Wrestling in the Clinton Years: I am Woman, hear me swerve.

WCW Monday Nitro: February 5th 1996

By Martin Dixon (@BunnySuicida)

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Hello & welcome to another instalment of Wrestling in the Clinton Years, a tumultuous trek through the most transformative year of WCW television. With Superbrawl 6 looming 6 days away, WCW has decided to throw out not one but two major title matches on free tv with no fanfare or build. Sting & Lex Luger defend their tag team titles against the Road Warriors in the main event but first Bischoff, Heenan, Mongo and a ginger-wig-sporting Pepe run down the rest of the show, the alliance between the Four Horsemen and the Dungeon of Doom looks to have ended as suddenly as it began as Arn Anderson & Brian Pillman of the Horsemen face The Taskmaster and Hugh Morrus, Ric Flair takes on Marcus Bagwell, one half of the American Males who we last saw being driven through two tables by the Public Enemy and in the opening match, Randy Savage defends his WCW World Heavyweight title against the Canadian Crippler, Chris Benoit.

Savage has slightly less female company this week as he makes his entrance with Elizabeth and Woman. It’s odd seeing Elizabeth dressed so vampishly in long boots and short shorts. It feels like WCW’s costumiers were actively sullying the wholesome image she had around her in the WWF. Savage immediately chases Benoit from the ring before the bell to try to get in the challenger’s head.

As the bell rings for the start of the match champion & challenger trade taunts before locking up where Savage pushes Benoit back into the ropes. The two seem too evenly matched though as they twirl around the ring in the hold with neither man able to gain an advantage. The pair find themselves trapped in one of the corners where the referee has no choice but to separate the two himself but as he interjects and gets between the wrestlers, Benoit hits Savage with a sneaky punch to the face that sends the Macho Man reeling. Benoit follows this with a double axe handle to the back of Savage’s head to further disorientate the champion before hurling him through the ropes (avoiding disqualification) and to the arena floor. Benoit follows Savage to inflict further punishment by ramming Randy head-first into a metal guardrail and blasting him with a wicked chop to the chest.

The confident Benoit rolls Savage back into the ring and takes a little time to taunt the fans as Savage can do nothing except crawl helplessly across the mat. Benoit then drags Savage to his feet and hurls him into the ropes, catching him on the rebound with a clothesline to the neck that causes Macho’s head to bounce off the canvas with great velocity. Savage is seemingly knocked senseless and flails around the ring, unable to stand. Savage eventually falls near the ropes and as he lies on the canvas, Benoit grabs the champion’s legs and falls back, catapulting Savage’s throat into the bottom rope to compound the injury to the neck. Savage snaps back to his feet though but Benoit soon incapacitates him again, backing him into a corner and repeatedly chopping at the champion’s chest, each chop echoing throughout the arena. A kick to his leg then puts Savage down on the canvas once more.

Savage claws and scraps to his knees but a headbutt keeps him at
Benoit’s feet. Savage does manage to grab one of Chris’ legs and pushes him into a corner but he cannot gain control of the match as a simple punch to the face keeps Benoit in control. More hard chops and headbutts by Benoit precede a snapmare and brief chinlock to keep the pressure on, as does a beautiful snap suplex.

Benoit seems unconcerned with attempting pins, leading the announcers to suppose that Benoit has been sent by the horsemen not to win the title but to debilitate Savage ahead of Flair’s match with Savage at Superbrawl which makes sense as the horsemen are a unit built around Ric Flair and Benoit is here as muscle. What makes less sense is this match being a title match, it adds nothing and would take nothing away by not being for the title. Anyway, back to the match.

Still in control Benoit climbs to the top rope and dives, driving his head into Savage’s shoulder with a diving headbutt. Again Benoit doesn’t attempt a pin, content as he is to punish Macho with more chops as Elizabeth shows her concern for her charge. Woman is strangely indifferent to Savage’s plight as she looks on.

After yet more well executed punishment by Benoit, including a backbreaker that even rivalled Bret Hart’s, Savage manages to make an offensive move, desperately grabbing Benoit’s tights and pulling him out of the ring. Yet again Benoit looks utterly dominant as he shrugs off Savage as he attempts to attack him outside of the ring, shoving Savage shoulder first into the ring post. Savage does manage a punch and clothesline to Benoit as they reenter the ring but Savage is soon sent out of the ring again by Benoit who backdrops him over the top rope as Woman (for some reason) climbs upon the apron, distracting the referee and meaning that Benoit avoids being disqualified (throws over the top rope being illegal in WCW, although only really when the company felt like enforcing it for story purposes). Benoit tries a suicide dice through the ropes at Savage but the Macho Man dodges the move and in a very awkward moment, Benoit lands face first on the metal foot of a guardrail, his head landing with a sickening clang that makes me wince even thinking about it. Savage rolls the incapacitated Benoit into the ring and ascends to the top rope, making an awkward moment even more so by blasting Benoit with a top rope elbow delivered to the back of Benoit’s head. Given the revelations of Benoit’s multiple concussions upon his and members of his family’s tragic death. Savage is unable to pin Benoit though, as he is distracted by the sight of Ric Flair hassling Elizabeth at ringside. Savage makes a beeline for him but Flair cowardly keeps Liz between him and Savage, leading Macho around the ring. The match ends in a disqualification as Woman makes her real agenda clear, attacking Savage from behind and siding with the nefarious horsemen. Arn Anderson also joins the melee as him & Flair beat Savage in the ring.

Never far from the spotlight, Hulk Hogan rushes to Savage’s aid, steel chair in hand to send the horsemen scattering but not before blasting Benoit in the head with the chair to add to the awkwardness of this segment. Also never far from the action, Mean Gene enters the ring to grab a few words with the Hulkster as him & Elizabeth tend to the fallen Macho Man and officials arrive to help Savage back to the locker room. Hogan begins to ramble as it’s clear something is up, Hogan is oblivious to Gene’s warnings as Flair sneaks back into the ring and blindsides Hogan, attacking his “injured” eye, tearing and punching the stitched wound as the Giant and Zodiac of the Dungeon of Doom stalk around ringside. The confusing nature of the alliance between the Dungeon and the Horsemen deepens as the Giant enters the ring and grabs Hogan’s chair, whacking Hogan across the back with it, leaving Hogan in a crumpled heap on the mat. Zodiac mysteriously stops Giant from hitting Hogan a second time before Savage returns, sprinting back to the ring to aid Hogan, snatching the chair from the giant and chasing the heels away with it. Hogan lies motionless in the ring as the show breaks for ads after the chaos.

Before all the heel turns and attacks, this match was an excellent showcase for Benoit as he dominated Savage with crisp moves and believable offence that reminded me off why I was a fan of his in the first place. All those hard impacts to Benoit’s head also reminded me of why I still find it uncomfortable to watch Benoit matches even now. It’s such a shame that it was all forgotten in favour of yet another cluster.

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Arn Anderson returns after the break to team with fellow Horsemen, the increasingly unhinged Brian Pillman to face Taskmaster Kevin Sullivan and Hugh Morrus.

This is a quite unremarkable match save for a few interesting moments, during the bout it is revealed that Pillman and the Taskmaster will meet at Superbrawl in a strap match and there comes a point in the match where Sullivan and Pillman seem to begin to fight “for real” as a punch exchange between the two seems less “staged” than a typical wrestling bout, again playing into the notion that Pillman was acting in his own interests. Also of note is a strange moment where Anderson and the Taskmaster brawl up the aisle towards the famous Nitro stage, where Arn attempts to give Sullivan a piledriver on the concrete floor in front of a large black curtain. Before he can do this however a broom emerges from behind the drape and a mysterious unseen figure whacks Arn with the broom, breaking it across Anderson’s back. The end of the match comes as Sullivan returns to the ring where Pillman and Morrus are fighting where Sullivan produces a leather belt, prompting the referee to end the match in a disqualification as Sullivan whips Pillman with the strap. Morrus takes to the top rope to add injury to injury, blasting Brian with a moonsault. After this everyone just leaves ringside, leaving another match to disappear before another chaotic denouement. So much for the second match of the show being the most entertaining. Pillman’s increasing erratic behaviour is fascinating to watch though.

Maybe the third match can provide the thrills as Ric Flair takes on Marcus Bagwell. Flair is accompanied by the treacherous Woman, leading to a great deal of misogyny from Heenan on commentary. After Bagwell makes his entrance to his awesome theme, Flair’s own walk-in is briefly interrupted by someone in a neck brace following him & Woman. The figure is none other than Paul Orndorff who makes his way to the announce booth and takes a mic, proclaiming “The funny thing about payback [is] you never know when they’re going to happen”. It appears that Orndorff was the one who attacked Anderson with the broom earlier. At first I was disappointed that the reveal was blown so soon after the event but thinking on it, the last thing this saga needs is another plot thread. With Hogan, Savage, the Horsemen, The Dungeon of Doom, Elizabeth and Woman all colliding and interacting in various fashion’s the entirety of Nitro seems devoted to this tale so one more “mystery” would probably be too much to comprehend so it’s probably for the best that it is paid off here.

Back to the match at hand and the first thing Flair does is blow Bagwell a kiss across the ring. I guess that there’s no accounting for taste but I’d always imagined Flair as a Scotty Riggs man myself.

After a Superbrawl promo that makes the event look like it hosts some kind of tournament of multi man match for the title despite nothing of the kind happening on the show, the match begins as Bischoff tells us the audience that Randy Savage has taken Hogan to a local hospital before Flair & Bagwell lock up. From this Bagwell drags Flair to the mat with a side headlock. Flair rolls this into a pin attempt but Bagwell rocks back and drags Flair back to his feet. Flair backs Bagwell back into a corner and escapes the hold with an elbow to the gut. Flair’s subsequent chop to Bagwell’s chest echoes as Marcus reels from the blow, a second chop marks the young Bagwell’s chest with a dark red mark.

Bagwell manages to reverse an Irish whip by Flair and hits a backdrop, dropping the champ after this with three clotheslines, the last of which sends Ric over the top rope (Bagwell doesn’t get disqualified for this, despite the referee seeing it clearly). The fire-y Bagwell follows Flair, levelling him with another running clothesline before rolling “The Nature Boy” back into the ring. Flair begs for mercy from Bagwell, backing away from the cocky star until a brief dropping of his guard lets Flair kick Bagwell in the gut to gain control of the match.

Flair & Bagwell exchange punches and chops until Bagwell’s punches win out, Flair receiving several punches to the face as the crowd cheer Bagwell on. Flair flops to the canvas after the assault. Another backdrop and a dropkick gain Bagwell a near fall but Flair avoids a second dropkick and tries for a quick figure four leglock that Bagwell clumsily turns into a cradling pin that nearly gets him a huge victory over the 12 time World Champion.

In a baffling display, Flair and Bagwell charge at each other and collide, with Bagwell comically stumbling to the ropes and flipping himself over them outside the ring. Woman then climbs onto the apron to distract the referee for no real reason as Flair simply retrieves Bagwell, throwing him back into the ring where he gives Bagwell a knee drop to the head and yet more chops to the chest. Soon after Flair once again climbs to the top rope and as always, Bagwell recovers enough to stop Flair and throw him from his perch into the air and crashing to the canvas. 6 weeks in and I’m already sick of that contrivance.

A suplex attempt by Flair is blocked by Bagwell who hoists Flair up and plants him seated on a top turnbuckle, from there Bagwell hits an impressive superplex that nearly wins it for him but Flair manages to kick out of the pin. A frustrated Bagwell then heads for the apron preparing to slingshot himself over the ropes and onto the prone Flair in the ring. His plan backfires though as when he sails though the air, Flair raises his knees. Bagwell’s abdomen crashes into Flair and Bagwell writhes on the mat in agony. The veteran Flair seizes the opportunity, grabbing Bagwell and twisting his legs into the dreaded Figure Four, forcing Bagwell to submit to end the pain.

The evil Flair refuses to realise Bagwell however, even hitting the referee as he tries to break the hold by force. It only takes a returning Savage running to the ring to free Bagwell as he chases Flair around the ring and back up the entrance way, where Doug Dillinger tries (and fails) to stop Savage. Despite Savage having been to the hospital with Hogan, he is still in full wrestling garb which must’ve been a hilarious sight in the emergency room.

What a great match! The normally derided Bagwell looked like a star thanks to Flair who channelled all his experience as a touring NWA champion to give Bagwell the opportunity to shine. Bagwell played his part as a standard hero admirably and it all combined to make a fun match. Thank heaven that Flair can still entertain when away from the albatross that Hulk Hogan is quickly becoming and maybe Marcus Bagwell is becoming the Bob Backlund of this second volume, that being a performer I had little or no affection for, but surprised me with their work to convince me of their merits.

With that it’s time for the second throwaway championship match if the show as Lex Luger and Sting defend their championships against The Road Warriors, still in their blue colour scheme that I still dislike intensely.

Sadly this match isn’t that entertaining as for the most part it is a bland affair full of punches, kicks and basic actions. There are highlights throughout though as Hawk refuses to sell another piledriver from Lex, popping back to his feet immediately. 1996 also proves to be the year of power cuts as the broadcast is interrupted by static, robbing the show of several minutes in a similar manner to the fate that befell the WWF pay per view “In Your House: Beware of Dog” as a lightning storm left viewers unable to see an hour of the show. This wasn’t as affected as the action lost seems to have been rest holds that punctuate a lot of this match until Sting and Hawk begin to brawl outside the ring as the ref tries to stop them, leaving Luger and Animal in the ring. The Jimmy Hart Foreign Object Delivery Service strikes again as Hart appears to hand Luger a metal plate which amid the confusion, the secretly villainous Luger whacks Animal with across his injured back (the announcers make a great deal of talk about Animal’s ability to compete), pinning Animal to retain the belts. The best part of this is easily Sting refusing to celebrate with an ecstatic Luger once he realises what has happened. Luger’s giddy joy as he holds the belts is very, very funny and a genuine highlight of the show, despite the rather ordinary match that preceded it.

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Post match, Okerlund is back to grab a few words with the Road Warriors as they shout and bluster about demanding a match with the winners of the Harlem Heat vs Sting & Luger match at Superbrawl. What a baffling way to build towards a PPV match when the focus is now on the match after the match that fans must pay for. In fact very little has been done to build towards Superbrawl at all in all the shows I’ve seen, it makes these events seem very inconsequential and is a terrible aspect of the Monday Night Wars happening at the time.

Gene throws back to the announcers to close the show and build to Superbrawl a little more, including Mongo urging fans at home to rake their faces across chain link fences to feel how the participants in Superbrawl’s two cage matches will feel in the matches. That is something you would never ever see on wrestling television nowadays.

This wasn’t a bad episode altogether, the Hogan participation was minimal, and all he did was get beaten up and carted out to hospital so that was a welcome change. Benoit had a great if at times worrying match with the World Heavyweight Champion and looked incredibly strong doing so. Ric Flair and Marcus Bagwell had a great match that did much to make Bagwell look like a star (despite what happens in the future) and the odd Heel Luger and Face Sting team provides a lot of chuckles and intrigue. One of the more entertaining shows I’ve seen so far even with Hugh Morrus and phantom brooms.

Until next time folks, I could really do with a catchphrase.

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