Wrestling in the Clinton Years: Duct Tape and Dudes in Flannel.

By Martin Dixon (@BunnySuicida)

WCW Monday Nitro, March 11th 1996.

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Hello and welcome back to Wrestling in the Clinton Years, gazing upon mid-nineties wrestling like Uatu the Watcher. (Welcome back, how did the Wikipedia research go?). Back from my brief return from the WWF I find myself back in the warm bosom of WCW and they got me a welcome home gift, a six-man-double-strap-lumberjack match. Really WCW, you shouldn’t have…

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“Welcome to the war zone” screams Eric Bischoff as he welcomes us to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the host town for this particular gala of grappling before Eric along with his regular cohorts Bobby Heenan, Steve Mongo McMichael and Pepe, resplendent in party hat and cape. The trio run down the “amazing” main event as well as shilling the upcoming Uncensored Pay Per View and it’s “4 cage” main event, the infamous Doomsday cage match that may or may not find itself as part of the series or some other project in the future. It has to be said that although Nitro is WCW’s flagship TV show, very little storylines seem to get furthered on the show, with WCW Saturday Night hosting several plot points clumsily mentioned during the course of this episode.

With the introductions out of the way, patriotic music blares throughout the arena signifying the terrifying arrival of Hacksaw Jim Duggan as he takes on The Giant. Duggan is still in possession of his trusty 2×4 and US flag but has a new backstory as we learn of Jim’s heritage as the latest in a long line of Irish “taped fist” champions. What this actually means is unclear but makes for an “interesting” section of the upcoming match.

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For a real American hero, Duggan is surprisingly heelish as he attacks Giant from behind at the start of the match. Giant is unfazed by Duggan’s blows however and soon takes control of the match, attacking Jim in the kidneys and throwing him out of the ring as a curious sign can be glimpsed at ringside with “Call Brian, 1-900-288-PILL” emblazoned on it. The camera crew does its best to avoid showing this potentially offending sign as Giant follows Jim outside of the ring catching him with a bearhug in mid-air as Duggan desperately leaps off the apron at him. Duggan’s tender back is rammed into the metal ring post before Jim is unceremoniously dumped back into the ring by the mammoth Giant. At this point the ruse over the sign in the crowd is exposed as Bischoff acknowledges them and actually leaves the commentary booth, leaving Mongo and Heenan to their own devices as Giant locks Duggan in another bearhug. Duggan tries to fight out of the hold as Bischoff and security eject Brian Pillman and his sign out of the arena to further the Pillman “Loose Cannon” angle in a display of blurring the lines of kayfabe in a way unseen in 1996 and much more entertaining than the terrible match going on around it.

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Bischoff rejoins commentary as Duggan resorts to biting The Giant’s nose to escape the hold (what a hero!). After dodging a corner charge by Giant Duggan hits the 3 point stance clothesline that sends Giant over the top rope and out of the ring. Jim takes the opportunity to reach into his trunks and retrieve his deadly hand tape but before he can apply it, Giant is soon back on the attack. A third bearhug is greeted by loud boos from the crowd before Duggan tries to punch his way out of the Giant’s clutches. This has no effect and to make matters worse, his attempt at a headbutt on Giant leaves himself tumbling out of the ring. Desperately and bafflingly and any more adjectives you’d care to throw at this, Duggan rips up some of the duct tape holding down the ringside mats and haphazardly wraps his hand with it. This somehow gives Duggan super strength as now his punches rock the Giant, his head whipping back with each blow. Eventually the Giant topples and crashes to the canvas causing Duggan to leap into the air in celebration as Jimmy Hart, the Giant’s manager, leaps onto the apron and tries to grab the tape as it dangles from Duggan’s fist. Jim is distracted but undeterred as he drags Hart into the ring but Hart’s plan succeeds and Jim spins around into a chokeslam that keeps him down for a 3 count that gives Giant the victory to mercifully end this awful, awful match.

After an ad break the sound of motorcycles fills the air as the legendary Steiner Brothers return to WCW, riding to the ring on a pair of Harley Davidson’s and looking like total bad asses in the process. The Steiners are here to replace the Nasty Boys in their match against the Road Warriors in a tag team battle for the ages and a prospect of a potato fest that had me salivating. The reason given for the Nasty’s non-appearance is a mysterious backstage attack that incapacitated both men, presumably at the hands of the Steiners.

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Scott Steiner and Hawk start the bout and the action comes thick and fast as Scott wails on Hawk with all too real looking forearms until Hawk manages some retaliation with a hip toss and a series of equally wince-inducing chops to Scott’s chest. Scott is having none of this and soon blocks an attempt at another hip toss, turning it into a stunning spinning belly to belly suplex and a pump handle slam that perfectly illustrate just why I love the Steiners beyond the irony factor of “Big Poppa Pump” in later years.

Scott sits Hawk on the top turnbuckle but a series of headbutts cause Scott to crash to the mat before more punishment can be inflicted on Hawk as he leaps off the top with a flying clothesline. Despite a follow up neckbreaker Hawk telegraphs a back drop and Scott counters with a beautiful double underhook powerbomb before he tags in his brother Rick to a chorus of barks from the fans in appreciation of “The dog-faced gremlin” as he faces off against Animal who also tags in. The two tussle and exchange blows until Animal blasts Rick with a powerslam, a dropkick and another bodyslam. Rick soon retaliates with 2 hard lariats and a release German Suplex that sends Animal flying across the ring.

I have been enraptured throughout this match due to the Steiners’ amazing suplexes and a second rope belly to belly by Rick continues this in fine form, as does an overhead belly to belly by Scott soon after. The Steiners continue to brutalise Animal with each brother utilising a camel clutch to keep Animal grounded.

After Scott and Animal knock each other down with simultaneous clotheslines Hawk manages to get back into the match and attacks both Steiners, power slamming Rick and even hitting the Doomsday Device but Scott breaks up the pin. With Animal thrown to the outside the Steiners attempt a doomsday device themselves but it is broken up by Hawk who distracts Scott on the top rope so Animal can drop from Rick’s shoulders and hit a terrible looking back suplex. Hawk hits Rick with a top rope shoulderblock from this but Scott makes the save for his brother and the match continues.

Scott hits Animal with his notorious Frankensteiner that looks like it would kill its recipient but Hawk keeps the action going by breaking up the pinfall once again. The end comes after the Steiners hot Hawk with a top rope combination bulldog but in the chaos Animal drills Rick with one of the Warrior’s “armoured” wristguards that knocks him out long enough for Hawk to get a quick pin and the sneaky win for the Road Warriors ahead of the Chicago Street Fight at Uncensored. After the match Gene Okerlund grabs a few words with a surprisingly coherent Scott Steiner who calls out the Roadies over their questionable tactics.

After a certain point this match completely fell apart but when the Steiners were allowed to suplex the Road Warriors all over the place it was an awesome display for the returning brothers. I wasn’t a fan of the cheap finish as sneaky tactics really don’t fit the characters of the invincible Road Warriors.

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The recent departure of Johnny B. Badd for the WWF had a surprising number of effects for WCW, two of which were that it gave Eric Bischoff free rein to run Badd down on commentary for weeks and Lex Luger gained another championship to add to his resume, capturing the WCW Television title on WCW Saturday Night and defending it here against Alex Wright in a match that raises a few eyebrows when announced.

This match is surprisingly good as Luger does give Wright a lot of time to shine in this entertaining match. Luger starts off strong, beating Wright up until Das Wunderkind ducks a clothesline and blasts Lex with a dropkick and hiptoss. A hammerlock keeps Lex under Wrights control until Luger fights out but he is soon upended with a snapmare and even a headscissors that Luger performs admirably. Following a dive on Luger from the top rope by Wright and a top rope axe handle the German star has Luger begging for mercy and backing away from his opponent. This is all a ruse however as Lex grabs Wright’s trunks and pulls him face first into a turnbuckle pad and stumbling around the ring clutching his face. Luger drills Wright with a running knee to the back that sends him out of the ring. Lex follows and rams Wright back first into the ring apron before rolling Wright back in for a beautiful press slam. Despite Luger’s confidence at being in control Wright still manages a crossbody off the second rope but in trying for a second one Luger catches Wright in mid air and dumps him face first into a turnbuckle again. For some reason this makes Luger angry and he slaps Wright across the face multiple times.

Wright does manage a great comeback as he rocks Lex with a back suplex and wheel kick but as he climbs the ropes once more to attempt a moonsault, Jimmy Hart appears once again and grabs Wright’s leg, preventing him from leaping off until Lex has recovered enough to be ready to catch Alex when he does get to fly, dropping him across the top rope and pinning Wright to retain his TV title. Afterwards Lex admonishes Hart to keep up his heroic pretences as he poses for the fans.

This was far better than I expected as Wright and Luger meshed together really well Wright looked like a real threat to Luger who played his part well and did what was required to make Wright look like the aforementioned threat to the champion, plus some heelish Luger always helps a show along.

looking good, fellas
looking good, fellas

As much as I don’t want to cover this it’s time for the main event as Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage and the Bootyman face Ric Flair, Arn Anderson and Taskmaster Kevin Sullivan in a 6 man double strap tag match with lumberjacks surrounding the ring, each wielding leather straps of their own. The lumberjacks are all dressed in flannel check shirts (because they’re lumberjacks, geddit?) and consist of Meng, Barbarian, Steven Regal (3 years before his actual “lumberjack” gimmick in the WWF), Dave Taylor, Bobby Eaton, Konnan, DDP, Hawk, Animal, Evad Sullivan, Loch Ness and the Giant. Phew that’s a heck of a list.

This is a truly terrible match with no real structure or story, just the babyfaces systematically beating down the three heels (and the entire crop of lumberjacks at one point as Hogan uses a strap to attack a sizeable chunk of the roster) over and over until the end. This was a terrible foreshadowing of Hogan and Flair’s infamous Yapapi Indian Strap Match (Jack) from Uncensored 2000 and again made the entire heel roster look like jokes before Hogan’s might as Hogan easily beats Flair with the legdrop, and this is supposed to sell the Uncensored pay per view apparently. Bizarrely the only storyline development occurs between the Giant and Loch Ness when an errant strike from Ness hits Giant and the two behemoths brawl setting up their pay per view match.

After the match Gene talks to the losing heels where Arn Anderson likens the war of Hulkamania to a marriage, stating “till death do us part” and given how long Hogan and Flair continued feuding, that’s a fairly accurate summation. Flair is also on hand to go crazy and call Hogan out once more despite his loss and woooos his way to the announce booth for old times sake as the show ends.

If any show could be described as a “mixed bag” this certainly could be. The Steiners against the Road Warriors was magical in parts and Luger vs Wright was very watchable too but Duggan vs Giant and the awful main event dragged this down to almost unfathomable depths. It had more action than Raw but whereas that was consistent in its mediocrity, the quality here swung too wildly to recommend.

90s Captain America approves an Uatu the Watcher reference.
90s Captain America approves an Uatu the Watcher reference.

Once again thank you for reading.

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