Previously on the Best and Worst of WCW Monday Nitro: Santa Claus arrived to give suplexes to Ernest Miller, Mark McGwire showed up to burn a St. Louis Cardinals jersey hat to support nWo Hollywood, and Kevin Nash showed up to wander around at ringside and book himself to win the World Heavyweight Championship.
Click here to watch the pay-per-view on WWE Network. You can catch up with all the previous episodes of WCW Monday Nitro on the Best and Worst of Nitro tag page and all the episodes of Thunder on the Best and Worst of Thunder. Follow along with the competition here.
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And now, the Best and Worst of WCW Starrcade, originally aired on December 27, 1998.
Best: The Best Night Of Billy Kidman’s Life
Aside from dating Torrie WIlson, I guess.
Let me officially welcome you to STAR ARCADE 1998, the rare World Championship Wrestling show that starts with a bunch of awesome cruiserweight wrestling and ends in a disappointing main event that lies somewhere between a bad creative decision and a mad power grab. And by “rare World Championship Wrestling show” I of course mean, “the only kind of show they ever do.”
If you went into Starrcade ’98 worried it would be as brutally disappointing as Starrcade ’97, the opening two matches might’ve convinced you to let your guard down. That’s how they get you. The opening bout is a triple threat for the Cruiserweight Championship pitting the champion, a no-longer itching Bill Kidman, against Latino World Order loyalist Juventud Guerrera and Latino World Order hostage Rey Mysterio Jr. It rules, still stands up 20 years later, and confirms that tonight’s going to be the best night of wrestling Kidman ever has. He is on FIRE at this show, and they give him acres of land to burn.
There’s a great triple threat dynamic at work here, as Kidman and Mysterio both want to beat the shit out of Guerrera for being a turncoat little weasel, but they’re pro wrestling babyfaces and it’s every man for themselves, so they can’t stop hitting each other, either. This gives Juvy several chances to capitalize, and by the end you aren’t sure who’s going to come out on top, and how ANYONE would be able to. They keep all three men in the ring for most of it, too, as opposed to the WWE style triple threat that would become so ubiquitous in the next century, and only really go to the floor to set up big dives. Juventud does a springboard plancha where he almost loses his balance but still recover enough on a wobbly top rope to launch himself like 15 feet in the air, Mysterio hits an Asai moonsault from the top rope that even looks impressive in Starrcade’s weird scrapbook picture-in-picture, and Kidman gets from the top turnbuckle to the floor with his wonky Shooting Star Press without smashing his knees into the ring apron and blowing out both quads. Miracles all around. There’s also a really exceptionally done springboard hurricanrana from Juvy to the middle of the ring to take Rey off Kidman’s shoulders that I’d never seen before at that point, which stuck with me for years.
The finish is clever, too. Eddie Guerrero shows up at ringside at the end to try to help Juvy win, so when Kidman counters Juvy’s sunset flip and stacks him up for a pin, Guerrero slides in behind the ref’s back and clotheslines Kidman to reverse it. Eddie thinks he’s pulled a fast one and turns his back to gloat to the crowd, so Rey hustles into the ring, dropkicks Juventud to reverse the pin BACK, and Kidman gets the three. Kidman retains, the lWo is foiled, and Mysterio put the failure of the group that’s been dogging him over his own successes. Really, really good work all around.
The best part? It’s not even over.
Guerrero’s upset about his plan going awry and starts dumping on Rey and Juvy, calling them “morons” who can’t even beat a “sissy” and a “pretty boy” like Kidman. He starts talking about how HE would whoop Kidman’s ass if he had the chance, so Kidman shows back up and calls his bluff. At first Eddie’s like, “uh, I’m not ready, I haven’t mentally prepared,” but Kidman starts making fun of him for being afraid, and the match is on.
After defeating his top two challengers in the division in a high-flying, show-opening banger that went almost 15 minutes, Billy Kidman starts having a second, even better singles match with Eddie Guerrero that goes over 10. Like I said, it’s the best wrestling night of his life. Unlike the opener, this is built around Kidman fighting through exhaustion against a fresh but unprepared opponent while (as Larry Zbyszko would put it) a HUMAN GAME OF CHESS happens outside the ring. The first match ended with Mysterio one-upping Juventud and Eddie’s underhanded plans, so he and Juvy stay at ringside and continually try to one-up each other to help their guy win. The finish plays on this theme. When it looks like Kidman’s going to hit the Shooting Star Press and win, Spyder (the lWo “bodyguard”) shows up to distract the referee, allowing Juvy to crotch Kidman on the top turnbuckle. Eddie recovers and climbs up the corner for a superplex, but as the referee’s sending Spyder to the back, Rey interferes and trips up Eddie, crotching him on the top rope. Eddie falls back into the ring, and Kidman hits the SSP (with that big uncontrollable knee coming way too close to Eddie’s face) to win.
It’s not like Kidman didn’t have some of the best dance partners in the history of wrestling in there with him, but it’s DEEPLY impressive that he could not only wrestle two lengthy, high quality matches in a row, but wrestle two very different kinds of high quality matches back-to-back. There were a lot of moving parts as well, but they all made sense, and they all hit their cues. It just worked. If only the rest of Starrcade worked as hard as these guys.
Narrator: They did not.
MIDCARD OF THE DAMNED
I was going to compliment WCW for giving the opening two matches a combined 25 minutes, but then I realized the third match, Norman Smiley vs. Prince Iaukea, got 11. Read that again. Norman Smiley vs. Prince Iaukea got 11 minutes on pay-per-view, even though they’d just wrestled twice on Nitro and Norman had easily won both. Fan interest goes from 100% to zero, the announcers talk about anything they can to avoid talking about the match, and the wrestling feels like it’s happening in slow motion with no hit detection because one of the wrestlers is Prince Iaukea. I will spend the rest of my life trying to figure out how that guy had a five-year career where he won two Cruiserweight Championships and the TV title. Was literally no one else on Earth available?
In case you’re wondering, yes, Norman wins this one too, going up 3-0 in what I guess is supposed to be a series. The only entertaining things in 11 minutes are Tony Schiavone being constantly reminded that it’s not “Norman Smiley,” it’s “norMON smiLAY,” and how aggressive norMON sack attacks the air when he wins:
The United States and Tag Team Champions don’t wrestle at WCW’s biggest show of the year, but apparently we’ve got time for Brian Adams and Scott Norton vs. Fit Finlay and Jerry Flynn. Imagine tuning into WrestleMania this year and finding out the Intercontinental Champion and both sets of tag champs were left off the card, but they’ve got 10 minutes in the middle to run a competitive Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson vs. No Way Jose and Mojo Rawley match that had no build and wasn’t ever announced.
Brother, you have never heard a hot tag less hot than the one Jerry Flynn gets in this match. It belongs in a museum. Finlay gets beaten down for like five straight minutes and FINALLY tags out, and by the sound of it you’d think he was still in a chinlock. It’d be funny if you hadn’t paid 60 dollars to see it. Norton wins with a powerbomb on Flynn, obviously, and for some reason it takes him 8:56 to do it.
The closest thing to a watchable match for an entire hour of Starrcade, at least for me, was Perry Saturn vs. Ernest ‘The Cat’ Miller, probably due to my rampant Cat fandom. It’s still not good by any stretch of the imagination, but it at least seems to know what it is? Does that make sense? Like, they know Cat’s not a strong wrestler, the finish is built around goofy bottom-tier manager interference, and nobody cares, so they keep it light and work in some comedy spots like this Ernest Miller sneak attack:
Sonny Onoo (dressed like Colonel Mustard) gets into the ring at the end and tries to give Saturn a big running jump kick, but there’s a malfunction at the junction and he accidentally kicks The Cat instead. Cat is like, “motherfu-,” and boots Sonny in the sternum, allowing Saturn to swoop in, scoop the Cat up for a Death Valley Driver, and drive him to Death Valley for the win. Your mileage may vary.
There’s also a Television Championship match between Konnan vs. Chris Jericho that’s good if you like watching the most talented and underutilized young star on the show get the shit beaten out of him because he’s leaving in a few months. Bonus points if you like to see said shit-beating done by a wrestler who was Orange Cassidy lazy, but not on purpose.
Okay, we’re finally out of that midcard. It’s smooth sailing from here, folks, I can’t imagine anything would seem bad after-
Worst: Eric Bischoff Pins Ric Flair
Ric Flair, a 13-time World Heavyweight Champion generally considered to be one of the most beloved wrestlers and best on-screen performers in the history of the business, was suspended from WCW for choosing to go to his 10-year old son’s wrestling tournament instead of appear on a random episode of Thunder. After months of fan outrage and demands Flair be brought back, Flair returned to the company and began a worked-shoot program with Eric Bischoff, the guy who suspended him in the first place. This saw the reformation of the Four Horsemen, a group WCW had meticulously worked to kill by having Flair be repeatedly injured and humiliated in the places he was most popular. The Horsemen were still treated as second-class citizens and barely ever allowed to appear on shows, but they were building to this Flair vs. Bischoff match at Starrcade, and that seemed like the blowoff. This was going to be the turning point, as Flair would finally beat the mess out of the show’s most obnoxious non-wrestler, redeem all those embarrassments and failures from the past few years, and move into the next year with promise and momentum for his career and the careers of the other Horsemen.
And then Bischoff kicks his ass and pins him.
Granted, the match establishes early on and throughout that Bischoff is no straight up, one-on-one match for Flair. But they do so many “oh no, Eric got in a cheap shot,” spots (and give Flair like, zero sense of urgency to win the match) that eventually Flair’s bleeding profusely and this NPC front office executive is karate kicking him to death. Flair manages to come back with a low blow, because that’s what a 13-time World Champion should have to do to beat this guy, and locks Bischoff in the Figure-Four … only for Curt Hennig, the same guy who has routinely emasculated Flair and the Horsemen over the past copule of years, to show up, and give Bischoff a “foreign object.” Bischoff knocks out Flair while in Flair’s signature submission and then pins him, winning the match.
People who didn’t watch WCW think stuff like the Monster Truck Battle and Blood Runs Cold or all the late-era title changes and Vince Russo swerves or whatever were “WCW at its dumbest,” but they’re wrong; WCW was at its dumbest when it reached the logical end point of a popular story and chose to try to keep milking it instead of just ending it, retroactively ruining the entire thing. They did it with Sting when he should’ve just kicked Hogan’s ass and ended the nWo at Starrcade ’97, and they did it again here when they should’ve just had Flair kick Bischoff’s ass and get some of his credibility back. This wasn’t something you need to look back 20 years to see. We all saw it in real-time. But they’ve gotta jerk us around with the same story through SuperBrawl, and through Uncensored, and beyond without ever realizing they fucked out suspension of disbelief and faith in their ability to stick the landing MONTHS ago. I’d take half a dozen Doomsday Cages and KISS Demons over that.
Don’t worry, they do the match they should’ve done at Starrcade a day later on Nitro, because WCW has the depth perception of Mike Wazowski.
… Best, I Guess?: A Giant Diamond Cutter
The Giant vs. Diamond Dallas Page is mostly dull as ditchwater — that special kind of boring you get when most of the match’s offense is an endless bearhug — but the finish is good. Giant tries to chokeslam Page off the top rope, but Page turns it into a Diamond Cutter in mid-air. It’s cool, but again it would’ve been a lot cooler if it hadn’t taken them 13 minutes to get there. I’d say they should’ve added another match or two to the card if they had enough time to give every damn match 15 minutes, but I guess we were already booking Jerry Flynn matches, so maybe it’s good they didn’t.
The match mostly happens to help move the Diamond Dallas Page vs. Bret Hart feud forward, as Bret shows up with a chair to try to help The Giant by accidentally hits him due to junction malfunction. I’d talk more about THIS, but it doesn’t actually go anywhere, and Hart doesn’t wrestle on pay-per-view again until ten months later at Halloween Havoc ’99. Recapping WCW at this point is like watching a grandparent start to go senile. They aren’t bad enough to have to go into the hospital yet, but you’re starting to see the writing on the wall. It’ll somehow actually be less depressing when they’re completely out of their mind.
Worst: Blew Streak
♫ And now, the end is near
And so I face the final curtain. ♫
In our main event, Kevin Nash, the man who either is or isn’t in charge of booking the company depending on who you ask and when, goes over Bill Goldberg for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship, officially ending Goldberg’s undefeated streak. He accomplishes this like any top level babyface might: with a Disco Inferno run-in in the main event of goddamn Starrcade followed by a Bam Bam Bigelow run-in, followed by Scott Hall dressing up as Event Staff (despite still being 6-foot-7 and having Scott Hall’s head and face) to shock Goldberg with a cattle prod. LIKE YOU DO.
As I wrote about in the Flair vs. Bischoff section, I guess we never should’ve expected Goldberg’s streak to end some other way. Honestly, Diamond Dallas Page should’ve beaten him at the end of an awesome one-on-one match at Halloween Havoc. But WCW was reaching the logical end point of a story — Goldberg’s streak couldn’t go on forever, and had to end sometime — so instead of just carrying the ball into the endzone with a satisfying conclusion, they punted on the two, kicked the ball out of the stadium and into the window of a passing car, and drove it to Hulk Hogan’s house.
It felt pretty dumb and insulting in the moment, but oh man, a four-person, shock stick-assisted overbooked-ass WCW main event feels like Savage/Steamboat compared to what comes eight days later. It’s impossible to judge this match or the decisions made in and around it on their own merit, because the followup is so colossally fucking ignorant and self-serving that it doesn’t just change how you feel about Starrcade ’98, it changes you how feel about every WCW show you’ve ever seen. We’ll get to that, though, so enjoy your eight whole days of Kevin Nash as WCW World Heavyweight Champion.
Kevin Nash hasn’t killed WCW yet, but he’s loaded the gun.