– Click here to watch this week’s episode on WWE Network. If you want to watch The Great American Bash ’96 (and you should), you can click here for that. If you’d like to read about previous episodes, check out the WCW Monday Nitro tag page.
– In case you missed it, the retro Best and Worst of WWF Monday Night Raw column has jumped ahead to 1996. The episode that aired against this one will be up on Monday.
– Share the column! Especially the ones that involve PPV recaps, because those are the best. I watched 5 hours of 19-year old wrestling so I could write jokes for you, the least you could do is keep me employed.
Up first, let’s take a look at what I hear was a very good American Bash.
Before We Begin
Here’s what you need to know about The Great American Bash ’96. It might take a while, as this is one of my favorite pay-per-views ever.
Welp, Mongo Is A Horseman Now
In a story straight out of Game Of Thrones, MILF-collecting former champion Ric Flair started noticing the beauty pageant wife of announcer and former Super Bowl Champion Steve ‘Mongo’ McMichael hanging out in the front row at shows. He tried to flirt with her, but got shot down. Mongo took it in stride until Flair escalated his efforts, and a challenge was made: Mongo would step out of the announce booth alongside the NFL player of his choice in a tag team match against Flair and his hetero life partner Arn Anderson. A game of human chess ensued. Flair and Anderson brought in Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan to coach them, so Mongo and ‘Mean’ Kevin Greene brought in the Macho Man Randy Savage. Mongo’s wife tried to step in and end the conflict without violence, but she was threatened and chased away. And, just like on Game Of Thrones, the story has a happy ending: Debra sells out in the middle of the match and convinces Mongo to turn on his partner and join the Horsemen in exchange for a t-shirt and a briefcase full of money. Whoops!
So after all that time and all these weeks of watching Flair try to get Debra McMichael on Space Mountain, the payoff is a long con swerve on Kevin Greene, who is not a wrestler. The Four Horsemen have completed their lineup by adding someone who fits their jet-flying, limousine-riding lifestyle: a 39-year old former football player with no wrestling ability or experience, and his easily-convinced wife.
This Week’s Pepe Costume: Valet
I’m disappointed that Pepe didn’t formally join the Horsemen as well, and start being dressed like a little horse.
The WCW Cruiserweight Division Is Officially On
One of the most important moments of The Great American Bash (besides a dog dressed like a cowboy) is the debut of Rey Mysterio Jr., still child-sized, still billed from Tijuana and still decked out like a Lisa Frank version of Spider-Man. Rey’s debut is against Dean Malenko, and if you read “Rey Mysterio Jr. vs. Dean Malenko” and don’t instantly know it’s amazing, you need to watch your f*cking tapes.
The crowd is dead silent when it starts. Nearly 20 minutes later (!!), Malenko reverses an attempted hurricanrana into a gruesome powerbomb, pops his feet up on the middle ropes and gets the three, and the crowd gives them a standing ovation. I’d go all heart eyes over the WCW Cruiserweight division, but trust me, if I keep up these retro reports I’ll have YEARS to do that. The WCW Cruiserweights more or less decided what modern “smarks” consider good wrestling for like 20 years, and this match is where they stop dipping their toes in the water and just jump the hell in.
Also fun: “The Professor” Mike Tenay. He’s brought in to help call the match because he knows what they’re doing, and he’s invaluable as the guy who says “this is what this move’s called, this is the origin, this is why it’s effective.” The problem with TNA Mike Tenay is that he called every match and did that with every match, and there’s a huge difference between explaining the logistics of a casadora bulldog in 1996 and doing constant Audio Description for Crazzy Steve matches in 2014.
WCW Is Facing Some Serious Sh*t
Near the end of the show, Eric Bischoff brings out Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, makes them clarify that they don’t work for the World Wrestling Federation (please don’t sue!) and says that three WCW stars have agreed to meet them in a tag team match at Bash at the Beach ’96. Totally blanking on who their partner ends up being. Virgil, I think?
Anyway, they demand to know who the WCW guys are and Bischoff tells them they’ll find out tomorrow night on Nitro, so they attack him and powerbomb him off the stage through a table like so much Machine Gun Kelly. This was the craziest thing in the world in 1996 because Bischoff’s clearly not a wrestler, and you’ve got these guys of indeterminate employment showing up and throwing him to death. The “war” has gone from sassy threatening to actual violence, and it doesn’t stop until the company implodes. Spoiler alert.
Seriously Though, Watch This Show
The rest of the pay-per-view includes:
- Sting defeating Lord Steven Regal in one of the forgotten gems of WCW. Regal is the kingsh*t of f*ck mountain when it comes to crowd and character work, and the finish with him having the match won until he backhands Sting and reminds him why he was pissed off in the first place is MAGIC.
- Also, a weird promo where Sting straight-up says Regal’s gay because of how he drinks tea. Sting promises to “straighten him out.” One of the worst, most illogical Sting promos ever.
- Chris Benoit and Kevin Sullivan beating the crap out of each other all over the building, including in the men’s restroom, causing Dusty Rhodes to drop some of the best and funniest match commentary of all time. “There is a lady in the men’s bathroom, she’s trying to get some relief!”
- The Steiner Brothers and Fire & Ice opening the show by punching and throwing each other as hard as possible.
- Konnan wrestling “El Gato,” a South American lucha libre legend who is just Pat Tanaka in a commercial Tiger Mask mask. El Gato is the most N64 wrestling game character to ever appear on an actual wrestling show.
- Giant and Lex Luger crashing and burning in the main event because WCW thought it’d be a good idea to have them follow the Hall and Nash segment.
So good. Even the bad stuff is worth seeing. This is the final WCW PPV before the darkness comes, so watch it, rewatch it and pretend like Hulk Hogan got run over by reindeer on the set of Santa with Muscles.
And now, the Best and Worst of WCW Monday Nitro for June 17, 1996.
Worst: The Other Brothers
Last week’s show started with Scott Steiner vs. Booker T, so this week’s starts with Rick Steiner vs. Stevie Ray. While both Steiner Brothers were good in their own way, the talent differential between Booker and Stevie Ray is staggering. It’s like the difference between Hulk and Horace Hogan. The difference between Nikki Bella and a loaf of bread.
Stevie was absolutely not prepared to be a singles star here, so the match is bad for about two minutes until Rick Steinerlines him and wins. The Steinerline is the distant cousin of Big Show’s KO punch, where it’s an easy strike you can hit a ton that pins guys, so why don’t you just spam it? Brock Lesnar’s German suplex does a ton of damage and he’s found great success spamming that, so why doesn’t Show exclusively try to punch people in the face? Why’s Rick Steiner bothering with hammerlocks and takedowns when he could just run and jump at you with his arm out? Maybe that’d be too obvious, and Stevie Ray’d wrestle the entire match with his leg up.
Worst: Desperado Joe Gomez
We didn’t get to see much of Desperado Joe Gomez last week when he was Critical’d two seconds into an attack from Arn Anderson and napped in the hallway, but he’s been out ridin’ fences for so long now, and this is his singles debut. If you’ve never seen him, imagine a wrestler with amazing hair and literally nothing else. He’s just free-floating hair. He looks like Chibi Mongo, has Bobby Heenan’s body and his offense is Irish whips and punches. But that hair … man, his hair is fantastic. Brother had to leave a Pantene commercial to make this match with Disco Inferno.
Like a lot of early Disco matches, the crowd figures out early on that Disco Inferno is dope and way better than his opponent, but he’s a doofus obsessed with maintaining his hairstyle throughout a match so he’s not gonna win. They pop when he hits a swinging neckbreaker on Gomez that for all intents and purposes wins the match, but Disco takes too long dancing around and it costs him. Desperado comes to his senses, counters a lazy pin with a crucifix and wins.
I’m going through my brain trying to remember if I’d repressed some big Desperado Joe Gomez push, but I think this is as good as it gets.
Best: Ric Flair Is Still Obsessed With These Women
Now that Mongo’s in the Four Horsemen, Debra McMichael has joined The Nature Boy’s harem of Trophy Moms. Once again Mene Gene’s like, “hey, you have a match with Macho Man Randy Savage, what’s your deal,” and Flair’s like, “MEAN GENE, LOOK AT THESE FULLY-GROWN ADULT LADIES, THEY’RE HANGING OUT WITH ME, ISN’T BEING OLDER AWESOME, YOU CAN SLEEP WITH SO MANY LADIES, WOO.” I seriously think he only let Mongo on the team so he could have a blonde one.
Best: The Horsemen Are Rolling
One of the worst things about the nWo showing up and becoming the focal point of the wrestling world is how throughly and regularly it nerfed the Four Horsemen. Here, in the quiet before the storm, the Horsemen are reunited and working together as a team again. Arn Anderson and Chris Benoit face the American Males, and they win through a combination of being total bad-asses and light, popular cheating. Arn pops Scotty Riggs in the back of the head with an elbow, Benoit suplexes him gunt-first across the top rope and folds him over for a pin while Arn provides leverage. The best part is that the crowd LOVES it, and in some alternate universe the Horsemen rose up to be the stalwart, pro-WCW side of that battle like they should’ve been and not a bunch of treaded-on losers.
For the record, Arn and Benoit is one of the best tag teams that never really gets remembered as a tag team. They aren’t quite Benoit and Malenko or Arn and Tully, but they’re in the conversation.
Best: The Shark/Bubba Beef Escalates Hilariously
Over the past few weeks, Big Bubba (in his Confederate Railroad sleeveless tees) and former Dungeon of Doom member John Tenta (née Shark) have been feuding over who can haircut the other the worst. Bubba attacked Shark and shaved half of his head, so Shark got his revenge at Great American Bash by scissoring off Bubba’s beard.
On Nitro they have a rematch, which Shark wins with a powerslam. After the match, Bubba HITS SHARK IN THE FACE WITH A SOCK FULL OF SILVER DOLLARS, which is the most hilariously brutal and specific escalation of violence ever. “Oh, you clipped off the tip of my goatee with scissors? I’M GOING TO CRUSH YOUR ORBITAL BONE WITH THIS CHANGE IN MY SHOE.” Next week on Nitro, Shark stabs Bubba in the heart with a bayonet.
Worst: Macho Man Still Thinks That OCD Joke Is Funny
Back on the May 13 episode of Nitro, Macho Man Randy Savage responded to accusations that he needs professional mental help by saying he’d seen a “woman psychiatrist,” and that she’d diagnosed him as OCD: “One Cool Dude.” Making that joke makes you the least cool person in the world, but I’m not a woman or a psychiatrist, so what do I know?
It’s such a good joke that Savage recycles it here, and Mean Gene’s forced to sell it like he wasn’t standing armpit-to-shoulder with the guy when he boned it the first time.
Best: Savage VS. Flair
The good news is that the OCD joke isn’t the only resolution to the Savage/Flair storytline: they have a spectacularly overbooked, super entertaining match to follow it up. You know those wrestling games where you can wrestle with a guy’s entrance attire still on, or like, give him a sparkly robe as part of his gear? That’s how the match starts, with Savage and Flair going at it tooth-and-nail while dressed like the most ridiculous people of all time.
The match is exactly what it should be; namely, Savage beating Flair so badly that Flair’s delirious and his hair’s all matted down. Savage just beats him to shit for like 10 minutes until Flair pulls a foreign object out of his boot and blasts him in the face. That only gets two because REVENGE, and Flair gets into a shoving match with Randy Anderson that ends with Randy bumping to the floor. That frees up ALL THE INTERFERENCE EVER, which starts with Elizabeth, Woman Oh Woman Won’t You Marry Me Now and Debra trying to form a wall of ballgowns around Flair to protect him.
It doesn’t work, and Savage dives right through them. Benoit runs out to help, but Savage cuts him off before he can do anything and piledrives him. Arn shows up, so Savage punches him in the face a bunch and hurls him over the top rope. The final man out is NEGA MONGO, dressed all in black, and he finally puts Savage down with a Hailburton briefcase to the back. Mongo should’ve tried cashing that thing in for a shot against the WCW Champion.
Anyway, Flair pulls out the cheapest-possible victory against Savage to keep that fire burning, Mongo looks like the most important person in the world for a week and the Horsemen, God bless them, look like they can sometimes get things done. Good stuff. Me and Grandpa are happy that Hulk Hogan was trampled on Christmas Eve and couldn’t be here to bury Mongo five seconds into his career.
Best: Glacier Is Coming!
Only three more months of vignettes to go!
Best: Rey Mysterio VS. Dean Malenko All Day Every Day
If you watched the first one, watch the second. It’s not quite as good, but it’s great, and Dean Malenko countering flips by clotheslining peoples’ souls out of their bodies is the greatest. Mike Tenay’s not here this time and Eric Bischoff’s temporarily dead from powerbombing, so Tony Schiavone ignores most of what happens to talk about the Great American Bash. Meanwhile, the best wrestling.
The best part of Mysterio showing up is how immediately it upped the high-flying game. Before this you had guys like Pillman or Eddie Guerrero doing dives to the outside, but they were just dives. Guys would do moonsaults, Scott Steiner would do a jumping hurricanrana catching guys off the ropes, but it was very grounded in reality. Over on Raw, Marc Mero’s doing the worst somersault planchas in recorded history and people are like OH WOW, WOW. Then boom, Rey Mysterio shows up and halfway through his first match on Nitro throws a springboard hurricanrana TO THE FLOOR. The finish is Malenko countering a casadora into a sick reverse DDT.
Sometimes it’s hard to remember how I felt when this was first happening, and put it into words. Mysterio was such a f*cking exclamation point for pro wrestling. It was a guy taking what was working outside of boring American wrestling TV and getting to do it there, no bullsh*t, no dumbing it down for broader audiences. Nowadays WWE takes a guy like Kalisto and teaches him how to work a WWE match, and that’s how he makes it. Here, you’ve got the 1996 equivalent of a Kalisto showing up and saying “nope, I am going to do all the lucha sh*t in the world to me and your job is to catch me and throw me at the ground.” It took the clunky, organic feel of Konnan’s early WCW matches and gave it expression. Turned it into art. It took a bunch of kids at home raised on southern wrestling and said THIS IS WHAT WRESTLING COULD BE. It was everything to me.
I’m happy they wrestle a billion more times, and that I get to write about most of them.
Worst: Stop Trying To Use Wooden Chairs, Guys
In WCW, wooden chairs were this weird prop code they were convinced no one had picked up on. If you attacked a guy with a steel chair, that was fine. If you attacked him with a WOODEN chair, it wasn’t going to do anything. Meng would get a push every few years as this unstoppable force, and guys would break out the wooden chairs and smash them over Meng’s head. Meng would wear them like necklaces. In this week’s main event, Scott Steiner smashes a wooden chair over Giant’s back and it shatters, and guess what? Giant totally no-sells it and chokeslams him. Why use a wooden chair? Like, if you’re a wrestler and you go under the ring and the wooden one’s there, maybe look more until you find a metal one? The arena’s full of them. You aren’t filling an arena with wooden chairs. Walk 10 feet to the left and grab one that won’t break like styrofoam and leave you standing there with your dick in your hand.
Best: THE HOSTILE TAKEOVER Is On
The actual main event of the show is Mean Gene announcing the WCW stars who’ll team up to face THE OUTSIDE INTERLOPERS at Bash at the Beach: Lex Luger, Macho Man Randy Savage and Sting. The third man on the opposing team is still a mystery, but I’m pretty sure it’s gonna be VK Wallstreet. He was basically the best nWo guy.