Previously on the Best and Worst of WCW Monday Nitro: The NBA Playoffs forced Nitro into an earlier, one-hour time slot, and nothing really happened for a month besides nWo beatdowns and cracked-out Roddy Piper promos about how straight he is. Oh, also, Glacier’s enemies tried to steal his magical eyeball by digging it out of his head with a helmet.
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And now, the Best and Worst of WCW Slamboree for May 18, 1997.
Worst: A Night Of Betrayals, Part One
Slamboree’s opening match might accidentally be the most 1997 WCW thing of all time.
We open with Lord Steven Regal challenging Ultimo Dragon for the Television Championship. The story here is solid; Regal was the TV Champion but lost to Prince Iaukea’s garbage ass, and then couldn’t seem to beat Prince to get it back. Instead, he Regal Stretched Iaukea before a championship match against Dragon, and Prince was too injured to retain. So now Dragon’s champion, and Regal is targeting him to get the belt back. Dragon’s a much tougher opponent, but Prince weirdly had Regal’s number, and he’s past that now.
On paper, that all looks good. In practice, WCW is starting their THREE FOOTBALL GUY main-evented pay-per-view with a TV Championship match (not TV, technically) between two foreign (check) midcard (check) heels (check) that features a cruiserweight but very little high flying (check) for TWENTY MINUTES (check) until one of the foreign heels’ foreign heel manager turns on him and costs him the match (check). The whole thing is so badly arranged and placed that it makes me make ULTIMO DRAGON VS. LORD STEVEN REGAL in a championship match on pay-per-view a “Worst.”
The story is that Sonny Onoo wanted to help Dragon cheat and karate kick Regal a bunch, and Dragon kept getting between them and trying to wrestle a normal match. So Onoo ends up betraying Dragon by karate kicking HIM, because KARATE KICKING IS THE MOST IMPORTANT and if Sonny Onoo doesn’t get his shit in people are gonna pay.
Note: If you detach it from everything, it’s honestly a very good match, but only for people with attention spans and love for one or both of these guys. And Regal is champion again, which means Prince Iaukea’s title reign is officially useless.
Best: Bill Regal
No wonder William Regal always had so many problems with Samoa Joe, they’re cut from the same cloth.
Worst: A Night Of Betrayals, Part Two
Last and least among the night’s heel turns is Konnan realizing his true destiny as the person of color in the nWo who gets to talk by turning on the Dungeon of Doom. Hugh Morrus takes the pin in a match against the Steiner Brothers, and a disappointed Konnan cheapshots him, dropkicks him in the knee and DDTs him.
Konnan is now free to speak on this, because honestly a Latino gang member never really fit in the Dungeon of Doom aesthetic. Unless Kevin Sullivan and his “girlfriend from the neighborhood” were trying to turn them into the S. E. Hinton version of The Outsiders.
As The Haliburton Turns, Part A Million
There’s another “betrayal” during the show, but it barely counts because they’ve been betraying each other on loop for like six months.
Jeff Jarrett challenges Dean Malenko in a wrestling match for the United States Championship, which is kinda like a beautiful show pony challenging a volcano to a lava contest. The match is built around Jarrett having a lot of confidence but being technically outmatched, with Malenko reversing pretty much everything he goes for, making him go for everything twice. It’s honestly a creative (if not a little boring) match, on a show were WCW was like, “we’ve got football players main-eventing, so everybody grab a hold and keep that shit on for 20 minutes.
Jarrett and Malenko knock noggins, and Jarrett falls to the floor. Debra McMichael tries to revive him, but somehow gently touching him on the shoulder while wearing opera gloves doesn’t give him the strength to carry on. Mongo shows up, still six months-sore about his wife hooking up with the love child of Nellie Oleson and a picket fence, and just rolls Jarrett back in. A few seconds later, Jarrett’s in a Texas Cloverleaf, tapping out.
You’d think this would finally be enough to explode the Mature Sexual Megapowers, but NOPE.
In the semi-main, Jarrett shows back up to help Mongo defeat Reggie White. Their plan, as you might’ve guessed, involved Mongo trying to hit Reggie with a Haliburton, only to have that Haliburton taken away. In the confusion, Jarrett would then run out with a SECOND Haliburton, toss it to Mongo, and allow the football player who regularly pro wrestles to defeat the football player who doesn’t by hitting him with a metal briefcase. In wrestling. The strangest part of this to me is that there are two Haliburtons now, and that Jarrett chose to throw Mongo a second metal briefcase instead of like, any other weapon. He could’ve tossed him a chair or a hammer or like, a bookcase and it would’ve made more sense than tossing in a replica of the briefcase the Horsemen used to lure Mongo to the dark side and make him attack a completely different non-wrestling football guy.
Speaking of Reggie …
Worst/Best: Jesus Christ, Reggie
Mongo vs. Reggie White isn’t as bad as you’d think it’d be, mostly because of Reggie’s enthusiasm and Mongo’s Super Bowl-winning in-ring chatter. At one point Mongo kicks Reggie in the dick, turns to the camera and screams, “I’M GOING TO CHURCH, BABY, I THINK I HEAR THE CHURCH BELLS RINGIN’.” Also, “JESUS MAY HAVE YOUR SOUL, BUT I GOTCHO ASS!”
At the same time, Reggie White’s out here in a see-through mesh practice jersey ready to throw the world’s worst headbutts and slowest possible dropkicks, which would’ve been pretty fun if they hadn’t given 15+ minutes. I mean look at what happens when you try to slam Reggie’s head into the turnbuckle:
That moment has haunted me for 20 years. Seriously, look how far his head comes from hitting anything:
You’ve got your arm up there, Reggie, are you afraid to headbutt your arm? While it’s on a pad? I always pictured Reggie White opening Christmas presents by holding his hands half a foot from the box and wiggling his fingers.
The funny thing about the match, again, is that it’s nowhere near as bad as you’d think. It’s basically the Mongo/Kevin Greene vs. the Horsemen match with Reggie White as Mongo, and Mongo as goddamn Ric Flair. He’s in here trying to carry a non-wrestler to a good match, which is amazing, because WCW trusted Mongo to do this when Mongo couldn’t honestly have a great match with ANYONE ELSE. Flair got Mongo to something watchable, and they were like, “all right, baby, pay it forward my friend.” Think of Mongo as Mongo and Reggie White as Pepe the cosplaying dog, as a wrestling match.
Best: Lance Storm Gets Namedropped In 1997
Continuing the show’s “everybody find a hammerlock and hold on for dear life” aesthetic, Rey Mysterio Jr. faces the debuting Yuji Yasuraoka, a former WAR International Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion. The other half of that team? Future WCW United States, Cruiserweight and Hardcore Champion (and future WWE Intercontinental and Tag Team Champion) Lance Storm. Bobby Heenan says he “sounds like a weatherman from Omaha.”
They get, you guessed it, 15 minutes despite nobody in the crowd knowing who Yuji is and, spoiler alert, him never showing up again. He pinned Julio Dinero on WCW Saturday Night, wrestled Rey Mysterio on pay-per-view five days later, beat Mysterio’s ass for 15 minutes while the crowd talked amongst themselves and then lost to a rana. That became every Mysterio pay-per-view match at some point. You could chop him to pieces with a battle axe and he’d still find a way to swing through your legs and pin you despite having the offensive firepower of Sit N’ Spin.
Yuji returned to Japan after this, competed in some tag matches on G1 Climax shows in ’98, and retired a year later. We’ll always not remember you for this match, Yuji!
Worst: The Poor Women
I can’t even put how depressing the WCW women’s division was into words. Luna Vachon popped up in the company back in March demanding to be #1 contender and threatening to take the belt off Madusa’s waist. The only problem is that Madusa wasn’t the champion, and hadn’t ever BEEN the champion. Akira Hokuto won it in December. Luna vs. Madusa was even advertised as a Women’s Championship match, and then when the match starts they’re like, “we heard reports that Madusa had won the belt from Akira Hokuto, but Sonny Onoo says that isn’t true and Hokuto is still the champion,” LIKE THEY WOULDN’T BE ABLE TO FUCKING VERIFY. Oh, also, Madusa hasn’t wrestled in months, and this is the first time Luna’s actually had a match. Soooo …
Oh, and Stagger Lee Marshall is on commentary, because they decided he was the Professor Mike Tenay of the women’s division. Because who better to understand the WCW Women’s Division than a guy who’s never at shows and always phones it in?
The very saddest thing is that the announcers try to get over the idea that Madusa and Luna don’t want to be known as “great ladies wrestlers,” they want to be known as GREAT WRESTLERS, and taken as equals to their male counterparts. And how they aren’t just pretty faces, they’re accomplished athletes who know how to wrestle. It’s basically the Divas Revolution stuff in 1997, when absolutely no one was listening. WWF got pretty close to booking the women (including Madusa) as great wrestlers in the mid-90s, then immediately gave up and were like, “do we have any pro wrestling Roseannes we can make champion? Can we put the belt on any skinny male managers and have them fight Michael Cole in a snow bunny match?” At least WCW’s response was less, “women are terrible,” and more, “wait, we have women?”
Madusa wins with her weird German suplex where she cradles you like she’s carrying a bag of groceries instead of grabbing you around the waist.
Best: Savage AF
Somewhere in the middle of the show, Macho Man Randy Savage interrupts Mean Gene to announce that he’s all healed and ready to insinuate that he’s “dropped an elbow” wink wink on Diamond Dallas Page’s wife about a dozen more times. Page runs out with a crutch and chases them off, noting that Savage is late for a date to kiss Hollywood Hogan’s ass and wash his car. Too real, brother. The nWo hits the ring to ruthlessly half-stomp page for besmirching Mach’s good name, and The Giant runs out in an extremely tight (literally and figuratively) Lex Luger shirt to run them off.
This super feels like a Nitro segment they jammed into Slamming Jamboree because they felt bad about Page and Savage main-eventing Spring Stampede and having nothing for them a month later. Unrelated note: Page and Savage would main-event the next month’s Great American Bash, but the Giant would still do nothing. But Kevin Greene wrestles again!
Best: Everything About Chris Benoit Vs. Meng Except For It Being Called A “Death Match,” Because, Well, You Know
I’ve got such a soft spot for these Chris Benoit vs. Meng death matches. This one and the rematch at the Great American Bash were two my favorite Benoit matches, because they were the first to truly utilize him as a character, and not just as a squat little guy who chops the shit out of people and can’t stop having his head smashed. The story here is that Meng is in his semi-annual SUPER DESTROYER mode where no one can stop him, and Benoit isn’t a top level guy, but he’s got the GUTS of one, and is locked in a forever feud with Kevin Sullivan and his crew. So Meng just beats the ever-loving piss Christ out of him, and Benoit keeps getting up and moving forward. It’s the kind of wrestling match I love the most.
It’s also in stark contrast to everything else on the show, which is either goofy but fun sports entertainment, or serious but kinda boring pro wrestling. This is one of wrestling’s most shoot dangerous men throwing the hardest hands he can at a little guy who won’t stop absorbing it and giving it right back. If you look at that screenshot, they start hitting each other so hard there are SPRAYS of sweat coming off them. Like, you could cut someone with the water pressure of that sweat flying off. It’s brutal and intense, and Benoit keeps getting SO CLOSE to putting Meng away that you’re like, THIS is where they finally give Benoit his due. They finally realize he’s the best wrestler on the show and super popular, and they’re gonna push him to the moon. And then he swandive headbutts into a Tongan Death Grip.
The ending is a lot of melodramatic fun, too, with Woman getting on the apron to try to make Meng break the hold, and Meng just out-right refusing. Benoit is trying to PUNCH HIS WAY OUT OF IT, and Meng just screams and throats him to the ground. Eddie Guerrero was great at wrestling. So was Dean Malenko, and so was Chris Jericho. But Chris Benoit was the guy who made wrestling seem like a fight, like it was life or death, and connected with the audience physically instead of socially. The guy was a master at what he did. And yes, it is depressing as fuck to type that every single time.
Best: SOMEBODY LOCK THE DOORS, I’M ABOUT TO WHOOP ERRBODY IN HERE
The only match on the show that doesn’t go 15 minutes is Glacier vs. Mortis, which ends about 90 seconds in when Wrath interferes and wallops Glacier with Mortis’ … uh, jester wand? Whatever that thing is. The beatdown continues until a “fan” gets into the ring and KARATE KICKS THE LIVING DOG CRAP OUT OF EVERYONE.
That fan, of course, turns out to be Ernest “The Cat” Miller, one of my very favorite pro wrestling things ever. He was never a good wrestler, really, but he was such a character in capital letters, and would occasionally shoot kick people to death for real. He’s a three-time World Karate Champion — you’ll be hearing a lot about that — and the announce team does this hilarious thing where they start off like, “there’s a fan in the ring, somebody get him out of there,” followed by “hey guys, is that Ernest Miller? You’re right, it IS Ernest Miller!” Like the entire world follows full-contact karate tournaments. Like that sport’s audience is not the dudes that do it, Chuck Norris and Eric Bischoff.
I’m so happy the Cat is here, not only because of the several years of James Brown dancing and leopard-print bathrobe-themed mass karate threats that follow, but because Glacier finally has a friend, and is set to have one of the under-the-radar best matches of the year at Bash at the Beach. Somebody call my mama.
Best: A Wrestling Miracle
If I told you the best match on the show was the six-man tag team match featuring a back-from-alcoholism-for-a-minute Scott Hall, Syxx, Kevin Nash, infuriated homophobe Roddy Piper, back-from-injury Ric Flair and the third football guy of the evening, would you believe me?
Amazingly, the Bodyslamboree main event is not only the best match of the show, but one of the most enjoyable wrestling matches of the entire year. They basically wrestle it like a glorified house show match, letting everyone pop in to get their shit in and go way over the top with their gestures and mannerisms until the crowd is molten hot, popping for everything that happens. The six-man format keeps Flair or Piper (or Nash) from lying around the ring very long, crowds are happy to see Hall again, Syxx is stooging it up something FIERCE and Kevin Greene is this magical little alternative facts Hulk Hogan who can’t do much but is SO INTO IT that it doesn’t even matter.
It helps that Flair and Greene are both Charlotte-area heroes, and that for once the New World Order doesn’t mind making WCW look good. They get their asses kicked, and Charlotte LOVES IT. The match ends with Flair grabbing Hall in a figure-four, Piper laying out Nash with a comically bad but hilariously good sleeper hold, and Greene powerslamming and pinning Syxx, all at the same time. As you know if you’ve watched more than five seconds of WCW, no WCW victory ever really matters or lasts, but this one’s done with such urgency, fire and fun that even 20 years later, it feels like it matters. Just an absolutely shockingly good match. Well, it’s more of a happening than a “match,” but it’s GREAT.
Join us next month when Flair turns on Piper, Greene is feuding with Mongo again, and WCW looks like a bunch of idiots. Sorry, everyone.