By Martin Dixon (@BunnySuicida)
WCW Monday Nitro, January 15th 1996.
Hello & welcome to another Wrestling in the Clinton years, following the red & yellow brick road of WCW Monday Nitro throughout 1996. The enemies of Hulk Hogan are legion, the Four Horsemen and the Dungeon of Doom are at each others’ throats, each faction crawling over each other for a chance to take down the Hulkster, this week it’s the turn of the Dungeon as Hogan faces the fearsome face of terror Meng as Arn Anderson & Brian Pillman of the Horsemen are due to face dungeon master “Taskmaster” Kevin Sullivan and Hugh Morris (a timely appearance for the infamous Bill DeMott) as the stables look to eliminate the other as Horsemen leader and WCW World heavyweight champion Ric Flair defends his title against Sting. The stage is set for another packed edition of Nitro so without further ado, let the recap begin!
After an almost comedic amount of fireworks & pyro the Nitro 3 man booth of Eric Bischoff, Bobby “the Brain” Heenan and Steve “Mongo” McMichael (joined as always by Pepe the chihuahua, here dressed in an adorable leather jacket) reel off the matches for the show and hype the imminent Clash of the Champions special before it’s quickly time for the first match as Macho Man Randy Savage faces the marble-sculpted physique of “the total package” Lex Luger and his awesome music.
Savage immediately chases Luger from the ring and Lex is understandably wary of facing the wild Macho Man as he paces around the ring. Luger grabs a nearby metal chair and threatens to take it into the ring but the referee interjects and physically halts Luger’s progress. The canny Luger hurls the chair over the ref’s head and into the ring where Savage catches it and attempts to use the international object himself but the ref again is called upon to keep Savage at bay and trying to wrest the chair from Savage’s grasp. Lex uses this distraction to blindside Randy, a punch to the temple sending Savage to the mat. As the referee removes the offending chair from the ring, Luger again uses the distraction to hurl the Macho Man over the top rope and tumbling through the air to the ringside mats. Luger joins Macho outside and introduces Savage’s head into a ring post and the ring steps, his head thudding into the hard metal. The cocky Luger then poses in the ring for the benefit of the people with cameras in the arena.
The wounded Savage, his arm still heavily taped from a prior assault by Luger tries to clamber back into the ring but as he reaches the apron a running knee from Lex sends him crashing back down to the floor. Luger tries to stop Savage from reentering the ring once more but is dragged outside as Randy grabs his foot where Savage returns the favour by ramming Lex’s head into a guardrail and the same steps he hit earlier. Rolling Luger back into the ring Randy expertly climbs the ropes and leaps, dropping Luger with a double axe handle that earns him a near-fall.
From a front facelock, the powerful Luger backs Savage into a corner and begins to wail on his opponent with punches until an elbow off a reversed Irish whip gets Randy another near fall before Luger begs for mercy from an irate Savage. As surprising “Luger” chants ring out a punch to Savage’s eye turns the tide back in the favour of the Total Package from which he again begins to beat Savage down with more punches, kicks and elbow drops. Savage regains control and climbs the ropes to deliver his signature top rope elbow but as he flies Luger rolls out of harm’s way causing Randy to crash and burn on his injured elbow. Seizing the opportunity and to rapturous cheers from the crowd Luger traps Macho in the Torture Rack submission hold. Savage quickly fades and the referee has no choice but to stop the match & award the victory to Lex Luger. Post match Luger again poses for the camera demanding “LOOK AT ME!” as he rants & raves.
This watch was brief but not to its detriment given Luger’s presence. It was a perfectly serviceable television bout before a surprising crowd actively cheering for Luger and booing home state hero Randy Savage. It proves that Luger is super popular back on familiar territory. Overall I was entertained and amazed but I can’t recommend it.
Time now for the Horsemen vs Dungeon of Doom tag match and first Sullivan & Morris make their entrance among billowing green smoke. More & more figures emerge from the mist as it becomes clear that the entire Dungeon is in attendance (except for Meng who is presumably in a back alley attacking hoodlums in preparation for his match later). The Taskmaster & Morris are flanked by The Giant and Zodiac and WCW United States champion The One Man Gang, back in the company and at this point the recent conquerer of New Japan star Kensuke Sasaki. To everyone’s surprise more figures enter, none other than the Four Horsemen themselves! Confusion reigns as the Horsemen join the Dungeon in the ring. As the group enters Sullivan grabs Gene Okerlund to join them in the ring to presumably explain themselves. After chewing out Brian Pillman over his choice of t-shirt and jeans instead of formal dress for this “business meeting”, Arn takes the mic and explains that him & Sullivan have had a meeting of the minds and in an effort to avoid mutually assured destruction between the two factions, the two agreed to put aside their differences in the interests of facing a common enemy in Hulk Hogan. Sullivan takes the mic and tells of his long-held respect for Flair & Anderson but reveals that he has no respect for the “punk” Pillman, calling him “not Horsemen material” before offering Flair the services of the Giant to face Hogan & Savage at Clash of the Champions. A giddy Pillman interrupts Arn as he begins to accept the offer and the Enforcer turns & slaps Pillman across the face and chastises him. It seems that all is not well in this new found alliance.
All of this new kinship of course means that the proposed tag match is off the cards but WCW has a replacement all ready to go as Johnny Grunge & Rocco Rock, collectively known as the Public Enemy, fresh in from ECW and making their Nitro debut, taking on Scotty Riggs and Marcus Bagwell, the notorious American Males (thankfully here on the WWE network with their amazing theme intact).
This match starts quickly and keeps a fast pace as the Public Enemy charge the Males before the bell, but Bagwell & Riggs duck the attack and blast Grunge & Rock with stereo back drops and clotheslines that send them over the top rope (or under it in Grunge’s case as his & Bagwell’s possible miscommunication means the move doesn’t go as smoothly as intended). P.E take a little time to regroup outside the ring and drag the Males to the outside to join them where Bagwell ends up being whipped back first into a guardrail as the Enemy turn their attentions to Riggs as they double-team him in the ring. Bagwell recovers in time to scale the turnbuckle as Riggs ducks a double clothesline by The Enemy, diving onto them and wiping out both heels in one move. A pair of dropkicks clear the ring of Public Enemy as the American Males pose for the crowd who are unappreciative of the handsome duo, hurling boos from the stands. As the Public Enemy reenter the ring an extremely loud “ECW” chant fills the arena which is astonishing at this point in 1996 in Florida where ECW was only really seen on late night irregularly scheduled syndication, tape trading and through the independent wrestling press of the time.
Finally a tag match breaks out as Grunge opts to face Riggs and quickly takes control with a kick to the toned abs of Scotty followed by a series of punches. Riggs soon reverses an Irish whip and nearly snatches victory with a sunset flip and a dropkick that gets a near fall. Rock makes his presence felt as he drives his knee into the small of Riggs’ back after Grunge whips him into the ropes. Grunge attempts to follow-up with a backdrop but Riggs manages to grab a handful of Johnny’s lanky hair and hits a hair assisted modified neckbreaker. A “hot” tag to Bagwell garners no reaction from the crowd as the chiseled Babyface bounces Grunge “like a basketball” with another backdrop before he attacks both members of The Public Enemy with dropkicks and clotheslines. This culminates in a powerslam by Bagwell on Grunge but confusion between Riggs and the referee in a corner of the ring allows Rock opportunity to blast Bagwell across the back of his head with a punch followed by a roll up on the dazed opponent as he stumbles around that earns the Enemy the pinfall victory in their Nitro debut to end a rather basic but entertaining match. The kitsch appeal of the shiny happy American Males from their boyband looks and laughable theme is strong, especially when they draw the ire of the fans eager to see new heroes to root for. The times they are ‘a changing it seems.
The fun isn’t over as the Public Enemy continue to assault their opponents post match, stacking two tables on top of one another and laying Bagwell on the top. Rocco Rock climbs the ropes and dives onto the art installation of doom, driving poor Bagwell’s body through both tables with what will become better known as a Swanton Bomb to great cheers from the crowd and chuckles from Bobby Heenan who likes what he sees in the Enemy’s antics.
After an ad break the next match sees Sting take on Ric Flair for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship before a fervent crowd eager to see two megastars in their eyes clash. Flair is flanked by sometime manager Jimmy Hart for this match who had left the Dungeon of Doom be to bring his megaphone to cheer on “The Nature Boy”.
The match begins as Sting & Flair lock horns and the powerful Sting easily shoves Flair to the ground not once, but twice as it’s clear that this is the match the fans are into most. From a wristlock Flair pulls Sting’s hair multiple times to drag him down to the match. Each time though Sting immediately kips back onto his feet much to the champion’s chagrin. The two size each other up once again, pacing & observing each other before they clash once more where a swift knee to Sting’s gut gives Flair an advantage and he hurls Sting through the ropes outside the ring. Again it has little effect on Sting as he is quick to get back in Flair’s face causing the humbled champ to back away into a corner. Flair finds no respite though as Sting climbs the ropes and as he towers over Flair he rocks the champ with 8 punches to the forehead and Sting follows this with a hiptoss & dropkick. An impressive press slam and whip to the turnbuckle send Flair head over heels and to the ring apron where Flair is soon left laying by a clothesline by the challenger.
Flair is suplexed back into the ring by Sting, eager to press his advantage and capture the championship once more but after more back-peddling by Flair, a thumb to the eye and hard chop to the chest gives Flair control of the match. More hard chops by Ric rock Sting as Mongo shows off a little wrestling knowledge on commentary, name dropping Wahoo McDaniel as an example of using chops effectively that had cause for me to offer the oft-mocked McMichael a nod of respect. Sting blocks Flair’s attempt at a suplex with one of his own, hoisting the World Champion onto the top turnbuckle where a top rope superplex by Sting ignites the crowd and leaves Flair convulsing in pain on the canvas. Sting tries to splash Ric as he lies on the mat but Flair has enough wit left to raise his knees and into Sting’s stomach. Both champion and challenger lie exhausted in pain in the ring as the show breaks for an ad hyping the next WCW Pay Per View event; Superbrawl. As we rejoin the match we see Flair in control, dragging Sting to his feet for a back suplex. The challenger’s quick reflexes save him as he turns in mid-air & lands on his feet to Flair’s great surprise but with a rush of adrenaline Sting recklessly leaps at Flair, who moves just in time to let Sting crash head first into a top turnbuckle. A knee drop by Flair precedes him again throwing Sting out of the ring where the weasel-y Hart sneaks a couple of kicks to Sting.
Sting struggles back into the ring where a waiting Flair drills Sting with another chop to the chest but Sting has plenty of energy left in reserve as he launches Flair into the air as he kicks out of a pin. More chops by Flair and a whip to the buckle soon follows but Sting rebounds with a clothesline that offers the challenger some hope of victory. The fans again roar as Sting traps Flair in a sleeper hold that could win him the World Heavyweight title but Flair soon escapes with a backdrop and the two are left laying once more.
Champion & Challenger exchange chops & punches until Sting gains the upper hand but a missed dropkick by Sting allows Flair the opportunity to apply the dreaded Figure Four leglock but Sting rebounds with a roll up for a very close 2 count. A backslide nearly wins it for Sting again before a sunset flip by the challenger exposes Flair’s behind to the fans opposite the hard camera. Weirdly, this display of exhibitionism is received very warmly by the crowd who roar in approval. After Sting throws Flair from the top rope in the time-honoured fashion Sting feels the buzz from the crowd and adrenaline courses through his body, making him immune to Flair’s chops as he again slams Flair to the mat. Seeking to cause a distraction, Jimmy Hart climbs onto the apron where he so soon joined by Lex Luger in a puzzling display. The two argue on the apron as Luger wrests the megaphone out of Hart’s hands as Sting whips Flair into the buckle adjacent to the arguing pair. As Luger finally takes possession of the Megaphone he swings wildly, hitting Sting in the head as he attempts a Stinger Splash on Flair, knocking him out. As Luger and Hart continue to argue Flair locks Sting in the challenger in another Figure Four that pins Sting to successfully defend his title. After the bell Luger leaps into the ring to seemingly attack Flair but he is soon chased away by Hogan & Savage who storm to ring to tend to the injured Sting.
Amid the confusion Gene grabs a few words with the trio as Sting comes too. Both Hogan and Savage take turns to try & convince Sting that Luger is no friend to him but Sting is reluctant to believe the two, opting to leave to confront Luger himself about his true motives ahead of them teaming at the Clash event. The interview then turns to Hogan who in an amazingly unheroic speech, moans about how he should have a title match ahead of Savage, despite Savage not having had his mandatory rematch. Hogan bellyaches about Savage having lost to Luger multiple times and outright accuses Macho of politicking his way to a title match. Understandably Savage is angry and denies Hogan’s baseless accusations and leaves, Hogan looking like a spoilt child as he petulantly shouts “You can’t walk away! You’re my friend!”
If I didn’t know better, I’d say that the seeds of Hogan turning heel were sowed here as Hogan is acting like a brat, alienating his friends in demanding a title match just because he’s Hulk Hogan. This is all met with stony silence from the crowd who checked out as soon as the Red & Yellow one appeared on the scene.
Hogan leaves so he can have his big entrance as his match is next. Hogan’s opponent Meng is accompanied by Kevin Sullivan and the two beat up several hapless photographers at ringside as they enter. Once again Hogan’s entrance is met with the cold shoulder from the fans, so much so that obvious fake “Hogan!” chants are employed throughout although the viewer can clearly see that the crowd isn’t into this dull match that sees Meng slowly attack Hogan with chops & nerve holds until Hogan hulks up. Before Hogan can deliver the finishing legdrop Sullivan climbs onto the apron, aiming to attack Hulk with Meng’s Golden Spike, a metal thumb designed to allow Meng to greatly injure opponents. Sullivan is thwarted by Randy Savage who has seemingly had a change of heart and saves the Hulkster. Hogan manages to grab the Spike and drills Meng in the throat with it, cheating his way to victory once more. Hogan and Savage publicly make amends, posing together in the ring to close the show as Pepe takes a nap in Mongo’s jacket.
So all is well among the superfriends while the fledgling alliance to end Hulkamania hits troubled water as soon as it starts. Luger is still an enigma wrapped in a mystery and The Public Enemy make a bold statement at the expense of Marcus Bagwell. This sadly wasn’t a particularly entertaining episode aside from Flair/Sting but those two always have at the very worst a watchable match. The campy American Males theme was sadly the star of the show as I was convinced that the dreaded WWE Network musical replacement would take effect but no, it was present and correct and was the only thing to raise a smile as I watched. Next week promises much as Savage & Flair meet once more for the World title and their feuding is such fun to watch. Fingers crossed for next week folks until then, keep it five stars.