The Best And Worst Of WCW Starrcade 1997

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Previously on the Best and Worst of WCW Monday Nitro: The forever blossoming turd that was nWo Monday Nitro. Plus, I realize I have written up every single episode of Nitro between when it debuted and Starrcade ’97. Crazy.

Click here to watch this pay-per-view on WWE Network if you haven’t seen it, bless your heart. You can catch up with all the previous episodes of WCW Monday Nitro on the Best and Worst of Nitro tag page. Follow along with the competition here.

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And now, the Best and Worst of WCW Starrcade, originally aired on December 28, 1997. Sorry, everyone, this will be the opposite of that Starrcade 2017 piece from Friday.

Best: Before We Wallow In 20 Years Of Sadness, The Two Good Things From The Show

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I’m sure we’ll devote 60,000 words to me primal screaming into a pillow about the main event, so let’s start with the two (2) good things that happened at Starrcade ’97.

In first place with a commanding lead is, “Eddie Guerrero and Dean Malenko had a very good but not especially exciting or otherwise memorable cruiserweight match build around limb work.” You don’t hear a lot about this one as a “great match,” and a lot of online reviews describe it as “disappointing” or “underwhelming,” but I very much disagree. For modern fans who maybe didn’t have a perspective on 1997 WCW, Guerrero vs. Malenko at Starrcade is a lot like that Undisputed Era vs. Authors of Pain match from NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia. It’s a fundamentally necessary type of wrestling match performed by people who are very good at their jobs built on linking the early work — the “feeling out process” that usually ends up being ignored for an unrelated spamming of signature moves — with the finish. The kind of match that makes jerks like me grumpy about how almost nearly all other matches work.

Here, Guerrero manages to injure Malenko’s left knee. That’s important because he needs it (1) for that big gutbuster off the ropes, which is his biggest move, (2) for stability in the Texas Cloverleaf, his finish, and (3) for most of the remainder of his moveset, from the powerbombs to the jumping leg lariat. Eddie’s ruthlessly heel here, opportunistically clipping the knee whenever he can and going back to it when he’s in trouble. Malenko looks like a tough mudder because he keeps trying to work through the pain, and early “adrenaline” rushes that allow him to do moves like he’s fresh progressively get weaker and weaker as the match goes on. That sets up the finish, which once again illustrates that Eddie Guerrero was a beautiful scientist:

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Guerrero finishes that combo with a frog splash (to the knee), and that’s enough to (mostly fairly) put Malenko away. If this was crammed into the middle of better show it’d go from “very good for people with attention spans” to “great,” but as is, it’s sort of the Trojan Horse tricking wrestling fans into thinking Starrcade’s gonna be good, and not full of badly booked soldiers who are going to break out under the cover of night and figuratively stab us to death.

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The other positive from the [checks notes] three hours of pay-per-view intended to be [incredulously checks notes again] WCW’s WrestleMania? Seriously? Is that Diamond Dallas Page finally defeated Curt Hennig for the United States Championship. Why is this a positive? Because unbelievably this is the only time when a babyface actually wins on the entire show. Faces “win” the two matches after it, but not really, which we’ll get to.

Late ’90s WCW gets better when you realize it was a Where’s Waldo? that gave you three hours to find the one thing you were looking for.

Mind-Boggling Worst: The First Few Rows Of Fans Are Just Wrestlers

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No, this isn’t the worst Christian rock album cover you’ve ever seen, WCW just spent a year and a half getting fans hype for Hollywood Hogan vs. Sting at Starrcade only to comp the first three rows of tickets for wrestlers who aren’t booked to hang out and watch the show, and pushed the actual fans all the way to the back. Like, imagine if you couldn’t get floor seats to WrestleMania this year because Curt Hawkins is gonna sit there.

But yeah, no, seriously, there are a few random fans in the front rows — probably friends and family — best the rest of the Free Real Estate is wrestlers. I bet Greg Valentine, Chris Adams and Ultimo Dragon had a thrilling conversation during the show. Eric Bischoff’s got a semi main-event match against a color commentator but Rey Mysterio and members of Harlem Heat are stuck on the aisle. They didn’t even get the GOOD comped seats. I think my favorite part is when they cut to Rey and Glacier’s next to him smiling from ear to ear, then realizes he’s on camera and does a serious face.

Worst: Macho Man And Scott Hall Aren’t Booked, But They’re All Over The Show

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See how weird that is?

Two matches on the show don’t happen as advertised. I mean, MOST of them don’t happen “as advertised,” but I’m talking the actual card. The first of these is The Steiner Brothers and Ray Traylor vs. Konnan, Vincent and Scott Norton. This one’s easy to book. The Steiners are your Tag Team Champions but they’ve looked like idiots for a hot collection of hundreds of minutes, and Ray Traylor announced he was going to kick the nWo’s asses one by one and followed through by getting beaten down 10-to-1 for like an entire month. They’re up against an nWo team without any of the big names on it, on a show that DESPERATELY needs WCW to pick up some wins, so you put Traylor and the Steiners over the nWo B-team, right?

No, you have an unbooked, unannounced Randy Savage show up to take Konnan’s spot, don’t explain it, and then have Savage murk and pin Scott Steiner. From the Observer immediately after this:

“The company wanted Randy Savage to fill the spot, and in negotiations to get him to fill the spot literally a few hours before the show was going on the air, had to agree to change the originally planned finish of The Steiners & Ray Traylor going over. To get Savage to agree, the finish was changed to where Savage got to score the pin using the elbow off the top on Scott Steiner. This left Scott Steiner visibly livid to the point he had major words with booker Terry Taylor and they tried to alleviate him by letting him do so many big moves at the end for saves before doing the job, although he still wasn’t happy at all.”

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Another easy-to-book match is Lex Luger vs. Buff Bagwell. For the past month-plus on Nitro you’ve been having Bagwell steal unfair victories over Luger via run-ins, count-outs and disqualifications. Bagwell claims Luger can’t beat him and that he earned all of those wins, so the big payoff at Starrcade is like six minutes, boom, metal forearm to the face, flappy bird arms taunt to get the crowd hype, Torture Rack. Maybe a couple of also-ran nWo types get on the apron and get punched down first. Maybe the ref throws out whoever accompanies Bagwell to ringside and Luger takes advantage while Buff’s upset. Right? Any of that?

“No,” says WCW. “You have them wrestle for 17 goddamn minutes, leading to the ref getting bumped, Macho Man Randy Savage returning to attack Luger, Scott Norton also returning to punch Lex in the face with Rick Steiner’s dog collar (?) and Buff stealing an unfair victory. So you build to Buff cheating to beat Luger with a month of Buff cheating to beat Luger. This is Ricochet/Ospreay if you replace the backflips and Irish whips with chinlocks and standing around.

So That’s Two Finishes For Randy Savage, What About Hall?

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That brings us to the second match that doesn’t happen as advertised: the “Battle of the Giants” between Kevin Nash and … uh, the Giant. Kinda like the Yankees taking on the Mets in the Battle of the Yankees. Nash just isn’t there.

Depending on who you believe, the story is either that (a) Nash found out he was supposed to lose and came up with a reason why he was too sick to wrestle … see also him suddenly being wheelchair-bound the last time he was supposed to fight The Giant, or that (b) Nash had a legitimate health scare and was in a hospital in Phoenix during Starrcade thinking he was dying from a heart attack. Or I guess (c) Kevin Nash is Fred Sanford.

From Bischoff’s book:

“At the time of Starrcade, Kevin was getting to the age where his father had passed away, and I think in his own mind, he was afraid he might follow in his footsteps. So from time to time, when he had a little heartburn or a funny feeling in his chest, he would overreact. That Saturday when I arrived in Washington for the PPV, I got a call that Kevin was in a hospital in Phoenix and undergoing tests for a heart attack. Because of some of the stunts that Kevin and Scott had played in the past, my first reaction was that it was Kevin’s way of not having to show up for work. But I picked up the phone and eventually found out that Kevin truly was in the hospital undergoing tests. As angry and disappointed as I was, it was a legitimate scare.”

The end result, no matter what happened, is that the Battle of the Giants becomes a promo and ends with The Giant beating up Scott Hall. Not having a match, mind you, just beating him up to cheers. Makes you wonder why they didn’t just book The Giant vs. Scott Hall, since Hall was there, all over the show, not booked, and the number one contender. Amazingly, this is one of two “why didn’t you just book a Scott Hall match” observations on the night.

Guess we might as well get to the other one.

Worst: Quick, Someone Come Up With A Finish

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You know, looking back, it’s easy to blame the semi-retired color commentator and the non-wrestling front office guy for the semi-main at Starrcade: a semi-retired color commentator versus a non-wrestling front office guy for CONTROL OF THE COMPANY’S 3-HOUR PRIMETIME TELEVISION SHOW. Sure, Bischoff’s not a wrestler. He doesn’t know how to bump, and how to pull his strikes and still make them look good. And sure, I wouldn’t want to see Larry Zbyszko wrestling at a Starrcade in 1983, much less in 1997, but they aren’t why this is bad. This is bad because WCW had no idea what story they want to tell, tell it badly, delegate talent in the wrong places and completely fuck up the finish.

The story they spent forever setting up is that Bischoff wants total control of Nitro, something he apparently doesn’t have already, and is willing to get in the ring and possibly take an ass kicking to execute a big nWo plan and seize control. Zbyszko is tired of the nWo walking all over him, got into the special guest referee game recently, and decided he wanted to be the guy who kicked Bischoff’s ass. So they do this match, and the two booking possibilities you’d assume are:

  • Larry kicks Bischoff’s ass, saves Nitro
  • the nWo does a big run-in, nobody stops them, nWo gets Nitro

It’s not even a debate, it’s an either-or. Because WCW, they go with a much more difficult plan: spend the entire match having Bret Hart only seem to enforce the rules on Zbyszko, allowing Larry to be constantly distracted so Bischoff can keep karate kicking him in the head to go on offense. For 12 minutes. Like almost any recent episode of Smackdown, they spent way too much time building to a match only to say, “the match doesn’t matter … the people REACTING to the match matter.” It’s all about the special referee, and the people at ringside.

This all builds to the finish, which I think is supposed to be Hall “loading” Bischoff’s karate foot with a metal plate, Bischoff knocking out Larry and winning, and then Hart noticing the cheating, reversing the decision and kicking Bischoff’s ass. That alone is kind of a weird decision after 12 minutes of Hart blatantly turning a blind eye to Bischoff and hindering Larry. It’s a lengthy story about nothing with a twist for the sake of a twist. The Village, basically. To make things worse, the metal actually flies out of Bischoff’s shoe BEFORE he kicks Larry, and Bret’s forced to stand there and watch it fly into the crowd.

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If the original plan was for a Dusty Finish with Bret noticing the cheating and reversing the decision, that plan’s now ruined because the foreign object didn’t actually connect, nobody really did anything to earn a SUPER blatant disqualification, and Bret’s got no “proof” for the post-match ass-kicking. If the original plan was for Bischoff to just cheat and win, THAT was ruined by the fact that he didn’t do it right, and Larry would be losing the match and Nitro to a normal Eric Bischoff half-pulled karate kick. Whatever the plan was, I’m guessing it’s not what actually happened, which is, “Bret Hart stands around not really doing anything while he tries to figure out how to salvage the finish, then just punches Bischoff in the face and gives the match to Larry without any pinfall, submission, disqualification, or official ruling of any kind.”

The crowd finally comes alive when Scott Hall gets pissed and gets in the ring to throw hands with Hart, which presents the question, “how did you have Bret Hart and Scott Hall on the show in non-wrestling roles and book ERIC BISCHOFF VS. LARRY ZBYSZKO AS YOUR SEMI-MAIN, WITH HART AND HALL STANDING AROUND WATCHING IT.” How much better would Scott Hall vs. Bret Hart have been? Hell, make it for Nitro even. At least then you’d be putting the future of the wrestling show in the hands of the wrestlers.

Definite “negative star” territory, and still only the third or fourth worst match on the show.

Worst: The Other Matches

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Chris Benoit vs. Raven becomes, of course, Chris Benoit vs. Perry Saturn. That should be the third good thing on the show, and in any other universe it would be, but they immediately have the rest of the Flock jump the rail and attack Benoit, leading to a 6-on-1 attack. And that’s the match. Benoit just fights off these cronies until Raven hits him with an Evenflow DDT and Saturn “taps out” his unconscious body with the Rings of Saturn. You know things are bad when the Chris Benoit pay-per-view match tells a bad story.

Also, wouldn’t you think Starrcade would be the place to finally do Benoit vs. Raven, if you’ve spent a month building up to it? The more I think about it, the more Starrcade ’97 feels like a show that had a really great original script and then WCW’s equivalent of Vince McMahon stormed in five minutes before air, trashed it and rewrote it off the top of his head. Surprised Savage and Hall didn’t run out here and help the Flock beat up Benoit.

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We also finally get the big … shit, three month blow-off between Steve McMichael and William Scott Goldberg. It’s exactly as bad as you’d think a Mongo match versus a super green Goldberg would be. It’s mostly about building up to a big table spot, with Goldberg wandering around outside the ring like he’s trying to get back in in a video game and can’t figure out the controls.

After some of the worst wrestling you’ve ever seen — at least since last week’s Mongo vs. Meng, where Mongo forgot how to drop elbows — they finally do the table spot. If you’ve never seen it before, prepare to have your breath taken by its thrilling innovation. Goldberg punches Mongo once, and Mongo sells it by going stiff as a board and trying to fall through the table ear-first.

Goldberg wins with a Jackhammer, bringing his record to 8-1-1. 8-0-2 if we’re being generous, which still ain’t a streak.

Worst: Sting Finally Gets His Hands On Hollywood Hogan

Everything that could possibly be said about this citadel of garbage fires has already been said a thousand times, so here’s a thousand-and-one. Sting vs. Hollywood Hogan at Starrcade ’97 is probably the most disappointing important wrestling match of all time, combining the “IS THIS A WORK OR A SHOOT” bullshit of the Montreal Screwjob with characters that aren’t leaving or changing. Combined with a Hulk Hogan match. Combined with my pissing into my own eyes.

As a note of clarification, I consider this the second worst one-on-one, non-gimmicked WCW match of all time, behind Hogan vs. the Ultimate Warrior at Halloween Havoc ’98. I can look back on Survivor Series ’97 and be like [pushes up glasses] let’s look at this objectively and realize how removed we are from the 20 years of impact the event had on the business. With Sting/Hogan, the best I can do is [pushes up glasses] [smashes face into wall] [collapses in pool of own blood] [is still so mad about everything]

So. Argh, fuck, so.

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This is Sting™, the Vigilante® who has spent the past year and a half as the emotional line between the New World Order and WCW. He was betrayed by his friends, worked through some shit, and now realizes he’s the only man with the power, planning skills and bungee cords necessary to defeat the nWo and rid the promotion of them once and for all. He’s had his eye on Hogan for most of this time, and the crowd knows the end game. There are SERIOUSLY only three booking possibilities here:

  • the logical one everyone wants, which is Sting zipping down from the ceiling, murdering Hogan with a bat, Stinger Splashing him and tapping him out to a Scorpion Death Lock — pinning him after a Scorpion Death Drop, whatever — and winning the WCW World Heavyweight Championship in like 30 seconds. Two minutes, tops. Five if you wanna spend three watching Hogan stall
  • some kind of completely unnecessary play on the Montreal Screwjob, because now PPV main events suddenly have to have crazy twists and backstage gossip about them for them to feel important, to set up a real money grab of a second main-event in February
  • Sting isn’t ready, so Hogan beats the shit out of him and pins him clean, negating like two years of good work that made people want to watch the wrestling show

I can’t imagine a single reasonable, rational human being who could watch the past two years of WCW Nitros and pay-per-views and think you do anything but option one. This is your WrestleMania. You’ve been building to this forever. People gave a Hulk Hogan TV movie historic ratings because they wanted to see Sting and Hogan face-to-face in the commercial breaks. You give Sting a cool entrance, have Hogan figuratively craps orange his pants, and then Sting destroys him. It’s the pay-off for EVERYTHING YOU’RE DOING.

Instead, after a great, melodramatic opening video package about Sting’s destiny and a spoken word light show to walk him to the ring, [checks notes] [checks notes again] [desperately flips through pages of notes hoping he’s just misremembered something] Hogan beats the shit out of Sting and pins him clean.

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As you see, Bret Hart shows up at the end there to stop the timekeeper from ringing the bell. As the story goes — and as you’ll see them try to retcon on Nitro the next night — Nick Patrick was supposed to make a fast count there, revealing that he’s nWo for life. That would make rule-baron Bret Hart mad, and Hart would then punch out Patrick, take his spot as referee, and give Sting his proper, fair victory. Instead … that’s a normal count. Nick Patrick made a normal-ass count, and Hogan pinned Sting clean in like 10 minutes in the main event of Starrcade.

So to recap all of this, Bret Hart left the WWF because of what happened to him with a member of the Kliq, shady management and a crooked referee. He then joins the nWo, which is made up almost exclusively of members of the Kliq, shady management types and crooked referees. He agrees to referee a match where the head of the nWo, the group he joined, fights a color commentator for control of WCW’s top show. He spends the entire match helping the nWo, sees Bischoff cheat, stands around for a while deciding what to do, PUNCHES BISCHOFF and gives his opponent the win without actually making that opponent go through the motions of winning. Then in the main event, Hulk Hogan pins Sting clean. Bret shows up and DEMANDS SATISFACTION from another crooked referee because of what he assumes his happening, and what is SUPPOSED to happen, but isn’t actually happening. So Sting wins, but only after he’s lost, and a star from the other company (who has been around for two weeks) cheated a bunch to help him.

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Can we move on to talking about everyone getting into the ring in their street clothes to celebrate, and the hilarious image of Jim Duggan in a tuxedo sitting on the top turnbuckle, waving the American flag? Can we talk about La Parka’s sweet Tommy Hilfiger ensemble? No? We have to keep talking about that finish?

From that Observer:

“A funny thing happened. Patrick didn’t count fast. Why is a bigger mystery than the weird gravitational pull from the alignment of the stars that resulted in Kevin Nash, Royce Gracie and Hunter Hearst Helmsley all coming up injured within days of each other just prior to all having to suffer either symbolic worked or realistic beatings. You can mistime a ref bump. You can blow a move. But how do you blow a fast count? The only reasonable answer to this is Hogan changed the spot in the ring and Patrick didn’t want to cross Hogan because of all the power he wields even though the plan was different. Coming off the Hart-Michaels deal which has been the catalyst for everything in the business since, is Bischoff, Hogan and nobody else, perhaps Sting, decided to do a non fast count when there was supposed to be a fast count an angle (is your head spinning yet), but that doesn’t make sense either because why did they have the announcers sell it as a fast count the next day so hard when it wasn’t and if that was the case the guy who got screwed and made a fool of would have been Hart, who if anything, this company wasn’t trying to portray in that matter after the last company did? Sting did try to kick out but Hogan didn’t sell it by flying off, giving the first assumption some more validity. I’d say coming in the wake of the Hart-Michaels deal that the most likely scenario is that Hogan, who no doubt was negotiating for all he was worth as far as getting whatever he could out of doing the job, apparently was able to manipulate the finish into appearing that he actually won the match cleanly and he was screwed by Hart, which wasn’t the idea the fans were supposed to have.”

Here’s what Nick Patrick told PWInsider. It’s so noncommittal that you can read it outloud in a Donald Trump voice and it works perfectly.

“I believe what had happened was that I got conflicting stories about what they wanted me to do. I had one faction telling me they wanted one thing from me. I had another faction telling me they wanted another thing from me. So I kind of split it down the middle. Now I remember exactly the scenario. So that’s what happened out of that deal.”

Bischoff told his side of the story to Ric Flair on Flair’s podcast a couple of years ago, taking full responsibility for the call, but also blaming it on Sting’s fitness.

“What had happened over the course of a year is he hadn’t been working out. He wasn’t engaged. He’d show up, he’d do his thing, he would do it very well, it was great, he’d get on a plane the next morning, he’d disappear, and we wouldn’t see him for a week. But at the end of our first meeting talking about where things were going, when it was over, Hulk and I both looked at each other and go, ‘man, we can’t go there. He didn’t get ready for this.’ It didn’t feel to us that this was a priority. Hulk Hogan takes the heat for this, ‘you changed the finish – you didn’t want to do it’, B.S. That was my call. Right or wrong, it was my call.”

Sting’s only reaction to the match has been between “uh, heh, uh, huh, I don’t really remember what happened” and “I’m not sure what happened but it didn’t hurt my character,” which might as well be followed with 10 minutes on how great it is to get millions of dollars to work 12 minutes a year. So, as Sting says, it is what it is.

It is this:


It was the moment that showed all the casual fans who’d started doing Nitro parties and being nice to their dorkier friends about wrestling that pro wrestling fandom isn’t about having fun … it’s about sifting through mountains and mountains of inexplicable rock and dirt to find that precious diamond underneath, because it’s the most beautiful gem you’ve ever seen, and that’s the only way to get it.

And then Hulk Hogan buys the land you’re on, rides a Hulk Hogan motorcycle right up to you and takes a shit in your pan.

Next Week:

  • WCW goes with “fast count,” and everyone else is like [side-eye]
  • they give us a free Hogan vs. Sting match on Nitro as an apology, and then don’t actually give us a finish
  • the guy who won the best match at Starrcade gets squashed and loses his title in under 90 seconds
  • Chris Jericho turns heel, which is probably the best thing that ever happened to the show

♫ and it’s all downhill from here ♫

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