By Martin Dixon (@BunnySuicida )
WCW Monday Nitro, April 1st 1996.
Hello reader and welcome back to Wrestling in the Clinton years, dredging the past to entertain the future. Normally at this point I would have some kind of intro but this episode wastes no time getting to the action so in keeping with the spirit I’ll do the same.
We join Nitro in medias res as we see Sting and the Giant confronting each other in the ring. No explanation is given as to why these two are facing off as an incredulous Sting rather heelishly spits at Giant causing him to fly into a rage and charge at Sting who ducks the wild swing and begins to rock Giant with punches. Giant remains on his feet until a running chop block by the canny Stinger momentarily brings the mammoth man to a knee. Sting ups the ante by leaping off the top rope with another chop block that works and Giant remains on his knees allowing Sting to land a series of punches to Giant’s jaw as he kneels. The blows have little effect on Giant however and he is soon back on his feet and begins to stalk his opponent around the ring. Not wishing to back away from the fight Sting charges at Giant and leaps, attempting to bring Giant down to earth. Sting is the one brought down to earth however as he simply bounces off the wide chest of Giant and crashes in a heap on the mat. Giant follows up with a crushing elbow drop before throwing Sting effortlessly through the ropes out of the ring.
Sting’s punishment continues as Giant follows outside and hurls Sting into a guardrail before lifting his emerald clad opponent high over his head, dumping him back into the ring over the top rope from the floor in an incredible display of power and just sheer height. It’s often easy nowadays to forget just how large a human being Paul Wight is and to its eternal credit, WCW at this time is booking Giant to be an almost unstoppable force of nature.
Sting tries to attack Giant as he stands on the apron before returning to the ring but Giant simply wraps his around Sting’s neck for a chokeslam. Still stood on the apron Giant lifts Sting high into the air by his throat but before he can drive Sting into the canvas, Sting twists and turns in mid air and blasts Giant in the face with a dropkick, sending Giant sailing through the air and crashing to the floor. At this point Lex Luger slides into the ring to stand alongside his fellow Tag Team Champion, causing the referee to call for the bell and throw the match out, meaning that this was an official match after all. The pair presents a united front as Jimmy Hart ushers the angry Giant backstage. As he leaves Jimmy seems to be very angry at Luger about him aiding Sting. It looks like Luger’s motives are under even more question than before.
The show finally begins proper with title sequence and many many fireworks before Bischoff, Heenan, Mongo and Pepe finally shed some light on what led to the confrontation between Sting and Giant. We see what transpired just before the live feed started where Harlem Heat are making their way to the ring for a Tag Team Championship match against Sting and Giant, substituting for Lex Luger. Jimmy Hart hands Harlem Heat a mysterious envelope, the contents of which convince Booker and Stevie to return to the locker room. It seems that this was some kind of trap to attack Sting that may or may not have involved Lex Luger up until him running to Sting’s aid. Luger’s substitution is due to him having a world title match later in the show against Ric Flair due to Flair being angry at Luger over Uncensored. Phew, that was surprisingly in depth for a mid 90s wrestling plot, encompassing wider plot threads and working well on its own for this one show. Kudos to WCW on this as I quite liked it.
The WCW tag title division takes centre stage next as 3 teams face off to determine the number one contenders to Sting and Luger’s tag titles. The Steiner brothers, The Nasty Boys and the Road Warriors are on hand for this triangle tag match that sadly is as hard to follow and enjoy as it sounds on paper.
There are highlights amid all the chaos though. The Steiners mercilessly suplexing people around the ring is always entertaining. As is the point when the match inevitably breaks down and everyone brawls around ringside. Of huge note is one of the crowd signs emblazoned with “Pillman 3:16”. This episode takes place over 2 months before King of the Ring 96 and Steve Austin’s earth-shattering “Austin 3:16” promo. This is probably coincidence but did raise a quizical eyebrow from me as I watched.
The triangle match itself is a bit of a mess but the finish is very, very creative. Amid the melee Public Enemy sneak down to ringside with Rocco Rock knocking out Brian Knobbs. This allows Johnny Grunge to sneak into the ring, dressed exactly like Knobbs and lie down for Scott Steiner to pin him and win the match. I admit I didn’t see that ending coming and I really liked how smart it came across on screen. More kudos to WCW.
All creativity tragically goes out of the window in the next match as Hulk Hogan returns to Nitro to team with the Booty Man to take on Arn Anderson and Kevin Sullivan. This plays out exactly the same as every other encounter between these men with a couple of exceptions. Firstly Hogan is mercilessly booed by the fans whenever he is in the match and secondly the finish sees Kimberly Page (the Booty Babe) hand Hogan one of her shoes for him to blast Sullivan with it and win the match with even more lame shoe-based antics. After the bell Arn and Sullivan attack Booty until Hogan chases them off. Utter dreck.
After the match Gene Okerlund grabs a few words with Hogan and Booty where they cut an awful promo promising (or perhaps threatening) a return match that will let them have “the last laugh”. Also during the match Bobby Heenan suddenly announces that he is retiring after this show to which Bischoff completely no sells on commentary. Heenan promises to reveal more details at the end of the show.
After cameras catch sight of Debra Mcmichael sat in the crowd and Eric wishes Heenan “all the best in his future endeavours” Lex Luger and Ric Flair square off in the main event for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship, a belt that hilariously still has a nameplate bearing the name “Macho Man” upon it.
The two begin with a lockup from which the powerful Luger easily shoves Flair across the ring, sending him flying. Out of embarrassment Flair tries to take Lex off his feet with a shoulderblock but Flair is the one brought down as he bounces off Lex’s chisled torso as Luger remains steadfast. Flair next offers Luger a test of strength but immediately regrets his decision as Lex crushes Ric’s left hand, causing him to scream in agony. After this Lex hits an excellent press slam on Ric, lifting him high into the air and throwing him to the canvas that sends Ric scurrying out of the ring to seek solace.
Luger falls for a second test of strength as Ric sneakily kicks Lex in the gut but Luger soon reverses an irish whip into another equally impressive press slam. Ric does manage to regain control as he repeatedly punches Lex in his ribs, even dropping him with a back elbow before climbing the ropes from which Luger catches him and hurls Flair from the top rope. Lex follows up with 2 clotheslines, the second of which sends Ric over the top rope and outside the ring once more. Ric is literally hopping mad and begins to storm up the aisle and abandon the match but Woman convinces Ric to return and he duly complies with his comely valet.
Upon returning to the ring Ric drops to his knees and begs Luger for mercy but it turns out to be just a diversion that allows him to jab a thumb in Lex’s eye. With Luger blinded Flair begins to chop away at Luger’s chest until with a surge of adrenaline, Lex fires back with a series of punches and a third press slam earns Flair more frequent flyer miles before Lex dumps Flair on the top rope.
More running clotheslines keep Flair down before Lex inexplicably opts to hassle Woman and Elizabeth, chasing them away from ringside. This proves costly for Lex as Ric catches him with a running knee as Luger hops up onto the apron, sending him crashing into a guardrail. Woman proves that hell hath no fury like a, er *her* scorned as she rakes her nails across Lex’s face in retaliation for hassling her.
Bischoff says that Flair is “stomping a mudhole” in Luger as he works the challenger over before trying to end the match with a figure four. Luger flails and screams while trapped in the hold but refuses to quit, eventually “hulking up” and turning him and Flair over to escape Ric’s clutches.
Lex looks to have a third title within reach after a superplex and a powerslam (Luger went into the match as TV champion and a tag champion), but Woman has a contingency plan come to her mind and snatches a drink from a ringside fan. She instructs Elizabeth to distract the referee as Lex locks in what would surely be a title-winning Torture Rack and enters the ring to throw the contents of the drink (that the announcers tell us contains hot coffee, surely not a popular beverage at events) into Luger’s eyes. He falls to the mat clutching his face allowing Ric to struggle over and pin Lex and retain his championship. Ric and the ladies retreat from the ring as Sting races to the ring to aid his partner.
Lastly we return to Bischoff, Heenan and Mongo who run down the show before Heenan remains true to his word and reveals more details about his retirement. Those details are that it was all an April Fool and that he isn’t going anywhere! Oh what a clever trick that I *totally* didn’t see coming. Oh that japester Bobby Heenan.
This wasn’t a great episode but at the very least Hulk Hogan’s presence was minimal and the way Giant is presented at this time is incredibly well done. The finish to the tag match was hugely inventive and although a little formulaic, Luger vs Flair did not disappoint at all, especially with Woman taking charge and thinking on her feet to save her man. That was something else I could enjoy about this show and that little head trip of Pillman 3:16 did make for a memorable show, just not one with great wrestling.
Thanks for reading, gang.