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As we open with a clip of Hot Rod ranting and raving inside of an Alcatraz cell, fellow conspiracy theorist Dr. Unlikely comments on the recent decline in quality: I'm glad to see this still makes exactly as much sense today as it did 18 years ago. I recall thinking the Outsiders filming and presenting a tape of themselves actually trying to kill the Steiners hilarious at the time (in my memory of it, Rick leans out the window and barks at the Outsidermobile, but I can't remember if that really happened now). I think I felt the same way about Piper speaking in Gaelic and Piper locking himself up with no food or water for seven days. So, basically, this is the point where I probably started ironically watching Nitro instead of truly enjoying it (matching up perfectly with Bret and Austin saving the WWF through sheer talent and force of will), which I'd do to the bitter end.
Bischoff is getting completely exposed as a one trick pony, and it’s been on display for nearly 2 months now. Somewhere, he lost the fact that great wrestling angles need a beginning, a middle, and an end. When the nWo first began, it was the hottest deal in television history because it legitimately appeared to be a WWF invasion. You had NO idea if Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, or even Vince McMahon was ready to join the Outsiders to take down WCW. Brilliantly executed. These guys were a real threat to their company, and they needed all hands on deck.
Then, the Giant turned. At that moment, it became a wrestling angle. This was a guy who was fighting tooth and nail to defend WCW, and was embarrassed on pay-per-view just a couple of weeks earlier. Can you imagine Shane Carwin and Brock Lesnar buddying up, even YEARS after their last fight? No – because real people don’t do that.
Ever since the nWo drive in December, it’s clear Bischoff very genuinely believes that the nWo is its own “brand”. This isn’t a line he’s touting on television, he actually thinks he could give the nWo their own program and it would draw like gangbusters. He’s completely lost sight of the fact that while yes, they have a pretty sleek t-shirt, the shirt isn’t the reason the fans care about this group. They love them because Hall and Nash are the cool kids everyone wants to buddy up to. They’re funny, they’re arrogant, they’re fresh. THIS is who they want to see when the porno music hits. Nobody gives a damn that Scott Norton gets to ride in the B-squad limo, except Eric Bischoff.
Out of creative ideas, and trying to recreate their bad-assedness, Bischoff decided “YES – vehicular homicide!” Except that, while we admittedly stretch the bounds of reality where our professional wrestling is concerned, this is absurd. There is no way that a couple of guys submit nationally televised evidence that they caused another car to roll off the highway and make it out of the arena in anything but a new pair of steel bracelets. Granted, Lieutenant James Earl has been tied up with that Fit Finlay murder-mystery for nearly a year, Buddy Lee Parker no longer seems interested in law enforcement, and Glacier’s too busy performing his entrance to notice, but there MUST be more cops on the planet, right?
On its own, it’s atrocious. However, the minute you pair that with Roddy Piper, the people’s fighting champion who has decided to lock himself in Alcatraz as an effort to sell a fight, it’s clear this company has derailed. It’s nothing that can’t be fixed with a couple of weeks of good booking; but they keep making these mistakes, and have been since Starrcade.
I love WCW. The June through October shows were amongst the very best produced television you’ll ever see. The expanding Cruiserweight division, a suddenly loaded midcard (with Prince fucking Iaukea carrying the TV title! Don’t think for a second the preceding paragraphs weren’t brought on by this!) and a new crop of main eventers, there is NO reason they shouldn’t have been able to run out quality production for the next 5 years with THIS roster alone! The possibilities are endless. And it’s a little depressing to know that these moments of Bad Judgment are *nothing* in the grand scheme of things, and somehow this company that can do no wrong is 4 years from being 6 feet under.
However, for the time being, it’s still 1997, things are still rolling, and there IS some pretty great TV on the horizon, so let’s have at it. Take us away TONY SCHIAVONE and DUSTY RHODES. Dusty believes Piper needs to check himself into a Minnow Institution.
VILLANO 4 (1-1-0) vs. REY MYSTERIO JR. (5-2-2)
My copy of this match has gone through rough and rigors known as VHS, so the commentary comes across as a poorly produced Youtube rap video starring Dusty Rhodes. Internet – you have your mission. Villano misses a senton, but doesn’t miss a powerslam, getting 2. A moonsault off the top misses Rey by about 12 feet, and Rey’s all over him with a springboard rana for the win at 2:44.
DEAN MALENKO (8-1-2) vs. MARK STARR (1-5-0) (in a non-title match)
Over the past year, WCW has built this incredible Cruiserweight division from scratch. It’s the kind of thing you could set on your mantle and admire for the rest of your life. However, some genius (and I ASSUME it’s the same person who decided that Prince Iaukea would make a fine TV champ) has decided that it would mean more for the title if, instead of defending it on television, the champion make a stand against the heavyweight division. You know, all the top names, like Mike Enos, Robbie Brookside, and now Mark Starr. He hasn’t defended the belt since he won it 32 days ago – and that includes WCW Pro! And NO, I don’t care that Syxx stole the belt, a “title” is a TITLE, like Doctor, or Meng. You earn it. The title is secondary to being called Champ. If you’re that concerned about the gold, file a police report (and while you’re at it, mention the Steiners wouldja?), and get it back! Goddamn. Anyway, Union turncoat Mark Starr takes the early advantage, working over Malenko with an often unseen intensity. Malenko responds by dropping Starr on the back of his head, and gets 2. Dean whips out his small package, but it doesn’t score. The Texas Cloverleaf does the job though, and Malenko wins at 4:05. Post-match Malenko grabs the microphone, and puts all 2000 people in attendance to sleep. *
JERRY FLYNN (0-4-0) vs. PRINCE FUCKING IAUKEA (1-1-0) (for the WCW world television title)
Dusty takes a moment to talk to us about pride. “If you have no pride as a wrestlah, and don’t feel like you can take on Genghis Khan, then you’re not an Americahn, or a Euro Peein’, or whatever country you from.” Jerry Flynn has earned this title shot on account of his perfect record since entering WCW in December. Iaukea gets his ass kicked for what feels like 87 minutes straight, but he manages to dodge a spin kick and hits a Northern Lights suplex. Superfly Splash gets the win at 2:33. Even the canned heat doesn’t care about this guy. DUD
Here’s a chance to get Up Close and Personal with KEVIN SULLIVAN and JACQUELINE. Jackie has such trash talk as “Nancy, you think you got yo self a real man? I have a real man!” and “Nancy turn yo back, and now she with Chris Ben Wah.” I feel like she means it.
KEVIN SULLIVAN (6-1-0) (with Jacqueline and Jimmy Hart) vs. JOHNNY SWINGER (0-1-0)
TEDDY LONG weighs in on the situation, by reminding Jackie while she’s known Kevin for 10 years, that he’s known Kevin for 20! He tells Jackie that Sullivan has quit on himself, quit on Nancy, and someday, he’ll quit on her too. I sense some jealousy dude. Just drop the ruse, and make your love triangle into a tag-team match, playa. Jackie slaughters Swinger on the floor, while Sullivan swivels his hips in her direction. Where the hell was the network censor?!? This is a FAMILY program, and I don’t need to watch Sullivan parade his rapidly tightening tights around like a puppet show! The usual finishes at 3:09. DUD
DIAMOND DALLAS PAGE (5-1-0) vs. BUNKHOUSE BUCK (0-1-0)
A front row STUNT GRANNY celebrates capturing DDP’s t-shirt. Then she winks at him, and she’ll join him for pizza later. I wish social media had existed in the late 90’s, primarily for the potential of THIS particular roster. Tony Schiavone opening up a poll on the WCW app to determine “what does Bunkhouse Buck smell like?” is exactly the kind of lost opportunities we’re seeing with the death of this once fine company. Diamond Cutter at 2:13, please drive through. DUD
LEE MARSHALL grabs our weekly DDP soundbyte. Lee Marshall asks Page about his involvement with Bubba? Page says he feels awful about what happened. He saw the tape, and he finds it incredible that someone was able to sneak up behind the nWo and take out one of their guys. He doesn’t ever want to see anyone permanently damaged, or taken away in an ambulance. “It looks like it’s gonna be a Par Tay in San Francisco for DDP … but Bubba, get well soon, I really feel for you brother.” Our beloved Tony the Tiger is left speechless.
EDDIE GUERRERO (7-3-2) vs. JIM POWERS (1-1-0) (in a non-title match)
Powers lets us know he’s taking this match seriously, by nodding his head seriously and making an angry face. Did he and Teddy break up? Why wasn’t this addressed? Gene’s really dropped the ball since signing his new deal last fall, I’m not impressed. Eddie ties up the juice monkey like a docked sailboat, including a rarely seen Lasso from El Paso! An armbar fails to draw a tap out, so Eddie goes to the slingshot senton instead, yielding 2. Powers starts the comeback with a knee lift, and a whiffed dropkick is sold for 2. Powers steals one from Eddie’s playbook, using the standing vertical suplex, but Eddie won’t stay down. Eddie blocks an avalanche with a knee, and quickly hits a tornado DDT to set up the Frog Splash at 5:47. Good little scrum. **
LEE MARSHALL starts quoting Mary Shelley to introduce THE GIANT, which I’m afraid is far too high level for this show and this audience. The big man says he’s not an nWo creation, but a “real life fire breathing Giant”. Look, he’s been SAYING that for over a year, but I have yet to see him prove it. I’m starting to think he’s a liar, or a circus performer who is respectful of arena fire codes.
HARLEM HEAT (7-1-2) (with Sista Sherri) vs. DOC DEAN and ROBBIE BROOKSIDE
I’m not thinking the Brits are gonna get a whole lot of love here. In fact, outside of the stop and go Steven Regal pushes over the years, the Brits just aren’t respected on a North American level in pro-wrestling. That’s the ONLY reason I can come up with regarding the lack of support for one David Taylor. Big Apple just tears right through Brookside at 2:09. Stevie Ray spits all over the camera after the match. 1/2*
A pissy Sherri starts screaming at LEE MARSHALL, demanding tag-team title shots. Does she think he’s Eric Bischoff in a fake moustache? Lee can’t help you! Booker promises that they’re gonna go through each solitary sucka to get the gold back one more time.
CHRIS BENOIT (5-3-0) (with Woman) vs. RICK FULLER (0-1-0)
You, the Internet, can cry all the crocodile tears you want about Benoit not getting higher profile stuff. I don’t care, I could happily watch him work away with the Rick Fullers and Road Blocks of the world. Fuller goes for an Outsiders Edge right away, and as Woman screams bloody murder, Benoit slides off the back. Fuller’s energy doesn’t let up, as he chops away and drops Chris with a spin kick. A fantastic looking kneedrop to the face gets 2. Finally, the big guy misses an elbow, and now he’s got a pissed off Canadian with a mean streak coming at him. Fuller gets in a shot and heads to the top, but Benoit gorilla slams him off the top(!!!), before finishing with the swandive at 2:13. Tony: “Chris Benoit hit his head VERY hard that time!” And that’s putting it mildly, dude gave himself a shiner in the process. Watching him with the power of forward vision can be a little hard at times; because the guy tried so hard to be the greatest performer of his time that he turned his brain into porridge, even on these pointless Saturday Night shows. *1/2
LEE MARSHALL welcomes RIC FLAIR for a live arena appearance. I always love watching him emerge from the Cyborg Factory, stepping through the cloud of smoke, while Also Sprach Zarathustra plays him through. It’s like the emergence of a King, and the crowd are his loyal servants. Flair doesn’t think Hogan’s gonna have the stones to step in the ring with Piper tomorrow night. Now, concerning Jarrett and Mongo, he says he christened Jarrett months ago, and if he can beat Mongo tomorrow night, he’s in the group no matter what the other guys think about it. And, speaking of guys who are in, “Love Machine” Chris Benoit is gonna tear Kevin Sullivan to pieces.
KONAN (6-3-1) (with Jimmy Hart) vs. JEFF JARRETT (8-1-0)
The fans have absolutely no love for either one of these guys, and turn completely on this match with such force the Canned Heat doesn’t even bother trying to balance it out. Konan takes early control, so I guess Jarrett’s our face tonight. A sitdown dropkick gets 2, despite Konan’s whines to the contrary. Jarrett slams Konan’s head to the buckle, and a cradle gets 2. Jarrett calls for the Figure Four, but Jimmy trips him up and Konan’s all over him. A super axehandle is blocked by Jarrett, and a sidewalk slam gives Jarrett another chance to finish. Instead, he opts to punch Hart in the face, and being the first guy in history to somehow NOT have this be enough distraction to lose, he goes for the Figure Four. KEVIN SULLIVAN and JACQUELINE save, because Konan don’t do no clean jobs, and that’s a DQ at 3:51. CHRIS BENOIT and WOMAN rush down, but Jackie brandishes a strap and … we take a break before anything happens.
The show closes with Piper’s Alcatraz interview aired in full. Our announcers don’t even bother saying so long, or remind us to order the pay-per-view.
Superbrawl’s tomorrow, and while I’m not real fussy about the build-up, there’s 2 big items that could make the show one to remember. 1) Roddy Piper capturing his elusive first World Title from Hogan. This would even the playing field a little and give WCW some much needed momentum. Or, alternatively, 2) Hogan cheats his ass off to retain, denying Piper in his last big chance, setting the table for the Sting beatdown we’ve been waiting for since the fall. And when it does … I’m getting chills just thinking about the delicious possibilities. This seems too good to screw up, right?