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I feel like I say it every month currently with these reviews, but WCW was in a weird place in the middle of 1997. Hogan was in and out filiming movies (as Lex Luger said, he hadn't defended his title since February and was about to no-show yet another WCW PPV) - and even when he was back he was sporting a painted on beard to cover for the fact he was clean shaven for his acting role. Something that, really, should be way more notorious than it actually is.
TV's were weird – the Kevin Sullivan booking era was over for the meantime, as Eric Bischoff sent him away on hiatus. Formally his replacement was Terry Taylor, who it's said was a big improvement on Sullivan in some respects (like planning and detail) but Sullivan's departure opened the door for other voices to start creeping in, none stronger than that of Kevin Nash's, who apparently was frequently involved with Eric Bischoff discussing booking plans both pertaining to his storylines and others. That's not to insinuate, necessarily, that Nash's influence was a bad one, just more that Nash was another body pulling WCW in a different direction – add that to Bischoff, Taylor/Sullivan and both Hogan and Roddy Piper who retained creative control over their own storylines.
TV was no less strange. The first week in June saw Jeff Jarrett call Dean Malenko an "un-charismatic, boring, block of ice" before Ric Flair and Scott Hall had a main even that didn't even go half its alloted time before Flair called a premature conclusion due to fatigue. That, not for the last time, caused a hastily changed final segment as Randy Savage and Mean Gene Okerlund had to stretch out a five minute angle to over twice that. Although in terms of angles that underran, that would only last a week before it was usurped by something much more memorable.
That show, the second week in June, featured a match between Lex Luger and Hulk Hogan where Hogan, possibly for the first time in sixteen years, submitted cleanly in the torture rack. Quite what it was for isn't immeadiately obvious, the match was heated from almost nothing, not even given a main event slot and was incorreclty (thanks to Luger) thought of as a title match. Still, while on paper Hogan winning cleanly was a big step it was yet another clean win with an asterisk as the Outsiders quickly beat up Luger before Hogan and Bischoff cut a promo basically pretending everything was great.
That all came before a main event of Roddy Piper and Ric Flair against Nash and Hall. This was a bizarre match, where seemingly Piper had no intention of following the plan as he fought off legitimate attempts by Nash to get Piper in his corner and start a traditional tag match. Piper then seemingly just low blowed both guys ensuring the match blew out long before it got going. That left the show closing angle with a lot of time to fill but actually created a rather compelling sequence featuring almost everyone on the pay per view brawling for the better part of ten minutes and concluded with Sting fighting off the NWO with a baseball bat before hooking up Dallas Page to his right and both men rappelling to the rafters in a great closing moment.
That was the show done, but hardly the end of the night as Nash stormed backstage to confront Piper. After getting into his lockerroom there was a brief exchange between the two which was quickly broken up by Piper's bodyguard, Flair and others. The incident, perhaps surprisingly, didn't seem to spill into the pay per view six days later as WCW moved to move both men apart on television. When you give two men such individual responsibility to the point where they feel untouchable, don't be shocked if you create a rock and a hard place.
Psicosis (w/ Sonny Ono) vs The Ultimate Dragon
They're calling this a "respect" match, whatever that means. This was really excellent, a hot crowd watching two overseas stars working an American style and reacting to it appropriately. This is when the Cruisers get it right, a match that built slowly, involved the crowd and still involved the same amount of dazzling moves that most of these matches do.
Some of the moves really were ridiculous too. Psicosis busted out a suicide dive that went to the floor while flying *over* the top turnbuckle – that was great. Dragon also busted out his usual "ahh... shouldn't this end the match" jumping tombstone piledriver. It also featured the usually stupid WCW finish with Sonny Ono, in theory, spin kicking Psicosis by accident after Dragon countered an irish whip (a repeat of the Jeff Jarrett/Shawn Michaels spot from 1995 and doubtless many times previous). Only problem... Ono clearly saw the counter happen, still did the kick then still looked shocked when it all fell apart. Still, a reminder of how good both guys, but particularly Dragon, are.
Harlem Heat (Booker T & Stevie Ray w/ Sherri) vs The Steiner Brothers (Rick & Scott)
I'm not convinced WCW has it right with either team here, nor is WCW's tag division helped by having the Outsiders as essentially champions without challengers. That's not a critique of Hall or Nash in general (see how last month's main event finished) but more that Hall and Nash are basically a luxury tag team who in a lot of instances aren't part of the division despite being the champs.
Which really holds up teams like these, but that's not the only issue. The Heat really should be babyfaces and The Steiners could probably do with being a Road Warriors style team (although as heels). The match, mechanically, was fine, but it just wasn't that interesting. It wasn't helped by the lack of consequences nor the monumentally flat finish; where Vincent ran in, dropped the elbow onto one of the Heat thereby forcing the DQ win for the Heat and meaning the Outsiders could dodge facing The Steiners. Something of course that, eventually, was overturned on Nitro.
Konan vs Hugh Morrus
SHIT MATCH ALERT: Seriously, this is the pits. There are reports that Konan got injured early doors - he did a stretcher job and Morris needed help afterwards due to fatigue I think. But this absolutely stunk. Two matches ago the crowd was reacting to everything, but take a basement level tag team recently split up into two singles that nobody cares about and have a match that seemed to be one marathon rest hold after another and it's all just... shit. It finishes after Konan bundles Morrus off of the top who "knocks himself out" before Konnan pins him with a leg submission. Yikes...
Wrath (w/ Mortis and James Vandenburg) vs Glacier
Stay with me folks, it does get better... just not yet! I'm never really sure what the plan was with the Mortal Kombat type stuff, but I don't know that this was it. This was just characters people don't care about wrestling a normal wrestling match. Glacier got the memo when he came in to work a kick/strike heavy style, but nobody else did. Of course, like most fights on Mortal Kombat, it ended with one of them hitting the other with a chain. Stop. The. Pain.
Akira Hokuto (w/ Sonny Ono) vs Medusa for the WCW Women's Title
Medusa, inexplicably, put her career on the line to get a title shot despite being the only other person in the division...
Thankfully, this was really good. By a large margin the best women's match we've covered, one that included a good story, some good wrestling and a very good piece of selling by Medusa. The match turns on her coming off of the top with an axe handle only to "land awkwardly" on her knee that apparently Wendy Richter injured nearly a decade previously. Medusa subsequently battles valiantly but her knee gives out one too many times and Hokuto wins with a brainbuster and with it the WCW Women's Division basically ends – with no other US talent and the Japanese talent being too expensive to fly over.
Despite how hokey the setup was, for once WCW had something quite organic as the crowd rallied behind Medusa post match, who was in tears and had to be helped to the back. This didn't stop Mean Gene Okerlund coming in and saying "you know what this means, your career is over" like a total dick. So much show that a noticable "leave her alone" chant began. Mean indeed.
Chris Benoit vs Meng (w/ Jimmy Hart) in a "Return" Death Match
If a "return" death match even makes sense. I've said my bit with Meng before – he's tough, but WCW spend far more time telling us that fact than they do showing us. Still, this was very good – Benoit is just so excellent in everything he does and Meng's lack of presentation doesn't hide the fact he's still really strong in places. As ever the "death match" stip probably hurt more than it helped, with a couple of flat spots for ten counts. After a good back and forth, Benoit puts Meng in a crossface (a move that would be classed more as "signature", rather than "finisher", for Benoit at this stage). After an absolute age Meng eventually taps, softly, right before he passes out. That's followed by a double-stretcher job, probably a bit excessive given that they did one of those with Benoit earlier in the year.
Steve McMichael (w/ Debra McMichael) vs Kevin Greene
You don't get to leading the NFL in sacks twice without being very physically capable and very fit, but Kevin Greene's first singles foray in a wrestling ring was absolutely remarkable. Against a guy in Steve McMichael who has improved a lot but is still Steve McMichael, these two had a match that was almost shockingly good. Seriously, you watch this show and there really is no case that Greene is the least able wrestler on the show – he's probably not even the least able wrestler in this match.
We get a spot, apparently, with Greene's family as Mongo gets whacked by Greene's mother with a handbag. Green hits a smooth Thesz press, then a ten punch then an elevated dropkick. Seriously, these weren't just good moves it was Greene's transitions that were equally as polished. There's one moment where Greene shapes to slide in the ring, induces an elbow drop from Mongo before sliding straight back out so Mongo hits the mat – so good. The finish was a bit of a shame – Jarrett ran out with the case, attempted to hit Greene but ended up hitting Mongo instead. But still really good.
The Outsiders (Scott Hall and Kevin Nash w/ Syxx) vs Ric Flair and Roddy Piper for the WCW World Tag Team Titles
Not for the first time, a tag match involving these type of guys manages to work thanks to the strength of the names involved more than it does the level of work in the match. Thankfully, at least, whatever was left over from what happened on Nitro didn't carry over into this one. But your typical fare up until Flair, somewhat bizarrely, ends up in a fight with Syxx and they both just disappear, never to be seen on the rest of the show. Piper battles for a prolonged period before running out of legs and Hall hits the Outside Edge for the win.
Randy Savage (w/ Miss Elizabeth) vs Diamond Dallas Page (w/ Kimberly Page) in a Lights Out Match
Two months ago I felt these two attempted to have a really good match but fell a peg or two short, this time around I think they managed it. This was a long, occasionally wild brawl between a man people wanted to cheer, and a man people wanted to boo – which is credit to both guys. Savage blinds Page with some powder, Page hits Savage with something that seems to resemble a vinyl record... the usual.
We brawl deep into the crowd, Page sends Savage through a fire exit before cracking him with a crutch. We return to the ring, Savage channels Steve Austin by wiping out every referee in sight before we head up the aisle way towards a picnic area (I know what you're thinking, Uncensored 1995 sends its regards). Page plants Savage through a picnic table, which looked great, and even hit him over the head with a plant pot. We return to the ring before, perhaps understandably given how cleanly won the first one, Scott Hall interferes allowing Savage to level it up at 1-1. Very much looking forward to the third.
Score Rating: 7.5/10
Go Back And Watch: The opener, and legit probably everything from the women's match onwards. Fun card even with a worst MOTY contender. Greene's match is must see.