Sunday, March 22, 2015

Finish What Ya Started: WCW Starrcade 1996

Hey yo Stud Muffins & Foxy Ladies,

March Madness is upon us and just liked every year there is a method to the Madness. Your main man, Superstar Sleeze, has it all figured out. I specialize in setting myself up in a position to succeed coming out of the first weekend, but I have had trouble closing in the past couple years.

You can have your bracket busters, I going all in on the BRA BUSTERS!

Very similarly, Starrcade 1996 has a very similar feel with almost all the matches starting off well enough, but having a hard time reaching a satisfying climax. The card is one of the most consistent of all time, there is nothing less than good on this show and there is a great deal of variety on this show, which makes it a breezy watch. However, it is bereft of that one standout match that really carries the day and immortalizes the entire card. This is a shame because it is one of the best booked cards of the NWO era.

The New World Order had run roughshod over WCW since July. Hogan won the World Heavyweight Championship in August and beat back his eternal rival Randy Savage in October. The Outsiders won the World Tag Team Championship. Sting has abandoned WCW because of how his own friends and fans doubted his allegiance. The Giant, Syxx and Eric Bischoff have joined the NWO. It seems like they are a runaway freight train, until Starrcade 1996 when we see the first glimmer of a WCW hope spot in this overarching story.

Lex Luger, being positioned as WCW's hero with Flair injured, Savage a loser, and Sting in hiding, is red hot with the fans and looks to challenge the Giant in what was an excellent Clash of the Titans match. Luger's victory cemented him as WCW's last great hope against the NWO and how it went down kept the Sting mystery angle hot and full of intrigue. Finally, it planted the seeds for The Giant face turn. Trading The Giant for Randy Savage was very smart. Giant never really fit with the NWO's theme of WWF invading forces. The Megapowers & Outsiders made for a much better core for the NWO. The Giant as a dominant babyface foil fit him a lot better and could grow under Luger's tutelage.

Not only did Luger take home a victory over The Giant, Roddy Piper scored an upset against Hollywood Hogan. Hogan notorious for not jobbing losing to Piper was a very effective tool in garnering support for WCW from the fans and letting them there was hope. I am not the biggest Piper fan and I don't know if he was the one I would personally select for this role. I do like how they told the story that Hogan had never beaten Piper and that Piper has that special something that will carry the day. I think they should have gone one step further and put the title on Piper to build up NWO Souled Out and have Hogan regain on his "home" turf. Regardless, seeing WCW win at the end of WCW PPV should have happened more often and they got it right here. The match itself was not as good as I remembered, but they cut one helluva pace for them and it was red hot to start. I loved the portion where Piper was whipping him with the belt. They bit off more than they could chew and were blown up by the time they hit the finish.

The undercard was comprised of a very interesting variety of styles. The Outsider and Faces of Fear had a super fun heavyweight bomb throwing fest. It is my pick for the best Outsiders match of all night (not that is saying much). Barbie and Meng throwing Hall around was a sight to behold. Benoit and Jarrett had elements of a heated brawl in them, but they restrained themselves and it was an uneven match. The finish was horrid and the only booking misfire on the night. Jarrett was booked like shit this entire run and people wonder why he did not get over. Benoit/Dungeon of Doom peaked at Great American Bash 1996 and then just kept dragging on and on. Though I did see a decent Benoit/Meng match. DDP/Eddy was disappointing and would have been tremendous just a year later when they were in the roles they were meant to play. DDP was about to turn face so he was not as heelish as usual, which hurt the match. The finish was predictable, but perfect to get DDP over as the blue collar hero against the NWO and Eddy has a ready-made feud with Syxx.

Faces of Fear: Most Underrated WCW Tag Team?

The Crusierweight Division was booked really strong in 1996 with four strong, unique competitors on top. Malenko was the straight man and ground warrior. Ultimo Dragon was the offensive dynamo. Psychosis was the crazy bumper. Rey Rey was the the underdog everyone loved. Dragon/Malenko is a pairing that I just don't like and don't think it has ever produced the classics that others seem to think they have. The matches are good, but tend to infuriate me because Dragon just refuses to sell for Malenko and Malenko refuses to play babyface. Rey Mysterio vs. Jushin Liger is one of the ultimate dream matches of the 90s and kudos to WCW for booking, but it just did not reach the level you expect from two of the greatest of all time.

All in all, I recommend Starrcade 1996 based on the strength of the quality of wrestlers. This is who competed on this night Malenko, Dragon, Liger, Mysterio, DDP, Guerrero, Benoit, Jarrett, Nash, Hall, Meng, Barbarian, Giant, Luger, Hogan and Piper. That is a fucking murder's row of talent. WCW felt like such an all-star promotion featuring the best of Lucha Libre, Puroresu, WCW and WWF in one promotion. The booking is mostly strong (Benoit/Double J the only exception) and all the matches are at least good. There is a strong variety with crusierweights, heavyweight bombfests, clash of the titans, and brawls. Luger vs Giant is my Match of the Night, which may surprise some, but it was a damn good performance from both that had the crowd rocking. When Luger finally got Giant off his feet, it felt like such a huge accomplishment. If one of these matches elevated itself to classic status then this could be considered GOAT PPV. As is, it is one of the most consistent PPVs of all time.

WCW Cruiserweight Champion Dean Malenko vs J-Crown Champion Ultimo Dragon  

These wrestlers sure did a great job reinforcing each other’s worst behavior. It was a like a vicious feedback loop where the problems just got compounded as the match progressed. Malenko gave one of his tone-deaf performances where he was committed to wrestling HIS match rather than the match the fans wanted. Dragon was in full one up-manship mode and totally focused on getting his offense over rather than getting the match over. Together these two presented an incredibly disjointed performance. It was not horrible, just really weird and not the classic that I was expecting.

During the entrances, Malenko was surprisingly over with fans especially given he was playing a heel in October against Rey. Though, I think was more due to Dragon playing the evil foreigner archetype than Malenko tweaking his character. The problem with Malenko’s performance was that he would do a big move to pop the crowd and then immediately grab a hold in such a way to kill the excitement of the fans, who just wanted to see him let loose. Malenko clearly wanted to work a mat-based style in order to set up the exciting finishing stretch. Dragon can go on the mat with best of them. His matches with Liger and Ohtani prove that. However, Dragon did not seem to get the memo in this match. I think Dragon was under the impression that American crowds were dumb and they just wanted highspots. So he set out to deliver highspots rather working with Malenko. Ergo the transitions were non-existent and each segment felt artificial and in vacuum.

At the beginning of the match Malenko hit a back drop driver to a big pop only to slap on a chinlock and then have Dragon take over is a perfect example of bringing the crowd up only to let them down. This was another problem with the match it felt too back and forth with not real strong stretch to build heat. Dragon runs through his offense until another Malenko back drop driver wakes up the crowd. Surprisingly, Malenko is selling better than Dragon. In a weird moment, Mike Tenay, resident cruiserweight expert analyst says that Dragon should really be pronounced Dragone for some stupid reason. Dusty thinks this is hilarious and proceeds to call him Dragone the rest of the match. I love Dusty Rhodes and I don’t care who knows it.

The finish is definitely the best part of this match as they just say “Fuck the rest of the match, LETS FUCKIN GO!” Dragon busts out a powerbomb to kick things off and the reverse tombstone spot with Malenko executing is always a crowd-pleaser and a great false finish. Malenko hits a Tiger Driver for 2, which was a killer false finish with Dragon timing his kick-out for maximum effect. Dragon adds the Asai Moonsault and Malenko busts out the Texas Cloverleaf before Dragon is able to garner the victory with a Tiger Suplex.

The finish was fun in the same way a Michael Bay action movie is fun because it is just a bunch of big moves strung together. The body of the match was basically non-existent and did not factor into the finish at all. This match is a perfect case for the detractors of both men as Malenko delivered a rather tepid performance until the end and Dragon focused more getting himself over at the expense of the match. ***


Rey Mysterio Jr. vs Jushin Thunder Liger - WCW Starrcade 1996

Much like Starrcade 1996 itself as a card, I think this is underrated. I agree it never reaches the levels of OMFG MYSTERIO VS LIGER~!, but it still a great kickass match and better than the overrated Malenko/Dragon bout early on. Mysterio definitely liked working the Savage formula in these matches. He takes a severe beating from Liger. I liked the Malenko match the most because I thought the ground game was a really smart strategy. Dragon's offensive performance is great eye-candy, but seemed too much like an exhibition. Liger splits the difference gives a great high impact beatdown, but does waste a little too much time between moves that kills the urgency of the match. Liger was demolishing Mysterio early and really taking advantage of the size disparity, which Liger must have enjoyed as he usually competed against someone of a similar size of greater. The surfboard spot where he propels into the mat and all the powerbombs looked sick. I really need to watch the WWIII Dragon match back because I thought Mysterio did a better job using the hurricanrana to let us know he was still alive instead of just being a ragdoll for badass moves. Dusty was killing it on commentary. In his own way, I really think he respected these men. I really liked how Tony and Dusty seemed concerned and happy that Liger was able to make a comeback from his brain tumor surgery. I felt that they really appreciated Liger. The Dragon Screw Leg Whip is right up there with his call of a lady in the Men's Bathroom. Honey, that was the Dragon Screw Leg Whip. Oooo I knew that one in reference to a Kappo Kick. Liger telegraphs the Shotei and Mysterio snaps off a hurricanrana. Huge top rope Asai Moonsault! Eat your heart out, Dragon! Mysterio stays right on Liger with a legdrop as Liger looked to re-enter the ring. Mysterio misses the big legdrop and Liger hits a diving headbutt for a two count. Mysterio looks for the coup d'grace a top rope hurricanrana, but Liger hooks the ropes. A kappo kick sets him up for a Ligerbomb and the three count.

The crowd was not into this one at all, which is strange because Rey & Liger on their own were almost always was able to win the crowd over, but it was not clicking for the Nashville crowd. The finish did feel very anti-climatic. I liked the beatdown a lot, but it just did not feel like Mysterio had enough in his arsenal to compete with Liger. I liked the one release German and top rope Asai moonsault, but it never felt like he had Liger in trouble whether it was from quick falls or from a knockout blow. It is a very good match, but it fails to reach the levels of greatness that these two reached with other opponents. ***1/2


Chris Benoit vs Jeff Jarrett - WCW Starrcade 1996

I really portions of this and other times felt really lukewarm. It was just a very uneven match. Before I get into face/heel dynamics, there were times that I thought this would break loose in a nasty Memphis brawl and everytime I thought they were really going to let go, they restrained themselves and it was so frustrating. Jarrett had some great brawls against the Moondogs in Memphis and others I am sure. Benoit definitely does well when he is in a fight! Everybody always says Jarrett is not very likeable, but Benoit was a fucking great prick in this match and I think Jarrett had some really good fired up spots in this. Then they would flip flop back to Jarrett as the unworthy heel and Benoit as the face asskicker. It was just so confusing. I think everybody has been so conditioned into thinking Jarrett is unlikeable that they prefer him as a heel, but in the ring I think he is a better babyface. When Benoit was smacking the back of the head, I was kinda pissed at first. He seemed like such a bully and when Jarrett popped up and hit him with that right I loved it. I enjoyed Jarrett walking on his back and strutting, but damn I wanted a fight. Again, we get the double leg takedowns and the fists, but then it is back to standard pro wrestling. These two had a great brawl in them. I loved the Woman grabbing Jarrett's arm spot and then Benoit decking him in the back of the head. Dusty just nails it "Don't he know you never stop when a pretty lady stops you on the corner. Thats how you get whacked in the back of the head, baby." Benoit hits the chinlock, but is using the ropes. Jarrett fires back up and is looking for the figure-4, but Woman claws him in the face. Then there is a crazy overbooked finish, which sees Konnan & Hugh Morris trying to kidnap Woman, Sullivan blasting a wooden chair over Benoit's head and AA dropping Jarrett with a DDT. Jarrett wins techincally, but everyone looks like shit. Benoit/Sullivan brawl could have happened afterwards. Jarrett kept getting fucked by the booking in these companies; he actually could have been a bigger deal. By the time, he did, he forgot what good wrestling was and was brainwashed by the Evil One (Vince Russo). ***


WCW World Tag Team Champions The Outsiders vs Faces of Fear - WCW Starrcade 1996

I really enjoyed the opening portion of this match, which seems to be a trend on this PPV. The first 3/4 of each match have been really damn good, but the finish is either lukewarm or bad. I thought this was a great fight. Meng and Barbarian just go into full on asskicker mode. I thought they were going to try to position them as a the babyfaces, but with the Nashville crowd being solidly NWO country they wisely made the Outsiders the de facto babyfaces. Meng and Barbarian have never much for selling, but hitting big spots now that's their shit. Meng just absolutely lit up Scott Hall early. I mean he was a steamroller. Nash cornered Barbie at one point only for Barbie to fight back with chops. Nash trying the double noggin knocker only to energize the Faces of Fear was fucking awesome! Faces of Fear double headbutt to Nash. Nash desperately hits Snake Eyes to tag out to Hall, who is detained by Meng and WHAM! KICK OF FEAR TAKES HIS HEAD OFF! Faces of Fear fucking rule! Meng piledrives Hall. Barbie fucking powerbombs Hall. Yes, he powerbombs him. Holy shit! Meng atomic drop and another Kick of Fear. Faces of Fear should have been tag team champions for forever and a day. Nash nails Barbie while he is running the ropes. The Faces of Fear had done something similar and like how both teams are cheating and getting chippy with each other. A long nerve hold is the only thing that kept this match from being great as it was pretty damn boring. Hot tag to Nash, who actually hits a pretty good big boot. Not Barbarian level good, but pretty damn good on the Big Sexy Sliding Scale of Big Boots. Nash hits an ugly but effective powerbomb on Barbabrian to a big pop, the biggest of the night so far. Best Outsiders match I have ever seen. Faces of Fear have had better with Sting & Luger and Guerrero & Malenko, but damn good effort. I love the fighting early to finally get control and the heat segment was awesome. Take out the nerve hold and replace with a longer finish stretch and this would be a great match. ***1/4


Diamond Dallas Page vs Eddy Guerrero - WCW Starrcade 1996 Vacant US Championship

A match just year later between these two would be a dream match for me. As it stands, this was another very good match on a card that literally does not have one bad match. Of course, Starrcade 1996 was missing that one truly transcendent match to rank among the best cards of all time. This match pits white meat Eddy Guerrero against cigar-smoking, scuzzball white trash DDP. Both find more success once they turned, but here they put on a nice little match. DDP tones down the stooging and big bumping early probably because he was anticipating his babyface turn and wanted to present a more serious character. Eddy outwrestles him and when DDP tries to intimidate him with his size, Eddy does not back down with an overhand chop. Eddy hits a nice cross body to the floor to reach the climax of his shine. DDP slips through a ten count punches to drop Eddy face first on the turnbuckle. DDP used that to turn the tide against Sting in 1999. I liked that a nice heel transition spot, good stuff Dallas. DDP works a nice ab stretch attacking the ribs and using the ropes. I definitely prefer the ab stretch to the reverse chinlock, a lot more options at your disposal while you are catching your breath. DDP runs shoulder first into the post. Eddy takes advantage with a brainbuster, which is the prelude to the CRASH AND BURN! Could not land the Frogsplash. DDP thinks it is wise to go upstairs, but his balls meet the top turnbuckle. Hey, one last DDP heel bump is a nice parting gift. Eddie gets a series of nearfalls to avoid the Diamond Cutter, but cant avoid the Spinning Powerbomb, which is DDP's nearfall, before the overbooking. Hall drops him with the Diamond Death Drop (it would have been cool if they brought up that history) because DDP refuses an offer to join the New World Order. This all happens unbeknowst to Eddy who hits the frogsplash for the win. It was a very strong fundamentals performance, but without the color of a usual DDP heel performance it feels tepid. DDP clearly did not want to overshadow Eddy so Eddy was still presented as the face. This all led to a very restrained feel. It is strange this entire card featured a ton of good, but not great wrestling and mostly because nobody wanted to let loose. Another good match, I can't complain about that. ***


Lex Luger vs The Giant - WCW Starrcade 1996

On a night where Benoit, Mysterio, Liger, Malenko, Dragon and Guerrero competed, my match of the night honors goes to The Total Package and The Giant. On a night where all the matches seemed to be plagued by anticlimatic, lukewarm finishes after great starts, this match started hot, stayed hot and finished hot. Luger was at the peak of his popularity during this time and really felt like the lead babyface of WCW. Yes, he was a better wrestler in that hot streak of 88-91, but he was so incredibly over here. The early tests of strength were so well done. Rather than show that Luger would be at a disadvantage they actually let Luger drive him to a standstill and Giant got frustrated. I have never thought of Luger having great worked punches, but he really had Giant reeling with them. Giant was so good really on conveying his frustration and almost shock that his natural size was not carrying the day for him. Giant smokes him with a clothesline out of the corner and punts him to the outside. Giant's work over the back is simply awesome much like a Caribbean Queen. Luger is so good at selling especially verbally as the breath evacuates his lungs he really lets you know. Giant was really smacking leather with those forearms to the back and I am always a mark for Giant stepping on people. The crowd chants for Luger and he goes for the slam and Giant falls on top of him. Awesome hope spot! Luger avoids certain doom when Giant misses a dropkick. Luger fires up with punches and forearms that whips the crowd into a frenzy. Weeble wobble, but The Giant won't fall down. Luger neckbreaker and the crowd EXPLODES~! i would have done the slam spot there since it got overshadowed by the overbooking. Syxx & Nick Patrick save The Giant from getting racked, but Sting drives them off. Sting leaves a bat in the middle of the ring may the best man get it. Giant steps on the bat while Luger just looks up at him. Ruh roh. BALLSHOT! Luger nails him with the bat a couple times and 1-2-3 and a HUGE POP!

I loved this as a Clash of the Titans spectacle. From the opening collar elbow tie up to the Sting run-in, this felt like a megamatch. They built to Luger taking The Giant off his feet so well. This was probably the Giant's best match at this point in his career. Luger looks like a huge star here, which they needed badly. This also sows the seeds for The Giant's babyface turn, which is necessary to keep a strong face/heel ratio. If there was a really strong definitive finish like a torture rack, then I would say this is truly a lost great match, but as is, it is the first among equals on a very damn good night of wrestling. ***3/4


WCW World Champion Hollywood Hogan vs Roddy Piper - WCW Starrcade 1996

Liz looked pissed off all night especially during the Hogan interview before the match. I wonder what was up. Piper's promo was the usual nonsense except the line that it is hard to carry a piano in a parade cracked me up.

Staying with the theme of the night, these two were rocking it early, but got blown up late to finish this with the proper punch. I loved Hogan early shouting at the ref to watch Piper on the break only to paintbrush him. Hogan trying to antagonize  Piper early by cheating and breaking his momentum by powdering was great shit. Piper looked good for the most part as a asskicking babyface taking it to Hogan. I liked Piper clamping on a headlock to inhibit Hogan from escaping, but then Hogan gets a nasty break on the rope and snaps his neck there. I thought Hogan would take over here, but Piper kept it going. Hogan says he has had enough. Then in my favorite part of the match, Piper finally follows him and starts whipping him like a scalded dog. DiBiase trips up Piper and now we get the Hogan heat segment. Hogan is such a good heel at this point and is so much bigger than Piper that a natural sympathy builds. He goes after Piper's bad hip, which does make Piper and Hogan feel old when you taking about hip surgeries. They blow up here, which is too bad because they were cutting a great pace early. There was pretty much no down time at all and I think that cost them here. Hogan misses the leg drop! The Giant senses the problem so here he comes. A fan fucks up the finish. Piper gnaws at The Giant's face. SLEEPER HOLD! PIPER WINS! HUGE POP! But he does not win the belt! Bullshit! I actually think they should have done a quickie title change here and had Hogan win the belt back on his "home" turf of NWO Souled Out. The early portion was great shit with Hogan playing the best damn heel in the world at that point. He was scummy, cowardly and vicious. You wanted to see Piper kick his ass and you really got that during the part where he was whipping him with the belt. They just lost steam going into the finish. I need to rewatch the Luger and DDP matches, but this may be the best Hollywood Hogan match. ***1/4

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