Tuesday, December 19, 2023

The History of NWA/WCW Starrcade (1997)

Starrcade '97, the night WCW effectively handed the WWF the Monday Night War....

Starrcade '97 - MCI Center - 12.28.97

Starrcade '97 was the night WCW killed all their momentum.  They'd been dominating the ratings for well over a year with arguably the hottest angle of all time coupled with a miles-deep roster, and had just taken away yet another top WWF star.  This time it was Vince's franchise player, Bret Hart.  To be fair, Vince helped broker the deal, citing the inability to pay Bret the amount he'd agreed to.  But with all those factors, plus the loooooong-awaited in-ring return of Sting (who'd adopted a Crow-inspired gimmick and hadn't wrestled a match in over a year), Starrcade '97 should've been WCW's WrestleMania III.  It should've been the PPV that launched WCW into the mainstream stratosphere, solidifying them as wrestling's number-one brand, and been the big payoff to the nWo storyline: the returning WCW hero conquers the villainous invaders and restores balance to the besieged company.  But nope, Hulk Hogan and his ego got in the way.  Again.

The two masters Eddy Guerrero and Dean Malenko kicked things off for the Cruiserweight Title.  These guys couldn't possibly have a bad match, so this was a fine opening contest.  While it wasn't at the level of their ECW classic series, it still got 15 minutes and had strong action, plus had the role reversal with Eddie as the heel and Malenko as the no-nonsense babyface.  Good stuff so far.

Eddy vs. Dean was always a fine showing.

Not-so-good stuff followed it, as The Steiners & Ray Traylor faced Randy Savage, Scott Norton & Vincent.  How odd to see Savage and Elizabeth on the heel side and Dibase managing the babyfaces.  This wasn't much of a six-man.  Scott Steiner had some good moves as usual but he was already an over-muscled, bloated oaf by this point.  I'm not sure why he felt the compulsion to get so big.  The action here was mostly clumsy, with everyone well past their prime.  Jeezus Elizabeth looked amazing in the 90s.  Savage's top-rope elbow however did not.
Bill Goldberg made his PPV debut next against Steve McMichael, in a pretty awful six-minute brawl.  I believe this was also Goldberg's first non-squash, and the less-than-accomplished McMichael was probably not the guy to guide him through a real match.  At this point the fun in watching Goldberg was seeing the spear-jackhammer combo, and both of those moves were ineptly executed here.  There was also the most gratuitous of table spots, as Mongo got knocked off the ring apron through the table Goldie had set up.  And after about four seconds of selling Mongo took over on offense again.  Not a good PPV debut for the future WCW Champion.

The other two future Radicalz, Chris Benoit and Perry Saturn, had a fun little chaos match, as Raven's Flock repeatedly attempted to interfere only for Benoit to keep them at bay.  Benoit and Saturn worked pretty well together and kept this from being total nonsense.  In the end the numbers game was too much, and Benoit walked into Raven's Evenflow DDT, followed by the Rings of Saturn.

Next up Lex Luger vs. Buff Bagwell had an unbelievably boring match.  Neither guy did much of anything and of course the finish involved multiple nWo run-ins before Bagwell took the duke.  How this got 16 minutes is beyond me.  Your basic late-90s nWo drivel.

The last good match of the night was third from the end: Curt Hennig vs. Diamond Dallas Page.  This was a fun little US Title match.  Both guys could obviously work, and DDP was pretty underappreciated as an in-ring guy I think.  He was pretty consistently one of the few bright spots during this era.  Nothing mindblowing but this was a solid match.

For the semi-main event they actually booked Larry Zbyszko vs. Eric Bischoff.  Oh good, the retired wrestler vs. the non-wrestler for control of Nitro.  Bret Hart made his WCW PPV debut as the special referee of this farce.  The early minutes consisted of Bischoff stalling before Larry took over on offense.  To tease Bret being part of the nWo they had him blatantly break up Larry's legal holds while ignoring Bischoff's repeated strikes in the corner.  Late in the match Scott Hall slipped a piece of metal under one of Bischoff's kickpads (nevermind that in that position such an object would hurt Bischoff, not Larry).  After Bischoff kicked Larry with the loaded pad, Bret revealed his true allegiance by punching out Bischoff and hooking Hall in the Sharpshooter.  Larry choked Bischoff with his own belt, and Bret declared Larry the winner.  No pin, no submission, the match was just over.  Who booked this shit?

Some bad news I'm afraid: We're about to lose the Monday Night War.

The main event was apparently "the biggest match in the history of our sport," Hulk Hogan vs. Sting.  For all the hype surrounding it, this was yet another run-of-the-mill Hogan match with lots of punch/kick offense for about twelve minutes, before Hogan hit the big boot/legdrop and Nick Patrick counted to three.  Not a fast-count like they had planned, but a normal three-count.  Hogan won clean.  Bret showed up out of nowhere and declared a restart, despite only having been a licensed official for the previous match, and Sting won with the Scorpion Deathlock.  So let's recap: Hulk Hogan used his clout backstage to get Nick Patrick to "forget" to fast-count the pin, thus making Sting look weak and Bret look stupid (Bret's apparently the worst referee ever based on his two appearances on this show).  What a dreadful main event.

So Sting's big homecoming moment was ruined, the Title was held up, and Sting finally won it two months later at SuperBrawl.  But by then it was too late, the bloom was off the rose.  Sting got lost in the shuffle of WCW heroes and eventually joined the nWo Wolfpack, while Bill Goldberg emerged as the new face of WCW.

The WWF may not have won a ratings battle until about four months after this show, but make no mistake, Starrcade '97 was the real turning point of the Monday Night War.  The booking on this show was so nonsensical and made the conquering heroes look so bad that fan enthusiasm dwindled at an alarming pace.  And it was all to please one guy's out-of-control ego.  This overall war was WCW's to lose, and lose it they would, starting here.

Best Match: Eddy Guerrero vs. Dean Malenko
Worst Match: Larry Zbyzsko vs. Eric Bischoff
What I'd Change: Christ Eric, get control of your top stars.  The move was having Sting go over squeaky clean.  There should've been no screwy finish of any kind.  Also, Luger-Bagwell had no business getting more time than any other match.
Most Disappointing Match: Hogan vs. Sting obviously
Most Pleasant Surprise: Nothin' much
Overall Rating: 3/10

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