Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The History of NWA/WCW Starrcade, part 6 (1998-2000)

We've reached the end of the line for WCW, and its flagship show.  Tread carefully, as the next three editions are full of turds.....

Sigh....here we go.....

Starrcade '98 - MCI Center - 12.27.98
And I thought Starrcade '97 was bad.  Jeezus, that was a magnum opus compared to this disorganized mess.  1998 was the year WCW really started collapsing under its own weight.  The top stars had so much control over their characters that nothing involving them made any sense, and when one homegrown star somehow managed to surge in popularity certain egos went out of their way to cut out his legs (Hmm, that sounds familiar).  We were at the height of the nWo Wolfpac run, which involved the heel nWo faction feuding with the vaguely babyface nWo "red & black" team comprised of Kevin Nash, Lex Luger, Randy Savage, Konnan, and the formerly huge babyface star Sting (How badly was Sting's mystique damaged by his association with this stupid group?).  So let's examine this shitshow....

Things started out okay with a double Cruiserweight Title match.  First it was Billy Kidman vs. Rey Mysterio vs. Juventud Guerrera in a crazy fun opening match.  Kidman and Mysterio attempted to stay allied but that was short-lived.  Guerrera had recently joined Eddy's LWO (Yet another nWo offshoot - Christ) so he was a cocky heel here.  Lots of high-risk moves and innovative pin attempts.  All three guys did a great job of selling exhaustion by the end to make the Cruiserweight offense mean something.  Eddy got involved toward the finish but his interference backfired and Kidman retained.  Once again the Cruiserweights got more time than any other match, which is pretty shocking.

The Cruisers continued to be the one bright spot in WCW.

They followed up this match by having Eddy challenge Kidman to a bonus Title match, and Kidman accepted (What a dumb move).  This was a decent followup match but it lacked a proper first act since Kidman was selling the effects of the previous bout.  Rey and Juvi each tried to help their guy.  Eventually both guys got crotched on the top rope thanks to their respective enemies, Eddy fell to the mat, and Kidman hit the shooting star press to retain.  This was a solid pair of Cruiserweight matches to kick off the show.

The next four bouts really had no business on the biggest show of the year.  Norman Smiley vs. Prince Iaukea was a pretty nice display of fluid European wrestling, and Smiley's silly dance bit was fairly over.  But the crowd didn't care about the match itself and there was nothing at stake.  I guess this was just a Smiley showcase, but it went longer than it should have given its role on the card.  This got more time than the main event for God's sake!

What followed was a bevy of throwaway free TV matches.  Perry Saturn vs. Ernest Miller was heavy on comedy and not much to look at.  I'm not sure who thought Miller was a good in-ring talent.  Brian Adams and Scott Norton vs. Fit Finlay and Jerry Flynn was dull and instantly forgettable.  Chris Jericho vs. Konnan for the TV Title never got out of first gear except for a couple of decent high spots.  Jericho already looked fed up and ready to leave WCW, and I was never all that impressed with Konnan.  Oddly WWE overdubbed Jericho's WWF entrance theme here.

Ric Flair vs. Eric Bischoff was reasonably entertaining and certainly an improvement over Bischoff's 1997 match.  Flair mostly beat the tar out of Eric except for a brief stretch in the middle which of course included a Flair blade job.  Flair had the match won with the Figure Four until Curt Hennig handed Bischoff a set of knux.  This wasn't a good match but sadly it's one of the highlights of this calamity of a show.  Also, in what universe is a Bischoff win good booking here?

Diamond Dallas Page vs. The Giant was almost a carbon copy of Luger vs. Giant from SC'96, except Paul Wight was a hundred pounds heavier and not at all motivated this time (I believe this was Wight's final WCW PPV).  This was pretty excruciating to sit through.  Just full of plodding offense and miscues, including a twisting DDT spot the guys messed up on the first try and immediately went for again.  DDP at one point had Giant covered and actually placed Giant's hand under his own chest for a power kickout.  Bret Hart unsuccessfully attempted to help The Giant but it backfired when DDP ducked a chair shot.  Why in God's name would they not have booked DDP vs. Bret for this show??  Ya know, since Bret was the US Champion?

Now for the half-assed main event.  Amazingly Goldberg's music for this show on the WWE Network is the original WCW version.  I swear they overdubbed it for Starrcade '97.  This match reminded me of Goldberg-Rock in 2003 where almost nothing happened in 13 minutes.  There was a lot of posturing and not much actual wrestling.  Things started to pick up near the end when Goldie hit all his big moves (minus the spear/jackhammer), and then everything got ruined by multiple run-ins, followed by Scott Hall's infamous cattle prod spot.  All this nonsense allowed Nash to hit the powerbomb for the win, the WCW Title, and the end of Goldberg's streak.  To be fair, the crowd went apeshit for Nash's win, which shocked me.  That stupid Wolfpac faction was way over I guess.  But long-term this was horrid booking.  Goldberg was the company's biggest homegrown draw by far - the only guy they had as hot as Steve Austin - and they unceremoniously cut short his streak and Title run, damaging him irreparably.  Like Sting the year before, Goldberg's aura was never the same after this, and the company insanely never gave him another WCW Title run.  Once again egos got in the way of good business.

Of all the people to end Goldberg's streak.  Christ....

The following week of course was the Fingerpoke of Doom episode of Nitro, during which Tony Shiavone spoiled Mick Foley's WWF Title win, leading to about 400,000 viewers switching over to RAW.  Nitro would never beat RAW again.  Watching Starrcade '98, I wonder if the announcers could sense that the company was going off the rails.  After the Halloween Havoc overrun fiasco there must've been some sense of an impending fall.  Sure it took two more years for the company to die, but WCW was really beginning to come apart at the seams.  Like SC'97 this show illustrated how badly mismanaged WCW was, except by the end of 1998 they were losing in the ratings more often than not.  There's almost nothing on this show worth going out of your way to see.

Best Match: Billy Kidman vs. Rey Mysterio vs. Juventud Guerrera
Worst Match: Brian Adams & Scott Norton vs. Fit Finlay & Jerry Flynn - What was this doing on a Starrcade show??
What I'd Change: Christ, where was half the locker room?  No Sting, no Luger, no Savage, no Bret, no Booker T, no Scott Steiner.  The roster on this show was bizarrely thin.  Other than that, the main event of this show should've been Hogan dropping the Title to Goldberg after months of building to that.  Goldie's Title run was a sloppy mess.
Most Disappointing Match: Goldberg vs. Kevin Nash
Most Pleasant Surprise: I guess that Flair vs. Bischoff wasn't totally unwatchable
Overall Rating: 2.5/10

Starrcade '99 - MCI Center - 12.19.99
By late 1999 the wheels were fully off the WCW wagon, and the company decided to steal away the WWF's two head writers, Vince Russo and Ed Ferrara, in the hopes that their supposed magic could save WCW.  The problem was of course that without Vince McMahon and others as filters for Russo's wacky Crash TV style, there was no magic.  Instead Russo and Ferrara made a bad product even worse, and it was reflected in this parody of a flagship PPV.  Abbreviated matches, gratuitous run-ins, nonsensical finishes, it was all plainly on display at Starrcade '99, one of the worst PPVs I've ever had to endure.

It should be noted this was the third consecutive Starrcade held at the MCI Center, and their attendance dropped from 17,500 in 1997 to 16,000 in 1998 to 8600 in 1999 (to 6600 in 2000).  Yeesh.

The Mamalukes faced Disco Inferno & Lash Leroux in a watchable tag match to open the show.  Vito and Johnny the Bull had pretty crisp offense, but their mob gimmick was pretty goofy.  This was inoffensive, which is more than I can say for basically the rest of the show.

The next ten matches were assorted piles of puke, starting with Madusa vs. Evan Karagias for the Cruiserweight Title.  This was in the era when intergender matches were fairly common, and watching them now is pretty uncomfortable.  Madusa won in 3:30 after Evan's valet Spice turned on him.

Next was the Hardcore Title match between Norman Smiley and Meng.  Late '99 WCW involved numerous attempts by Vince Russo to out-WWF the WWF, and the newly formed Hardcore division was one of those.  Sadly WCW's HC division consisted almost entirely of comedy matches.  This was mildly amusing but ultimately pointless.  Smiley retained after Fit Finlay and Brian Knobbs knocked Meng out with a lead pipe.

One good match out of thirteen.  What are the odds?

Shane Douglas's Revolution stable was next, against Jim Duggan and three mystery partners, who turned out to be the reformed Varsity Club.  Yes, in 1999 WCW trotted out a midcard stable from a decade earlier.  This match was wretched (as was Shane's over-the-top commentary) and ended with the Varsity Club turning on Duggan, allowing the injured Douglas to get the pin.  However the VC continued beating up members of Revolution all the same.  Ok then....

More bad comedy followed as Vampiro took on Steve Williams, with Oklahoma (you remember, Ed Ferrara doing a tasteless one-joke Jim Ross impression) locked in a cage.  If Vampiro won, he'd get five minutes with Okie.  Williams got himself disqualified after five minutes of brawling, leading to a three-minute Vampiro-Oklahoma match that was apparently No DQ?  They oddly gave Okie a lot of offense in this match (Oh wait, Ferrara was one of the bookers, of course), until The Misfits (yes, the punk band) got involved.  This was crap.

And so was our next match, Curt Hennig and Creative Control (Don & Ron Harris) vs. Booker T and Midnight.  This was supposed to be a six-man tag but Booker and Stevie Ray were about to start feuding, so Stevie mostly sat this one out.  The match was shite regardless.  Also it was sad how far out of their way WCW went to take cheapshots at the WWF during this period.  The Harris brothers were renamed Patrick and Gerald, and the former Virgil went from being called Vincent to Shane.  Methinks Russo should've spent more time trying to make WCW watchable and less time making fun of his former company, who at this point was kicking WCW's ass on a weekly basis.

Jeff Jarrett wrestled the first of two matches against Dustin Rhodes in a Bunkhouse Stampede (read: Hardcore Match) that saw Curt Hennig interfere repeatedly.  Since Jarrett was billed as "The Chosen One," ordained by the as-yet-unseen authority figure as WCW's next big star, the announcers mentioned "The Powers That Be" (Vince Russo's unofficial name) about 700 times during this bout.  Jeezus H. Christ.  Oh, also the announcers kept talking about Dustin going by his real name instead of using the Seven "gimmick."  Hey dickheads, we know wrestling's fake, but you're not supposed to actually present it as a work.  If the announcers and the wrestlers all acknowledge on-air that it's fake, why are they all fighting each other?  This amounted to eleven laborious minutes of forgettable, generic brawling.

Still it was a masterpiece compared to the DDP vs. David Flair Crowbar on a Pole Match (Russo apparently loved anything hanging from a pole, because this era was full of dumb crap like this).  Flair whacked Page with the crowbar before the bell to at least give himself a chance, but DDP wrapped this one up in just under four minutes.

Somehow WCW even managed to botch a Sting vs. Lex Luger match on this show.  Luger had been officially and inexplicably renamed The Total Package even though everyone already knew him as Lex Luger (That'd be like Triple H being rebranded The Cerebral Assassin).  The whole point of this match was that Elizabeth had dumped Luger and joined Sting, but tried to screw Sting over anyway.  Sting caught her and ordered her out of the ring, but instead she cracked him with a baseball bat to draw a DQ at 5:31.  Luger then beat the tar out of him and left.  Absolute crap-o-rama.

Things kept going from bad to worse, as WCW rekindled one of the worst-drawing feuds in WWF history, Kevin Nash vs. Sid Vicious.  Their Powerbomb match featured seven minutes of poor wrestling which ended after the ref got bumped (thereby missing Sid's powerbomb on Nash), after which Jeff Jarrett ran down and broke a cardboardy guitar over Sid's head, after which Nash woke the referee and simply told him he'd powerbombed Sid.  The ref took Nash's word for it and called for the bell.  What is going on??

In spite of WCW's best efforts a decent match broke out in the semi-main slot, as Jeff Jarrett answered Chris Benoit's US Title Open Challenge (Scott Hall was the scheduled opponent but was out with an injury).  While this was a tad repetitive, Benoit and Jarrett made the most of their allotted ten minutes and delivered a solid free-TV quality Ladder Match.  Benoit won after a diving headbutt off the ladder.  The announcers called this a Match of the Year candidate, which made me laugh.

The main event pitted WCW Champion Bret Hart against frenemy Goldberg.  Sigh.....Watching this match again actually hurt my brain with how preposterous it was.  I'm beginning to think Vince Russo actually hated the pro wrestling industry and did everything in his power to kill it.  This match went okay for about three minutes and then there was a ref bump on the outside.  Then a few minutes later there was another ref bump on the secondary official.  Then a third official ran in, and he got bumped a few minutes after that.  Finally the scheduled guest referee Roddy Piper sauntered to the ring, watched Bret apply the Sharpshooter, and instantaneously called for the bell, recreating the Montreal Screwjob (because that finish is so goddamn satisfying).  Both Bret and Goldie sold outrage as Piper took the WCW Title and walked out of the ring with it.  Yup, the referee prematurely called a submission and then attempted to steal the Championship, apparently.  Bret followed Piper to the entranceway and Piper reluctantly handed him the strap.  Then the show ended.  I wish I could've sat in on the booking meeting for this show.  God for-fucking-bid we just have a wrestling match on a wrestling PPV.  Fuckin' hell....

The kick that killed a career
Essentially Starrcade '99 was like the height of Russo Era-WWF except a thousand times worse.  Nothing made sense, in the most violently stupid way possible.  As I recall, the following night the WCW Title was held up and they gave away the Starrcade main event as a rematch on free TV, Bret won with the help of Hall & Nash, and those three along with Jeff Jarrett (him again) formed nWo 2000.  But thanks to an overly stiff kick by Goldberg at Starrcade, Bret suffered a severe concussion and had to forfeit the Title two weeks later.  And the new nWo disbanded.  Oh, and the US Champ Benoit quit the company at the end of January.  So Starrcade '99 had no consequences at all except in ending one of the greatest careers in the history of the business.  Jeezus this show was an ordeal to sit through.

Best Match: Chris Benoit vs. Jeff Jarrett
Worst Match:  Take your pick.  I'll go with the Revolution-Team Duggan debacle
What I'd Change: Slip some eyedrops into Vince Russo's coffee so he'd be on the bathroom floor all night in a fetal position and someone with an iota of competence could book this show.  Also, where was Eddy Guerrero?
Most Disappointing Match: Bret Hart vs. Goldberg
Most Pleasant Surprise: Ya got me...
Overall Rating: 1/10

Starrcade 2000 - MCI Center - 12.17.00
2000 would be the last full calendar year in WCW's existence, and watching that year's Starrcade now is like watching anything from TNA.  The tagline should've been "It's just a matter of 'when.'"  The roster was much more youthful than in most years of the Bischoff era, but sadly the young talent never had the chance to catch on, thanks to the company's total lack of effort in building them up in the first place.  By late 2000 it was clear WCW was not long for this world, and the years of bad decisions had doomed the promotion.

Considering it was their biggest show of the year (and they were featured on the poster) I'm not sure why Sting and Booker T were omitted from the show, or why Jindrak & O'Haire, the company's best tag team, didn't get a match.

The announce team consisted of Tony Schiavone, Scott Hudson, and the intolerable Mark Madden.  How anyone thought swapping Bobby Heenan for Madden was a sound move is beyond me.  Madden ranks right below Don West on the Annoying Commentator Scale, and he's a verrrrry close second.

The opener here was WCW's attempt to recreate the magic of the WWF's TLC matches, except that three teams were competing for a shot at the singles Cruiserweight Title (held by Chavo Guerrero).  That meant that even though these guys were teaming up during the match, only one guy could actually win.  Ummm, ok.  The participants were Shane Helms & Shannon Moore vs. The Jung Dragons vs. Jaime Noble & Evan Karagias.  Aside from some repeated sloppy spots early on this was a fun watch.  Obviously nowhere near the level of the Dudleyz/Hardyz/E&C matches, but still entertaining.  Shane Helms and Shannon Moore defied the rules and pulled the contract down simultaneously.  I'm not sure how that played out but I know Helms got a match against Guerrero the following month at Sin.

I know TLC.  I've watched TLC.  This match is no TLC.

Next up was Lance Storm vs. Ernest Miller.  This actually featured some decent mat wrestling until the outside-the-ring tomfoolery took over, with Major Gunns, Elix Skipper, Ms. Jones, and even Jim Duggan getting involved.  Had they resisted the urge to make this yet another Russo-esque clusterfuck this would've been pretty good.  I will say it's sad WWE couldn't ever figure out what to do with Lance Storm, given that the cosmically inept WCW team actually used him well.

Crowbar next defended the Hardcore Title against Terry Funk, in a match that began in the backstage area and eventually worked its way to the ring.  This featured some fairly alright hardcore action until Funk handcuffed Crowbar and went to town on him with a chair, in an obvious callback to the Rock-Mankind I Quit match.  Only problem was Crowbar's hands were cuffed in front of him, so he could've blocked the chair shots at any time.  Dolts.  Eventually Funk piledrove Crowbar on a car door (not sure what that was doing there) for the win.  Aside from the logic-defying handcuffs bit this was perfectly watchable.

Fourth was Kronik vs. Big Vito and Reno, and the story involved something about Vito's sister Marie allegedly paying Kronik to beat up her brother, which she denied.  Adams & Clark actually looked pretty motivated here, in contrast to their horrifyingly bad WWF match against Taker & Kane.  Unfortunately the insipid booking got in the way, and Reno turned against Vito, hitting his neckbreaker finisher on him.  Kronik then forced the referee to make the count despite Reno pinning his own partner.  Turned out everyone except Vito and Marie were in cahoots with Mike Sanders' Natural Born Thrillers stable.  Whatever....

Mike Awesome vs. Bam Bam Bigelow was next in what was apparently the first-ever Ambulance Match.  I didn't realize that was a WCW creation.  The brawling here was pretty generic, and this show overall was a little disturbing in terms of how badly WCW was attempting to emulate the WWF Attitude style.  The finish was idiotic - both guys were on top of the ambulance and Awesome bashed Bigelow with the flashing lights, causing Bam Bam to fall THROUGH the roof of the vehicle.  I'm not expert on emergency vehicles but I'm pretty sure those roofs are designed to withstand a 350-pound guy gently falling on them.

Speaking of generic, a totally phoned-in US Title match broke out between General Rection (Hugh G. Rection - get it?) and Shane Douglas.  Douglas got DQd when Rection ally Chavo Guerrero seemed to betray Rection by throwing Douglas a chain, which he had dropped, but then Chavo alerted the referee to the chain, drawing the disqualification.  Wait, I thought Chavo was a heel going into this show.  Jeezus, this stuff is confusing.

A mildly entertaining garbage match was next - Jeff Jarrett and the Harris Twins vs. Rey Mysterio, Billy Kidman and Konnan.  Oddly they started out using all kinds of weapons (with the announcers throwing out insider terms like "props" and "gimmicks," and calling a big move a "spot."  Fuck off, jerks.), and once all those were broken the match settled into a traditional six-man.  Very strange.  On a better show this would've been considered pretty bad, but on a late-2000 WCW PPV this was a highlight.

The WCW Tag Titles were on the line in the eighth slot, as Chuck Palumbo and Shawn Stasiak defended against Kevin Nash and Diamond Dallas Page.  DDP did his best to pull a decent match out of the other three but could only do so much.  This would've been a lot stronger had Jindrak & O'Haire been the Champs.

This could've been good if either guy cared.

In what should've been a pretty engaging Battle of the Bulls semi-main, Goldberg and Lex Luger just sorta went through the motions for about seven minutes.  Goldberg dominated a rather puffy-looking Luger until Luger rammed him into the ring post.  Almost immediately after Luger took over, "The Sarge" from the WCW Power Plant (whom Luger had attacked earlier that night) walked down to ringside with Buff Bagwell trying to talk him down.  I'm not sure why WCW felt the need to have a run-in or the threat of a run-in during literally every match.  Bagwell "accidentally" hit Goldie with the Blockbuster for a near-fall in a spot that looked totally mistimed, but Goldie eventually came back anyway to win.  Then Bagwell attacked him with a chair.  So I guess Bagwell's earlier interference wasn't accidental.  Why the ruse then?

'Twas a sad state of affairs that the final match of this once-great PPV series pitted the immobile WCW Champion Scott Steiner vs. the equally immobile Sid Vicious.  Picture the Royal Rumble 2003 Triple H-Steiner match.  Remember how bad that was?  Now take away Triple H's natural ability and mind for putting together wrestling matches, add more pointless run-ins and ref bumps, and you have this.  Ten minutes of some of the most ponderously dull offense you'll ever see.  How far the Starrcade brand had fallen; we went from Flair vs. Race to Steiner vs. Sid.  Yeesh.  Steiner eventually got the win with the Steiner Recliner (One of the worst finishers of all time - how do you screw up a Camel Clutch?) when Sid passed out.

What an embarrassing finisher.  And main event.

And thus ended the original series of wrestling supercards.  The Starrcade brand went out with a whimper, on the back of a quickly-sinking ship.  While this wasn't train-wreck bad like Starrcade '99, it was far from a good show.  The product was still a jumbled, overbooked mess, Mark Madden's constant yelling was grating beyond belief, and anyone on the roster over the age of 35 clearly just didn't care anymore.  It's actually depressing to watch the end of WCW now, like looking at a crippled old animal just begging to be put down.  This show and the pre-Turner Starrcades seem like they took place on different planets.  So strange.  And sad.

Best Match: 3 Count vs. Jung Dragons vs. Noble/Karagias
Worst Match: General Rection vs. Shane Douglas
What I'd Change: I certainly wouldn't have put Steiner or Sid in any main events.  I would've used Jindrak and O'Haire, and Sting, and Booker T.
Most Disappointing Match: Goldberg vs. Lex Luger
Most Pleasant Surprise: Crowbar vs. Terry Funk
Overall Rating: 3/10

And there's the history of Starrcade in a nutshell.  Before I go though, my list of Top Ten Starrcade events, followed by my Top 20 Starrcade matches of all time.

Top Ten Starrcades

10. 1986
9. 1993
8. 1995
7. 1996
6. 1985
5. 1992
4. 1989
3. 1983
2. 1987
1. 1988

Top 20 Starrcade Matches

20. Koloffs vs. Rock n' Roll Express - SC85
19. Road Warriors vs. Steiners - SC89
18. Eddy Guerrero vs. Dean Malenko - SC97
17. Nikita Koloff vs. Terry Taylor - SC87
16. Barry Windham vs. Bam Bam Bigelow - SC88
15. Ric Flair vs. Nikita Koloff - SC86
14. Rey Mysterio vs. Jushin Thunder Liger - SC96
13. Eddy Guerrero vs. Shinjiro Otani - SC95
12. Vader vs. Ric Flair - SC93
11. Sting vs. Great Muta - SC89
10. Roddy Piper vs. Greg Valentine - SC83
9. Tully Blanchard vs. Magnum T.A. - SC85
8. Ricky Steamboat/Shane Douglas vs. Barry Windham/Brian Pillman - SC92
7. Ric Flair vs. Sting - SC89
6. Midnight Express vs. Original Midnight Express - SC88
5. Ric Flair vs. Lex Luger - SC88
4. Harley Race vs. Ric Flair - SC83
3. Anderson/Blanchard vs. Road Warriors - SC87
2. Ron Garvin vs. Ric Flair - SC87
1. Sting vs. Vader - SC92

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Part 5

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