Previously on the Best and Worst of WCW Monday Nitro: We finally got to the on-fire grenade factory of Starrcade ’97. I considered ending the series there, because shit, what is there even left to say?
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And now, the Best and Worst of WCW Monday Nitro for December 29, 1997, the final Nitro of the year.
Worst: We Hope You Didn’t Pay Like 50+ Dollars For Starrcade
At the risk of writing another 4,000 words about how angry I’ve been for 20 years, here’s what you missed at Starrcade: Nick Patrick was supposed to count a fast three on Sting because he’s nWo for life, and Bret Hart was supposed to show up to right the wrongs of manipulative refereeing in pro wrestling. Instead, for reasons that only God and a handful of people truly know, Patrick was told not to do the fast count, so he counted out Sting normally. So … Sting lost clean to Hulk Hogan’s leg drop after like a year and a half of build because politics, and Bret showed up to right a wrong that didn’t actually happen. Observed in a vacuum, Hogan beat Sting fair and square, and this turncoat from another company who joined the nWo only to betray them over referee shenanigans commits referee shenanigans and helps Sting cheat to win. It’s absolute logistical insanity.
The plan on Nitro is to just say the match ended like it was supposed to. Everyone seems to be in agreement that the very normal count was a “fast count,” and every time they show a replay (which is many) it starts with Bret preventing the timekeeper from ringing the bell.
Here’s where everyone stands on that:
- Hollywood Hogan is doing a notably shitty thing by “heeling” on the finish. It was supposed to be a fast count, so as a heel, he’s supposed to say it wasn’t. Only he’s the one that made it the way it was, which was not fast, so now he’s correctly pointing out how he was screwed by WCW and we have to boo him because apparently we’re in the Hypercube from Cube 2 and multiple dimensions are intersecting
- Bret Hart is very proud of what he did, and declares that he’s WCW for life, which is also a lie (more on that later)
- James J. Dillon is beside himself with joy, and gleefully announces that the referee’s decision is final, Sting is the WCW World Heavyweight Champion, and we’re moving forward with that. Which, you know, again makes Hogan kinda seem like the good guy in the scenario
- Sting is willing to put the title on the line again Right Here Tonight™ to prove that he won the match he 100% did not win, even kind of
- Tony Schiavone’s “greatest in the history of our sport” is broken, as he attempts the most declarations of that in a single episode. Starrcade was “without a doubt” the greatest night in the history of our sport, except tonight’s rematch, which is also the greatest night in the history of our sport
So yeah, that sets up the main event of Sting defending Big Gold against Big Orange in the match WCW literally just made you wait a year and a half and charged you fifty bucks to see. If you don’t remember what happened there, it’s probably because WCW attempted to top the finish of Starrcade by giving the rematch no finish whatsoever. Not even a controversial finish. NO FINISH.
The match starts after the show’s supposed to be off the air, so the announce team has to promise us they’ll stick with it as long as they can. If you know anything about World Championship Wrestling, you know that they have as much TV time as they want unless something exciting’s happening, then they have to go immediately. Here, we get about five minutes of Hogan vs. Sting II, with Sting not getting in a lick of offense, not a single move, until like two minutes in. Normally lethargic, stall-obsessed Hogan’s out here going after Sting like he’s Goldberg going after Jerry Flynn. Sting eventually decides to start no-selling and fires up long enough to get knocked out again and do that “fall head-first into your opponent’s crotch” comedy spot. In THIS MATCH. IN THE OVERRUN.
Here’s the “finish,” which I can’t improve upon with jokes. Sting stomps on Hogan’s hands, because suddenly he’s trying to get over in World of Sport or something, and hits a Stinger Splash. He goes for a second splash, but referee Randy Anderson gets sandwiched between them and is bumped. As this is happening, Tony Schiavone chimes in with FANS WE’RE OUTTA TIME, WE’RE OUTTA TIME, WE GOTTA GO. Fade to black.
Why no finish, you might ask? Because WCW Thunder has its first episode on January 8, and they thought it’d be a good idea to save a big Nitro “exclusive” for then to double-dip the ratings.
If you don’t want to wait a week and a half like I did back in the day — and assuming they don’t put Thunder episodes on the Network in time for me to recap them alongside Nitro — here’s what happened. Sting hit that second Stinger Splash and locked in the Deathlock, but the ref was down. That brought out Nick Patrick, who called for the break on the submission for some reason. This distracts Sting long enough for Hogan to donkey punch him in the back of the head and knock him out again, and then Hogan pins Sting again. He has a handful of tights, but Patrick once again counts like normal.
Patrick calls for the bell and gives the championship belt to Hogan, so Sting just attacks them both and the match continues. Hogan starts acting scared and calling for nWo help for some reason, as though he has not proven he can completely dominate and pin this dude, and Sting wins again. So … the same finish as Starrcade, minus Bret Hart, with a little more punching of Nick Patrick. Oh, and after the match, Eric Bischoff attacks James J. Dillon and Sting drops Bischoff, triggering a big WCW vs. nWo brawl. It’s like you’re watching Now That’s What I Call WCW, volume 1997.
Sorry if that ruined Thunder from 20 years ago for anybody.
Best: Hippies Love Bret Hart
But not as much as these women, who are sobbing at the sight of him. I wish I loved anything as much as those ladies love Bret Hart. Note: the Best here is just for those hippies, who might be my friends from high school, I have to check.
During Hart’s entrance, the announce team talks amongst themselves about how maybe they jumped the gun by saying he’d joined the nWo, when he hadn’t really. It was the lesson they never learned about Sting, but to their credit, Sting didn’t preface his undying love of WCW by hanging out with the nWo for a few weeks and riding around in their hot tub limo.
Bret declares the nWo to be the worst thing an old fashioned wrestler can call someone — scum — and says they suck. He didn’t want to help Hogan, and he would never do something to others like he had done to him in the WWF. Which of course explains why in about a year he’s helping Hogan win back the World Heavyweight Championship and joining the nWo anyway. I think Bret’s around in WCW for like two years before he says anything worth mentioning.
Best: Old Man Flair
You know how Ric Flair is a hip-hop style icon who spent most of the ’80s bragging about how he’s “custom made?” Well hey, here he is in a jacket that doesn’t fit, putting on his READING GLASSES so he can hold up a rectangle of newspaper and read a quote about how Dave Meltzer said he’s the best wrestler ever. That’s the Flair/Hart feud. Flair being a million years old and taking offense to a catchphrase Bret’s been using for the better part of a decade. Imagine if on some random episode of Raw, Heath Slater put on reading glasses and held up a piece of newspaper to be like, “HAY FINN BALOR, BRANDON STROUD OF UPROXX SAYS HE’D RATHER WATCH ME WRESTLE THAN YOU WRESTLE, SO DEAL WITH IT, PAL.” And then they feuded over it.
It must be so weird to see your name mentioned on Nitro.
Best: Booker T Is The New Television Champion
WCW ends their latest experiment in “what if the Disco Inferno was a real wrestler” by having him drop the Television Championship to newly minted singles star Booker T. It’s a good move and a good start to Booker’s official singles career, which would take him all the way to the WCW and WWE World Heavyweight Championships, but to most of the crowd it’s still “Disco Inferno vs. member of Harlem Heat.” That creates dead silence from the opening bell until the end of the three-count. It doesn’t help much that the announcers are furiously masturbating to the idea of Hollywood Hogan vs. Sting and barely care about the other three hours.
Worst: Ultimo Dragon Is The New Cruiserweight Champion
Remember the wars Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio Jr. had over the Cruiserweight Championship at Halloween Havoc (in one of the greatest matches ever) and World War 3? Remember his long-simmering feud with Dean Malenko, and that wonderfully worked match they had at Starrcade?
On this Nitro, out of nowhere, Ultimo Dragon beats Guerrero’s ass in a minute-26 to become Cruiserweight Champion. This is one of four Cruiserweight Championship title changes from Starrcade to the next pay-per-view, Souled Out. You know what they say: if it ain’t broke, fix it four times.
Fun note: Everything AFTER Souled Out until the end of summer is the best the cruiserweight division ever is, so maybe they were just trying on a bunch of shoes to see which pair fits.
Everything Else The Announce Team Doesn’t Care About For Three Hours
While it’s not the most memorable match they’d have, this week features the first Goldberg vs. Glacier match, which are of course sentimental favorites of mine. William Scott Goldberg always had a weird, clumsy martial arts vibe to him with the rolling knee bars and concussion kicks and shit, so Glacier going HAM karate on him was a good choice. This version goes as you’d expect, with Glacier smartly striking first, Goldberg throwing him at the fucking ground and then spear wham Jackhammer. If you wanna watch it, spend a couple of minutes doing so here.
Chris Benoit’s feud with the Flock continues this week with a match against Raven Grunge Rock Van Hammer. Hammer’s one of those guys who’s like seven feet tall and 350 pounds and made of solid muscle who doesn’t seem like he could win an actual fight if his life depended on it. I’d make a joke about please Hammer, don’t hurt ’em, but I don’t think he could.
Anyway, the Flock jumps Benoit again, and this time, finally, Steve ‘Mongo’ McMichael jogs out and fights them off to make the save. Mongo throws up the Horsemen “four” and the crowd loses their minds, because no matter how much you piss all over the Four Horsemen’s legacy, there’s nothing wrestling fans from 1985 until at least 2000 like as much as holding up four fingers. That shit was the Too Sweet of its day. In a better reality, one where we actually escape the Hypercube, there’s a faction of American guys in suits and Porsche sunglasses in New Japan right now getting cease and desist letters from WCW about holding their hands like that.
Note: the Horsemen don’t actually get back together until September, after so much off-screen bullshit.
Lex, bro, what’s wrong with your face?
On this episode, Lex Luger faces Buff Bagwell. Finally, a fresh match-up! If you count Starrcade and WCW Saturday Night, this is the SIXTH Luger vs. Bagwell match of the month, with four of the six happening on Nitro. Again, we hope you didn’t pay fifty bucks for Starrcade, because Luger squashes Buff and submits him to the Torture Rack in like three minutes. This is after the Bagwell WIN at Starrcade that I guess was supposed to elevate him? You’d think the three-minute comeuppance squash would be how you’d book the pay-per-view match, since it’s intended to be the payoff for the month of story and you’ve already seen them fight four times, but yes, no, 16 minutes of chinlocks and a dog collar-centric fuck finish was the way to go.
Diamond Dallas Page defends his newly-won United States Championship against Mortis, because WCW apparently uses the Smackdown Top 10 to decide who challenges for titles. Page sneaks out of the old version of the Flatliner and hits a Diamond Cutter to retain, and it’s really only notable because of what a wonderful partnership and/or blood feud these two would eventually share when Mortis is in his next life.
I’m honestly surprised they didn’t bring out Ernest Miller and Wrath to lose to the Steiners in five seconds to put over how much WCW cares about the Blood Runs Cold dues right now.
Best: Chris Jericho Dies So That Chris Jericho May Live
Okay, so we’re saving the most important thing for last this week.
Somewhere near the end of the show, Curt Hennig faces Chris Jericho. It’s one of those normal “established, ex-WWF guys murks a young WCW guy” squashes that Hennig wins with a Perfect Plex, but the finish was almost a disaster. Jericho’s supposed to go for a Lionsault, Hennig gets his knees up, and that’s that. Instead, Jericho doesn’t actually get over on the Lionsault and goes flying backwards neck-first at the ground. Watch this GIF of the move, and imagine how different everything would’ve played out if Hennig hadn’t gotten up his knees:
Holy shit. I haven’t seen a life saved like that since Forrest Gump carried Lieutenant Dan out of the jungle in Vietnam. Between this and the Gedo spot at Halloween Havoc, Jericho’s having very bad luck with his neck.
So the match ends and Hennig walks to the back taunting DDP, and you assume that’s that. Instead, the camera cuts back to Chris Jericho, who is throwing the ring announcer on the ground and freaking the hell out smashing a chair against the ring post. Jericho is sick of losing, and he’s had enough.
Jericho would apologize for the tantrum, but that leads somewhere even better, and from humble beginnings we have the long awaited, glorious Chris Jericho heel turn. What this guy accomplishes in 1998 completely changed how I watched pro wrestling, as for the first time I “got” an unlikable bad guy and noticed how good he was at being bad at things. I still consider Conspiracy Victim Chris Jericho to be one of the single greatest wrestling characters in history, alongside both Nation of Domination The Rock and bald Hollywood leather vest guitar The Rock. And probably Braun Strowman, if he keeps flipping pools or whatever.
I am so excited to relive WCW Chris Jericho in HD, if only for the screenshots of his hair.
Thunder! But before that we get another episode of Nitro featuring (1) Tony Schiavone trying to point out Nick Patrick’s fast count with still-frame photos, (2) the WCW debut of Rick Martel, which I’m hoping I enjoy a lot more as a grownup, and (3) Ric Flair and Bret Hart arguing over something besides what Meltzer thinks.
We’re on the road to Souled Out, and if you aren’t excited about that, you need to go back and read about 1997.
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