By Martin Dixon ( @BunnySuicida )
Hello dear reader and welcome back to Wrestling in the Clinton years, which is to professional journalism as a puppy is to quantum physics. WCW Uncensored and the Doomsday Cage match are but a fading memory and so too (for this episode at least) is Hulk Hogan, last seen exiting an arena rather hurriedly in the aftermath of one of wrestling’s worst cage matches of all time. Having recently watched the match that’s a sentiment I can agree with. Devoid of any real pacing or story and with the rules seemingly being made up on the spot, with several of the company’s top talent looking foolish and ineffectual. Many better sources than me have covered Uncensored 96 in its entirety so it’s best to get back to recapping the bits in between the Pay Per Views, WCW Nitro.
WCW Monday Nitro, March 25th 1996.
In Hogan’s absence and to perhaps make up for the lack of title defences the night before, this episode plays host to three championship matches. Sting and the ever intriguing Lex Luger defend their tag team titles against the American Males, Kon(n)an faces JL (ECW star Jerry Lynn in a mask) for Konan’s United States championship and Ric Flair defends the WCW World Heavyweight Championship against The Giant who earned his shot at the gold by defeating Loch Ness the night prior. Once again Eric Bischoff, Bobby Heenan and Steve Mcmichael are on announcing duties along with an adorably attired Pepe the Chihuahua, resplendent in a cow print cowboy hat and vest ensemble. The trio debate Flair’s chances of retaining his belt against the mammoth spawn of Andre (which now thankfully seems to have been dropped as a character trait at this point) before the first match which is up next and sees Randy Savage facing the fearsome Belfast Bruiser who broke Steven Regal’s nose and cheekbone in a vicious war between the two at Uncensored.
At the start of the match the two lock up but neither man can get an advantage and they disengage and size each other up once more. This happens once more but The Belfast Bruiser manages to trap Savage in a side headlock from which the Bruiser better known as Finlay flips Savage by the neck down to the canvas. Randy soon manages to fight back to his feet and shove Finlay off but is knocked down again with a shoulderblock from the burly irishman.
Finlay traps Savage in a sleeperhold and the two eventually find themselves backed up into a corner where the referee is forced to interject and separate the two opponents but as they part, Savage quickly spins around and drives his shoulder into Finlay’s ribs. The tough Finlay is soon back in control after elbowing Savage in the face and then absolutely drills Savage with 2 European uppercuts that have Savage wobbling like a character from the Punch-Out videogames.
Savage ia dazed but still manages to avoid having his head rammed into a turnbuckle, ramming Finlay into the pad instead. Himself now dazed Finlay attemtps to beg for mercy but Savage has no spare stock of forgiveness and blasts Finlay with a clothesline and a knee to the back that sends him tumbling out of the ring. Savage follows to deliver more punishment but Finlay’s brawling acumen shines through and he shoves Savage into a handy ring post, his head bouncing off the metal and causing “The Macho Man” to crumple to the floor in a heap. Finlay next hoists Savage onto his shoulders and dumps him across a guardrail jaw first.
Holding his face and in an ever desperate state, Savage tries to regain composure by pacing around the ring but Finlay is soon back on the attack, driving Savage’s arm into the ring post this time before hurling him over the rail into the crowd. Finlay looks to have the better of the former world champion as he returns Savage to the ring and gets a very close 2 count from a short clothesline but Savage fights valiantly from his knees, punching Finlay in the midriff as he gets back to his feet.
Turn about is fair play as Savage avoids a corner charge and Finlay is the one who collides shoulder first with the ring post giving Savage the chance to climb the ropes and leap off with a top rope elbow that wins him the match against the odds and caps off a very surprising opening match. Finlay looked at all times like a real threat to Savage instead of the squash match this could so easily have been. Even at this later stage of his career Savage looks to be a selfless wrestler as he was against Chris Benoit some weeks before and it makes for exceptionally entertaining matches and Finlay’s skill is well known so this made for fun viewing for me.
After an advert for the WCW hotline that features the frankly terrifying sight of Gene Okerlund in a waitress’ outfit, Gene is thankfully more appropriately dressed to interview Ric Flair and his usual entourage of Elizabeth and Woman about a variety of subjects including The Giant about who Ric promises that he will be the one looking down upon the Giant at the end of the night, before attention turns to Lex Luger and his role in the defeat of The Alliance to end Hulkamania. The story goes that miscommunication between Ric and Luger led to the latter knocking “The Nature Boy” out and allowing Hogan and Savage to win. Gene theorises that Lex did this on purpose and although Ric “hasn’t looked at the package for a while” he will confont Luger about his actions and possible machinations towards usurping Flair as champion. Lastly the ever enthralling Ric can’t resist a few jibes at Randy Savage’s expense and the fact that Flair now has Elizabeth by his side and half of Savage’s personal fortune to squander before the trio leave to prepare for later. As always Ric is on point when it comes to promos, expertly selling his title defence here on this show, a potential feud with Lex Luger in the short term and his overarching blood feud with Randy Savage in one swoop.
The United States championship hangs in the balance next as Konan (as he is billed once again) defends against JL who both won at Uncensored. After a spot of sportsmanship with a handshake the two lock up where Konan backs the smaller JL into a corner and strikes his chest with a few chops before a whip to the corner opposite. JL deftly hops over the top rope from this however and catches Konan with a shoulder to the gut through the ropes that doubles the US champion over. Leaping over the top rope with the same grace as before, JL sends Konan spinning with a headscissors. Konan rolls with the momentum of the move and escapes unharmed but he is caught and felled with another headscissors in a great display of manoeuvres after which Konan slinks outside the ring to compose himself.
After returning to the ring, Konan is soon trapped in a wristlock by JL but he spins out of the hold, countering into an armdrag before beginning a series of moves all targeting JL’s arm but a monkey flip attempt by Konan sees JL land on his feet but a quick DDT gives the advantage back to Konan as Bischoff recieves a message over his headset that Randy Savage is running amok backstage as Konan locks JL in a modified Surfboard submission hold for a while.
Konan transitioning to an armbar allows JL to employ an armbar of his own leading to the pair exchanging elaborate armdrags until a desperate spinning elbow by JL knocks both men down. With both men back on their feet JL lands a chop of his own leading to a frightening missile dropkick to the back of Konan’s head that gets JL a near fall.
Konan hits JL with a gutwrench powerbomb but a second gets turned into a sunset flip by JL that gets him another near fall. Konan comes back with a slam and he climbs to the second rope but before he can dive off JL grabs him with DDT for yet another close near fall but an alabama slam & pin by Konan preserves his title reign in another good match that may have been a little too “spot heavy” for some but the high flying action did entertain me.
What didn’t entertain me was the next match that finally sees the Witcy debut of the Disco Inferno as he faces the Booty Man. Despite Disco’s awesome theme music this match contains almost no action at all before a High Knee from the PG Mr. Ass puts Disco down. At least it was quick.
The American Males take to the ring next to challenge for the tag team titles, complete with Marcus Bagwell singing along to their amazing theme before Sting and Lex Luger make their entrance. Luger continues to be one of the most entertaining things on Nitro as he plays a super enthusiastic babyface, high-fiving fans on the way to the ring, but only when Sting is looking. When his partner’s back is turned Luger couldn’t care less which is absolutely hilarious.
Luger and Scotty Riggs start the match off with the young Riggs humbling Luger with dropkicks and a backdrop that causes Lex to flip out and have a tantrum. Attacking Riggs from behind, Luger goes ballistic levelling him with clotheslines and even knocking Bagwell off the apron. An incensed Bagwell drags Luger to the outside and the two brawl, forcing both men’s teammates to step in and separate Bagwell and Luger to calm matters.
Bagwell tags into the match but Luger refuses to engage the firey babyface, instead opting to let Sting face him. At this point Bischoff does an excellent job on commentary selling a match long storyline of Bagwell being Sting’s protégé on the road and a thread of respect between Sting and the American Males that Luger doesn’t seem to share.
After tagging out Luger becomes even more hilarious acting as an obnoxious cheerleader for Sting that deeply irritates him before he focuses on his opponent. After an exhausting series of rope running Bagwell blasts his mentor with a backdrop but Sting blocks a slam attempt and hits 2 slams of his own. Bagwell takes time to applaud Sting and acknowledge his skill and tags Riggs in to face Sting. An exchange of wristlocks between Sting and Riggs ends in Sting’s favour and he tags out only for Lex to get dropped with a double hiptoss by the Males.
Luger avoids a dive off the ropes by Bagwell and proceeds to stomp Marcus into the mat in a vicious manner as he appears to lose control but Bagwell does manage to land a flying forearm. The end of the match comes as Sting hits a crossbody on Riggs during a melee to win the match and retain the belts. Luger is eager to leave as soon as possible but the schism between him and Sting widens as Sting opts to stay and celebrate the match with Bagwell and Riggs as Luger looks on from the aisle.
This was another fun match that had an excellent respect story throughout and also played into the Luger odyssey which is one of my favourite things in wrestling of this period.
This great show only heats up in the main event pitting the Giant against Ric Flair for the World title. Flair’s walk to the ring is briefly interrupted by Randy Savage who has to be held back by security and wrestlers but not before Elizabeth and Woman taunt him a little.
Flair and Giant begin the match staring at each other and exchanging words until Giant swats Flair away like an insect, a mere wave of his hand sending the champion sailing across the ring. We learn that Savage is being led away from the arena in handcuffs by police as Flair leaves the ring to regroup.
Returning to the match, Flair tries a shoulderblock but obviously ends up flat on his back after colliding with the massive Giant. Even Flair’s chops have no effect and Giant easily lifts Ric over his head before hurling him down to the mat. Giant repeats the feat with as much ease as before, causing Flair to seek refuge in the aisle. His respite is short lived as Giant soon catches up with the champion and carries him back to the ring over his shoulder.
More chops by Ric have no effect on Giant and a suplex makes Ric rethink his life choices up to this point. Flair does manage to leap from the top rope however but he is easily caught and brought crashing down to earth with a backbreaker. Giant inexplicably climbs the ropes himself and dives off for a splash on the prone Flair but Ric manages to move out of the way (he needn’t have bothered, Giant would have overshot him anyway) and the mammoth challenger crashes down. The Giant is still unfazed and Flair’s chops still have no effect on the big man.
Giant recklessly tries to splash Ric in a corner but Ric moves to safety with Giant falling out of the ring over the top rope. At this early stage of his career Giant’s size belies his impressive agility and it is amazing to see him move with such grace.
Woman passes Flair a length of wire as Elizabeth distracts the referee. Ric uses this opportunity to choke Giant with it to finally gain an advantage over the challenger. Ric also chokes Giant on the apron with the ropes providing some assistance. A thumb to the eye by Ric brings Giant to his knees and Flair begins to tee off with a series of punches to Giant’s jaw. Giant’s strength hasn’t been completely sapped though and he once again swats Flair away easily.
Flair’s ladies once again provide a distraction that allows Flair to kick Giant below the belt and also allows Woman to choke Giant with some wire herself. Giant coughs and splutters as Flair climbs the ropes once more buy typically he is caught and thrown off by a recovered challenger. Flair’s title reign looks to be in real jeopardy as Giant lifts him up by the throat and plants him on the mat with his devastating chokeslam but before he can make the pin both Woman and Elizabeth enter the ring to cause another distraction. During the confusion Arn Anderson sneaks to the ring with a steel chair in hand (no blue plastic chairs here) and blasts Giant across the back with it. Anderson is being chased by Giant’s dungeon master Kevin Sullivan who wrests the chair from Anderson’s grasp just in time for Giant to turn and see the weapon in the hands of his mentor. Giant grabs Sullivan by the neck and gives him the second chokeslam of the night for his imagined betrayal. Anderson isn’t spared as he too recieves a chokeslam of his very own. Chaos reigns as Giant towers over a ring full of broken bodies with Jimmy Hart attempting to explain Sullivan’s innocence. Understandably the match ends without a winner as Giant is unwilling to listen to Hart’s protestations and exits the ring, leaving the fans to look upon the destruction he had wrought. The show goes off the air after the announcers reveal that Hogan will return next week to which Bobby Heenan echoes mine and what I imagine were the sentimens of many in the audience by facepalming and motioning sticking his finger down his throat at the thought of Hogan’s return.
This was one of the best Nitro episodes I’ve seen so far, every match brought something different: The main event successfully made the Giant look like the monster he needs to be, Finlay looked like a potential player after his showing with Savage and the excellent Luger saga was furthered in grand fashion. The action was of a good standard with the only fly in the ointment being the Booty Man being thoroughly awful and only succeeded at making Disco Inferno look even more foolish than he usually does. I would love if Nitro carried on in this vein going forward but the specter of Hogan looms large on the horizon and curtailing my enthusiasm. My fingers are crossed that I am wrong and I get to write more positive reviews in subsequent weeks.