then chokes out Bischoff, Bret raises his hand and awards him the match.
Hulk Hogan vs Sting for the WCW World Heavyweight Title
After all the hype, I guess it was always expected it would be a little deflating at the start. Sting came out and didn't exactly look in great ring-shape, wearing his now-typical bodysuit. Hogan had spent 18 months scared shitless of even the sight of Sting, the bell rings and all of sudden... he's not anymore. Which was perhaps a necessity, but Hogan dominating the first half of the match was a bit jarring, if only that was the end of the problems.
This was just a plain bad match. Sting looked in decent nick but also definitely wrestled like someone who hadn't worked much in 18 months, Hogan was on top most of the match, meaning it was pretty punch/kick heavy and not befitting the match of the century, or whatever WCW were promoting this as. In fact, apart from a Stinger splash on the outside – where Hogan moved and Sting smashed into the guardrail, there was nothing special about this match all.
Save the finish... you see, they'd devised a plan where Hogan would do a leg drop on Sting and (despite Roddy Piper kicking out of two of them to almost zero fanfare in October) that would see Nick Patrick (uh huh!) do a fast count for a false finish and justifiable restart. Problem was... Patrick's count wasn't particularly fast, it was probably a bit more brisk than normal, but nothing to scream conspiracy or injustice. Hogan, had just won the match.
Which, of course, wasn't the plan. We cut immeadiately to Bret Hart (who's randomly appeared at ringside) he said "we're not having this again" (not having what?). And restarts the match. With that, Sting hits a splash, puts Hogan in the Scorpion Deathlock and Hogan submits with Bret calling for the bell.
WCW had screwed up the unscrewupabble. How much of it was their own doing, and how much of it was Hogan getting in Patrick's ear isn't entirely clear. But what should be said, really, is that slow count or not – this whole thing was a bad idea. Hell, Sting could've killed Hogan in 60 seconds and it would've been great. You could've done anything else and it probably would've been great.
I think it's overly simplistic to say this was the beginning of the demise for WCW (even if it is right to say this was undoubtedly the peak) - in some respects the roots of the demise had already been formed. But WCW had an open goal here, and they missed. That much cannot be disputed.
Score Rating: 2/10
Go Back And Watch: You do need to see the main event, however bad it is. Everything else...