By Martin Dixon (@BunnySuicida)
WCW Monday Nitro, January 22nd 1996
Hello dear reader & welcome back to Wrestling in the Clinton Years, looking at how WCW spent its Monday nights in 1996.
From Las Vegas Nevada and Caesar’s Palace (well, there’s a Caesar’s Palace logo in the arena, I’ve noticed that WCW wasn’t very big on saying exactly what arena Nitro was taking place in so this could be anywhere in Vegas), Nitro begins with Eric Bischoff, Bobby Heenan & Mongo (with a top hat & tails clad Pepe) telling us the audience about the thrilling show in store for us. The WCW world title is up for grabs as Randy Savage faces Ric Flair, the tag team titles will be defended and in the main event (yes, neither title match is the main attraction on the episode), Hulk Hogan faces United States Champion The One Man Gang in a non title match. The trio are interrupted by Konnan, the “Mexican Heavyweight Champion” who interjects and reveals that he will be defending his nondescript title against Psicosis at Clash of the Champions the following night.
It should also be said that this Nitro is part of a double feature with the following night’s Clash of the Champions special, where none of the world titles will be contested instead a random tag match main event of Savage & Hogan facing Flair & the Giant and the wedding of Col. Robert Parker and Sherri Martel. Thank god it was free as that would’ve been a horrible line up for a Pay Per View.
Not only is the WCW World title match not the main event, it’s actually opening the show as Randy Savage’s music plays and a bevy of glamorous women precede The Macho Man. Among Macho’s harem we see Linda, Hulk Hogan’s then real-life spouse (who goes unacknowledged by Bischoff & company), along with Woman (better known as the late Nancy Sullivan/Benoit) making her return to WCW. Woman’s presence is acknowledged by the announcers. Huge cheers greet Macho as he finally appears, clad in black, red & gold and looking to all intents and purposes like a Mars bar and Mean Gene is on hand to grab a few words with the challenger. Savage reveals that he is “steaming hot tonight!” as a familiar figure makes his way through the dry ice, it’s Hulk Hogan! eager to steal more of the spotlight. Hogan hogs the microphone as he wishes Savage luck in his match but again reminds his “friend” that he wants the first title shot. His point made, Hogan slinks away and World Champion Ric Flair makes his way to the ring. Savage wins the battle of entourages as all Flair has accompanying him is Jimmy Hart which is perhaps more practical, if a lot less pleasing to the eyes.
In the build towards their tag match at the Clash, Hogan and Savage kept referring to their “secret weapon” for the match against Flair & the Giant and instead of keeping it as a genuine surprise Bischoff takes great delight in revealing that Miss Elizabeth will be accompanying the Mega Powers at the Clash in perhaps an attempt to boost ratings for the next night. Maybe a world title match would’ve worked, Eric?
The match still isn’t underway as Flair takes some time to, ahem, “Woooo” the ladies at ringside and Woman in particular, but Woman is resistant to Ric’s advances and slaps the champ across the face as he invades her personal space outside the ring. Ric takes a flat back bump from this that is very reminiscent of the infamous Finger Poke of Doom. The match finally begins as Savage jumps Flair and rams him into a metal guardrail until a kick to the gut allows Ric to whip Savage into a guardrail in retaliation and gives him control of the match in this early stage.
Back in the ring Savage ducks under a chop by Flair and blasts the champion with a running clothesline that gains Macho an early near fall. Still in control Randy backs Flair into a corner and squeezes Ric’s prominent nose with one hand until the referee separates the two and a back elbow by Flair sends Savage crashing to the canvas. The commentary team’s hyping for Clash of the Champions actually works this next time as Heenan tells of how he’s heard a rumour that The Road Warriors are back together and Bischoff confirms that not only are they back as a team, but that the legendary Road Warriors will appear at the Clash. As a fan of the Roadies that peaked my interests I must admit.
Sadly all this talk is a little more exciting than the match as Jimmy Hart distracts the referee so Flair can hurl Savage outside the ring over the top rope, avoiding disqualification. Like he did to Sting last week Hart sneaks a kick to Randy as he lays injured at ringside. Flair soon joins his opponent outside and again whips Savage into a guardrail, although this time with enough force to send Savage tumbling over the barrier into the crowd. The wildman Savage is soon up to exchange punches and chops with Flair outside the ring where Savage soon gets the upper hand and blasts Flair with a back drop to the mats surrounding the ring. Just before the show takes a break for ads we see Savage climb the ropes and leap but miss a diving axe handle, crashing into a guardrail once more. The metal isn’t Randy’s friend tonight it seems.
Back from the ads we see Flair repeatedly punching Savage in the head until another punch/chop exchange erupts between the two. Savage wins out and backs Flair into a turnbuckle and rocks Flair with 10 punches to the forehead. Flair escapes to the outside but can find no respite as Savage follows and introduces the world champion to a metal railing. Savage begins to beat Flair down with punches both outside and inside the ring until a backslide gets the challenger another near fall. From seemingly nowhere Flair manages to hoist Savage into the air, bringing his opponent’s knee crashing down upon his leg with a knee breaker and locking in the Figure Four Leglock in the centre of the ring. Despite the great pain Savage holds on until catching Flair using the ring ropes for leverage forces the referee to break the hold. After arguing with the referee over his breaking the hold Flair blasts Savage with a knee drop and then takes to the top rope where again in time-honoured Flair tradition, Savage rises to his feet in time to grab the champion and hurl him from his perch. Savage shows Flair how it’s done with 2 exquisite top rope axe handles in quick succession but Savage & the referee become distracted by the antics of Jimmy Hart. This escalating chaos brings out Arn Anderson who, as Flair grabs and holds Savage in place, reaches for his infamous brass knucks. Savage ducks as Arn swings causing Flair to get knocked out by his horsemen teammate. Hulk Hogan joins the fray to attack Arn as Savage climbs the ropes and delivers his top rope elbow to an unconscious Flair in time for the referee to ten around and count the pinfall meaning that Randy Savage is once again WCW World Heavyweight champion. Hogan is quick to enter the ring to celebrate almost like he himself had won the match. Gene Okerlund joins the pair in the ring where Savage calls Hogan out on his over zealous celebration. Hogan claims that he helped Macho win the match and title (he really didn’t) and that because of this he deserves the next title shot. Savage disagrees and says that Hogan will have to earn the shot like anyone else. Hogan is incensed at this and the two argue for a bit, somehow intimating that they will fight for the title at the end of Nitro(?!) before everyone just leaves so Hogan can prepare for his match against the One Man Gang later.
Despite the players involved and the title change I wasn’t a fan of this match. I’ve seen too much Flair and Savage and the chaotic interference far too often and this is only the 4th episode I’ve watched. Flair’s antics at the beginning were fun but this felt very by the numbers and not special in any way, which is a shame.
Dodgy main event picture aside, the second match of Nitro is quickly becoming a highlight and this episode is no exception as Dean Malenko takes on Flyin’ Brian Pillman in a battle of once & future members of the Four Horsemen that I had high expectations for.
The match starts quickly with a lockup between the pair from which the greater technician Malenko spins around to trap Pillman with a rear waistlock. A swift elbow to the face frees Pillman from Malenko’s grasp, Pillman keeps his momentum going with a chop to Dean’s chest and a series of forearms to the head. Malenko manages to counter an Irish whip leading to a hiptoss and an impressive dropkick by “The man of 1000 holds” causes Pillman to seek refuge outside of the ring where he finds time to argue with some of the fans before he returns to the match. Pillman uses the restart to kick Dean in the gut and trips him up, where Brian rubs Malenko’s face on the canvas, all the while ranting and raving into a nearby camera as Pillman seemingly becomes even more unhinged. Following a near fall from a snap suplex, Brian cockily slaps Malenko across the face as Dean lies on the mat but instead of adding insult to injury all Pillman succeeds in doing is light a fire in Malenko who pops up immediately and grabs Pillman’s legs, dragging him down to the canvas and repeatedly punching Pillman in the face. Malenko manages near falls from both a snap suplex of his own and a neckbreaker, but cannot keep Pillman on the mat for the full count of 3. After whipping Brian into the corner, Dean charges to follow but Brian raises a foot in preparation and Dean rushes head first into Pillman’s foot, becoming dazed. Brian seizes the opportunity presented to him and hops up onto the 2nd rope, as Malenko staggers close to him Pillman grabs Dean’s head, drilling him with a tornado DDT that draws gasps of amazement from the crowd and the announcers. Brian refuses to attempt a pin on Malenko, instead opting to taunt for the fans and lift Malenko to his feet for more punishing chops.
The momentum of the match shifts once more as Malenko reverses an Irish whip and blasts Brian with an amazing butterfly suplex that Dean turns into a powerbomb mid move. Sadly this only garners Dean a 2 count and Pillman again takes to the outside to avoid further punishment. Pillman avoids Malenko’s attempt to slide and kick Brian through to ropes and grabs Dean, throwing him into a nearby guardrail before rolling Dean back into the ring. Pillman then climbs the ropes but he is soon joined on his perch by Malenko and the two fight until a headbutt by Pillman sends Dean crashing to the canvas. Brian tries for a second tornado DDT but is thrown off in mid-air by Malenko, sending Brian tumbling through the air. Malenko hoists Pillman onto his shoulders and blasts the Horsemen with a gut buster across his knee, following this with an ankle submission that the crowd cheers heavily but Pillman reaches the ropes to escape and keep himself for the match. A scuffle on the apron between the two opponents leads to Makenko’s leg becoming trapped in the ropes and despite referee Nick Patrick seeing this he has to pretend that he hasn’t, keeping his head down as he counts Pillman’s pin on Malenko as Dean’s leg is trapped and awards Brian the victory.
The lame ending almost spoiled the match for me but bad refereeing couldn’t completely torpedo my enjoyment as Pillman and Malenko had a fun, fast paced match that is easily the best match of the show.
Time now for the second of the show’s two title matches and again this isn’t the main event. The World Tag Team championship hangs in the balance as champions Harlem Heat defend against Sting and Lex Luger, presenting a united front despite Luger knocking Sting out last week and costing him the World Championship.
The match starts with Luger facing off with Stevie Ray, beating down Ray with punches and rams to the turnbuckle until Stevie counters a Luger corner charge by raising his foot. Stevie’s offence consists of punching, lots and lots of punching as he beats Luger up and down the ring until Luger blasts Stevie with a running forearm that gets Flexy Lexy a 2 count. Stevie manages to level Luger with a high kick that allows Booker T to tag in and the two try to attack Luger with a double clothesline but “The total package” ducks under the pair’s linked arms and a double clothesline of Luger’s own drops Harlem Heat. Sting tags in and blasts both Booker and Stevie Ray with repeated Stinger Splashes in opposite corners to huge cheers.
With Booker still in the ring Sting tries to apply the Scorpion Death Lock on Stevie but as Luger attempts to enter the ring to attack Booker, the world’s worst referee Nick Patrick holds Luger back allowing Booker the chance to level Sting with an axe kick to the back of the head. Stevie Ray takes control of Sting, beating down the colourful hero before tagging out to allow Booker to take over, blasting Sting with a jumping calf kick and eventually trapping Sting in an armbar to keep him grounded. Sting repeatedly tries to fight out of Booker’s hold and attack both brothers but a stun gun across the top rope by Booker halts his momentum, allowing Stevie Ray to keep Stimg trapped with a nerve hold.
Another Sting fightback only leads to him receiving a double front suplex from Harlem Heat but as Booker tries to finish Sting with the Harlem Hangover from the top rope, Sting moves and crawls towards Lex in their corner. Sting manages to tag Luger who attacks both Heat members until Jimmy Hart appears from nowhere once more to hand Lex something. For some reason Sting is back fighting in the ring (I can only assume Lex didn’t tag in after all) and him & Booker level each other with leaping crossbodys on each other. Luger does finally tag in with his hand clenched tightly to protect whatever is in his hand and blasts Booker with what we find out was a punch augmented with a fistful of silver dollar coins. The coins explode from Luger’s hand and scatter around the ring and yet again, Nick Patrick is forced to pretend he hasn’t seen anything as he counts Luger’s pinfall on Booker to award him & Sting the match and the WCW Tag Team titles.
Having not seen Hart handing Lex the offending currency or Lex’s use of the weaponry and noticing the coins littering the ring makes Sting nervous as Luger celebrates their title win, but Sting is soon forgetting that and celebrating along with Lex as hands him a title belt. I must admit that Sting being blissfully unaware of Lex’s cheating ways is an interesting dynamic for the pair and if there is a moment when Sting eventually deduces Lex’s heelishness it should make for a satisfying payoff, but that is a pretty big “if”. That said the match wasn’t anything special outside of it’s finish and even then Nick Patrick having to half heatedly pretend that he couldn’t see the coins littering the ring was frustrating to watch. I can only assume that Patrick thinks Luger punched Booker so hard that he turned into currency.
World title and tag title matches mean nothing as it’s time for the real main event as Hulk Hogan faces The One Man Gang in a non title match. Yet more boos accompany Hogan as he makes his grand entrance and they are justified as this is a terrible match that I simply cannot bring myself to recap. This is essentially a WWF style squash match as Hogan demolishes the US champion, making him look like an absolute joke before winning with the hulk up routine, a slam and the legdrop. After the bell the horsemen and the rest of the Dungeon of Doom appear and Hogan fights them all off as Randy Savage joins the fray. Of note here is Brian Pillman egging The Giant on to attack Hogan despite everyone else holding the Giant back as he shouts at Hogan about their imminent tag match. This again brings Arn Anderson and Pillman into conflict.
Again Gene Okerlund joins Hogan and Savage who each ramble on about a possible title match between them and reveal to the love crowd that Miss Elizabeth will indeed accompany them at the Clash.
This was a chore of an episode to watch as the antics of Hogan and Savage are growing tiresome even at this early stage but thankfully the second match of the show again provides thrills and good action between great wrestlers. Lex Luger’s cheating and Sting’s naïveté is surprisingly entertaining to such a degree that “Bad Referee” Nick Patrick couldn’t spoil my enjoyment. Watching Luger punch someone so hard coins fall out of them isn’t really something I can recommend the episode on though and this Nitro is far from essential.
And lastly, a little treat for UK top 40 chart watchers as this 90’s classic had just knocked Michael Jackson’s Earth Song off the Number 1 spot the day before this Nitro aired. Enjoy!