By Martin Dixon (@BunnySuicida)
WCW Monday Nitro, January 29th 1996.
Welcome to another entry into the second volume of Wrestling in the Clinton Years, a series that it growing increasingly tired of Hulk Hogan and his antics just five weeks into 1996.
With the show emanating from Canton, Ohio the Nitro announce team of Eric Bischoff, Bobby Heenan & Steve McMichael are joined once again by Pepe the Chihuahua, looking adorable in a little cape. Pepe is fast becoming my favourite member of the Nitro commentary team with his myriad outfits. The human contingent of the booth reveals that WCW World Heavyweight champion Randy Savage will defend the title against The Giant, the fallout from Sherri’s abandoned wedding to Col. Robert Parker at last week’s Clash of the Champions spills onto Nitro as Sherri faces Madusa, who violently crashed the ceremony. The Road Warriors make their Nitro debut to fight The Faces of Fear in a match that peaked my interest and in the first and featured match, Ric Flair takes on that man again, Hulk Hogan. Oh the joy.
Ric is once again accompanied by Jimmy Hart despite them having no real affiliation and Hogan is now accompanied by a gaggle of glamorous ladies, including his then wife Linda (again uncredited), Nancy “Woman” Benoit and now the recently returned Miss Elizabeth for no real reason that WCW could hire her. In contrast to recent weeks The Hulkster enjoys a decent amount of cheers from the Ohio crowd whereas before the boos and jeers were very noticeable.
With the entrances out-of-the-way the match begins in a very typical Hogan/Flair match fashion as the two lock up several times with each time seeing Hogan shove Flair down to the mat. Frustrated, Flair offers Hogan a test of strength contest and the cocksure Hogan duly accepts only to fall into a trap set by “the dirtiest player in the game” who sneakily kicks Hogan in the gut as the two lock knuckles.
Now in control Flair begins to chop away at Hogan’s chest but the blows have little effect on Hogan, who absorbs each blow, standing resolute in the face of Flair’s attacks before returning it in kind with repeated punches and a backdrop to “The Nature Boy”. With momentum on his side Hogan rocks Flair with 3 running clotheslines, the last of which sending Flair over the top rope to the arena floor. Hogan follows Flair as he stumbles around ringside but jabbing his thumb in Hogan’s eye gives Flair the opportunity to whip Hogan into one of the metal guardrails. Again this has little or no effect on Hogan who rebounds off the guardrail and decks Flair with a clothesline before rolling Flair back into the ring.
Ric begs for mercy from Hogan, backing away from his opponent to possibly regroup and regain control of the match. His pleas fall on deaf ears as Hogan grabs Ric, whipping him into an adjacent turnbuckle and following up with a running clothesline before repeatedly punching Flair in the head.
One of wrestling’s biggest leaps of logic rears its head as throughout the match Hogan has been using closed fist punches which are illegal in the “rules” of wrestling with impunity and in full view of the referee, but only now does Nick Patrick choose to enforce this forgotten rule, physically pulling Hogan away from Flair and distracting him, allowing Flair to blast Hogan’s left knee with a chop block that injures Hogan and causes him to hobble around the ring as the show takes a break for commercials. Sadly that sequence felt all too rehearsed and just existed to give Flair control of the match without him overpowering Hogan.
Returning from the break we see Flair’s chops to Hogan’s chest suddenly having an effect and hurting the previously invincible Hogan. Flair couples this with kicks to Hogan’s injured knee but all too soon, Ric with little reason hops onto the top rope and from there once again his opponent recovers in time to hurl him from his perch and sending him crashing down onto the mat. Hogan’s control of the match is short-lived however as a back elbow by Ric drops Hogan and with his feet near the ropes, Jimmy Hart makes his presence felt and grabs Hogan’s legs in an attempt to drag him out of the ring. The weedy Hart is incapable of dragging Hulk however, and Hogan easily kicks Hart off his person and almost into the crowd.
Yet more of Flair’s attacks unfaze Hogan as The Hulkster stands back up unhurt after a knee drop. Hogan batters Flair with another clothesline and ten punches to the head in a corner of the ring. After this Hogan throws Flair into a turnbuckle, sending him head over heels to the apron where a clothesline by Hogan sends Flair crashing to the floor once more. Despite Hogan employing a devastating back rake to Flair, Hogan can’t retain control of the fight as Jimmy Hart chokes Hogan with his tie and kicking the Hulkster as he lies on the floor which weirdly draws cheers from the crowd. Ric drags Hogan back into the ring where he blasts Hogan’s injured leg once more with kicks before finally locking in the dreaded Figure Four leglock. After much screaming by Hogan and teasing submitting to the hold Hulk manages to turn himself & Flair over while still in the hold and reversing the pressure, turning the figure four against Flair who screams in agony before the pair fall out of the hold.
Once both men are back on their feet Flair attempts to suplex Hogan but his move is blocked and reversed by the Hulkster and Hogan remains unfazed by yet more chops to his chest by Flair. Flair does get a near fall from seemingly nowhere from a backdrop that follows a back elbow but this is just the set up for Hogan to Hulk up and go though the usual routine of punches, a big boot and legdrop. Instead of pinning Flair though Hogan and referee Patrick are distracted by Jimmy Hart as he climbs on the apron that allows Arn Anderson to rush the ring and attempt to blast Hogan with brass knuckles. Hogan manages to block Arn’s metal augmented punch and blasts him so hard he falls out of the ring but him and Jimmy Hart soon rush to grab Elizabeth at ringside, removing one of her high-heeled shoes and passing it to the prone Flair in the ring who jabs the pointed heel of the show into Hogan’s eye as he pins him. Blood flows from Hogan’s head as he clutches his face as Flair pins Hogan for the three count and the victory.
The announcers have an apoplexy as Liz, Randy Savage and medical personnel tend to Hogan post match as the villains slink away before the show fades to black for more ads.
I said last week that I’m growing very tired of Hogan and his various feuds. Hulk Hogan’s pre-“Hollywood” routines are not conducive to a fun watching experience week on week and his match here felt like a chore not only to watch but document too. Sadly this looks to be the norm for many more months to come and the megaton bomb of the Outsiders’ arrival cannot come soon enough at this point. I hope I won’t be wishing for a return to this period of Nitro at that point too.
Again it seems that the 2nd match of Nitro is where I am most entertained as The Road Warriors take on Meng and the Barbarian, the Faces of Fear in the next match.
Before I get to the match I’d be remiss not to mention how odd it is to see the Road Warriors in predominantly blue coloured outfits. As a colour with calming properties,the Legion of Doom in blue is very jarring as their traditional red on black coloured gear looks very threatening and aggressive and here they look very different and somehow less of an ass-kicking force. Their theme that is a clear knock-off of their WWF music is particularly offensive to the ears as well.
Dodgy theatrics notwithstanding, the Road Warriors were one of my favourites as a WWF watching youngster in the early 90’s so it is fun to see them here to blister WCW’s tag team ranks. Also among my favourites is Meng, who was never anything less than an absolute bad-ass.
Animal and the Barbarian start the match and a feeling of déjà vu begins to set in as the two repeat the same start as the previous match with Animal shoving Barbarian to the ground three times from a lock up. From this Animal begins to club Barbarian with forearms to the back until a reversal of an Irish whip by Barbarian allows him to level Animal with a boot to the face. It’s then time for Barbarian to go clubbing all over Animal, beating him down repeatedly until turnabout is fair play as Animal reverses an Irish whip himself, sending Barbarian tumbling with an admittedly very good-looking powerslam. Animal hits an elbow drop before going to tag his partner Hawk into the match as Barbarian struggles over to his corner and tags in the fearsome Meng. Hawk & Meng forego the lock up, instead opting to duke it out where Meng easily gets the upper hand, blasting Hawk with punches, kicks and vicious headbutts in very quick succession. This onslaught culminates in a jumping piledriver by Meng from which Hawk stands up immediately. I can’t stress how quickly Hawk is back on his feet from this move. Meng looks stunned as Hawk blasts him with a clothesline that sends Meng bouncing off the ropes into the match’s second great powerslam with an added fist drop for good measure. This sends the Faces of Fear scurrying out of the ring to regroup and reassess their strategy as the fans cheer the Road Warriors.
The match restarts itself with Meng and Animal locking up and exchanging wristlocks until Meng whips Animal into the ropes near Barbarian who sneaks a knee into Animal’s injured back. Meng seizes control of the match from this with a hard clothesline before more clubbing blows keep Animal on the mat. After a double dropping headbutt to Animal from both of “The Fear” gets Barbarian a near-fall, he then takes over the beat down of Animal with hard whips to the turnbuckles and a nasty looking backbreaker. It’s clear that Animal’s back is the target of Barbarian’s offence as Animal is taken outside of the ring for a whip into a guardrail before Barbarian scoops him up and rams his back into the metal ring post. Meng takes over the mauling with a dropkick that gets another near fall before Barbarian is soon back in to drill Animal with a wince-inducing powerbomb.
Sadly miscommunication rears its ugly head in a messed up spot where Barbarian flies at Animal from the 2nd rope with a clothesline that Animal mysteriously falls forward from, in opposition to the physics involved that means he should have fallen backwards. It becomes clear that Animal was supposed to hit a lariat of his own as Barbarian flew at him because Barbarian without reason climbs the ropes again to repeat the sequence so that it can go ahead as planned with Animal making his last-ditch counter to give him chance to crawl over to Hawk and make the tag the crowd has been itching to see where Hawk launches into the ring and attacks both opponents in a show of adrenaline and momentum. As this goes on Barbarian is left alone in the ring with both Animal & Hawk as Animal hoists Barbarian onto his shoulders in preparation for the Doomsday Device. Meng spoils the party as he knocks Hawk off the top rope to the floor and save his partner as Barbarian escapes from Animal’s grip and delivers a piledriver to Animal.
That piledriver was another moment of miscommunication as Hawk was supposed to be in position at this point on a different turnbuckle to leap off and save Animal from the piledriver, because of this poor Animal takes the move before Barbarian again has Animal in position as everyone tries again and this time Hawk is in position for the save and dives at Barbarian with a flying clothesline that knocks Barbarian down for a pin by Hawk and the Road Warriors win their Nitro debut.
Sadly the blown spots marred what still was an entertaining hard-hitting little match between teams not known for subtlety and finesse. This wasn’t without its charms but it is hard to recommend and won’t convert anyone not already a fan of the Road Warriors.
Next is Gene Okerlund in the ring to interview a very unhappy Taskmaster Kevin Sullivan with Hugh Morrus in tow. Taskmaster is unhappy about his burgeoning alliance with the Four Horsemen, specifically Arn Anderson’s continued tolerance of Brian Pillman. Sullivan’s words soon bring Arn and Pillman to the ring to confront them where Sullivan gets in Anderson’s face about the “Loose Cannon” Pillman and his egging on of the Giant last week to attack Hulk Hogan. Anderson assure Sullivan that he can handle the situation as he turns his attentions towards a visibly agitated Pillman. As Arn chews Pillman out over not being present to help him try to aid Ric Flair earlier on the show he begins to remove his leather belt, presumably to whip Pillman in a display of “tough love”. Before Arn can do that Taskmaster and Morrus jump the two Horsemen and attack them. Taskmaster grabs Arn’s belt and begins whipping Pillman with it outside of the ring as Morrus beats up Arn. Arn manages to drill Morrus with a DDT to nullify him and heads outside to save Pillman and send the Dungeon of Doom members scurrying back to the locker room. Gene manages to grab a few words with Arn who is understandably angry and challenges the two to a tag match with Him & Pillman before another ad break occurs. It seems that there are some large cracks in the “Alliance to end Hulkamania”
Mean Gene is earning his pay on this episode as he is back in the ring once again with Sherri, eager to get her comments on Madusa’s attacking her on what was supposed to be her wedding day at Clash of the Champions 32 the week before. Before Sherri can speak she is attacked by Madusa who leaps off the top rope with a crossbody and kicks to Sherri. Sherri blocks Madusa’s kicks and takes her down to the canvas, dragging her to a corner and wrapping Madusa’s leg around a ring post. The two tussle outside the ring where Madusa whips Sherri hard into the ring steps that sends Sherri flying in a scary moment. Madusa follows up with a snap suplex to Sherri on the outside of the ring. This is light years ahead of anything else on the show as the two women brawl back into the ring where Madusa channels Daniel Bryan 16 years in the future, repeatedly kicking Sherri hard in the chest as Sherri kneels on the mat. Sherri manages to knock Madusa off her feet where she channels Jeff Hardy some 5 years in her future with a double legdrop as she holds Madusa’s legs.
Sherri next climbs the ropes but is thrown off the top by Madusa. Sherri manages to hold onto Madusa’s arm throughout her fall though and drags Madusa to the mat where she pins her and wins this brief but amazing match. Sherri has no time to celebrate though as immediately following the pin Madusa blasts Sherri with a simply amazing German suplex that completely knocks Sherri out. Madusa slaps the comatose Sherri in the face as referees rush to tend to Sherri and separate the two before Madusa leaves.
I can’t believe how entertaining I found this match. Both ladies were performing moves & sequences far in advance of many of the male roster at the too of the card. It only serves to make Hogan look even more of a dinosaur.
After that amazingness it’s time for yet another WCW World Championship match as Randy Savage faces the Giant. Randy is accompanied by the ladies from earlier including Elizabeth (about whom Heenan quips “I hope you’re wearing flats, toots”). Sadly we get no match at all here as Savage enters the ring from the crowd and drills Giant with the title belt before the match starts, prompting the referee to DQ Savage and call the match off before it starts. Quite why Savage acted so villainous is beyond me but the show isn’t over yet as Savage blasts Giant twice more with the belt before the referee wrests the gold from Macho’s grasp. Savage opts to leap onto Giant’s back with a sleeper hold to fell the big man until Ric Flair joins the fray, attacking Savage with chops and a steel chair. With Hogan seemingly out of action Savage is at the mercy of Flair and Giant as Giant suplexes Savage before delivering 3 huge backbreakers. Flair tells Giant to give Savage his signature chokeslam as he complies, nearly sending Savage through the canvas with his very devastating looking finisher. Savage is eventually saved by Hogan, head wrapped in bandages , who scares the heels away to the announce booth after hitting Giant with several worrying looking unprotected shots to the head with a steel chair. The one-eyed Hogan then fends off the entire Dungeon of Doom who rush the ring to be sacrificed at the alter of Hulkamania (just how are we meant to see the Dungeon as a credible threat to Hogan?).
Flair & Giant crash the announce booth grabbing microphones and ranting and raving at Hogan about the upcoming Superbrawl pay per view event and it’s two cage matches. McMichael is in a perpetual facepalm as Giant claims that Hogan’s mind, body and soul are his forever(?) before Flair goes completely nuts, challenging Mongo to a fight before scattering the announcers, grabbing a headset and sitting at the desk screaming “I’m the host now!”. We see Hogan helping Savage to the back as everyone just ends up screaming “SUPERBRAWL” in the first actual build to the pay per view I’ve seen so far on Nitro.
That ending was terrible, from the non match to the baffling actions of Savage to Hogan once again looking invincible and making his adversaries look incredibly weak this was more comedic than anything else. Flair and Giant’s united front when the rest of their stablemates are at each others throats is baffling too to the point that I simply cannot wait for the end of all this in its current form.
Thank heaven then for Madusa and Sherri who in their all too brief match were far more entertaining than anything else on the show. If you have access to this episode by all means skip everything else but please watch this match that proves that when given the chance, women’s wrestling can be more thrilling than anything the men can do. Until next time readers, keep it 5 stars.