By Martin Dixon (@BunnySuicida)
Hello and welcome back to another edition of Wrestling in the Clinton years, the Chinese knock off of proper wrestling blogging. The no-Hogan era of Nitro continues with neither hide nor hair of the mahogany one on Nitro (which if you’ve read Bryan Alvarez and RD Reynolds’ book The Death of WCW may or may not be a ploy to parlay diminished ratings due to the NBA Playoffs happening at the time to his favour). Without the Hulkster around it seems that Ric Flair and Randy Savage are finally allowed to have a feud to themselves and it also means that there is more time for some different match ups as this episode displays. With The Giant also being the new World Heavyweight Champion it will be interesting for me to finally see how his reign unfolds compared to his original WWF Championship run 3 years later.
At first glance this episode shows a lot of promise as the blurb on the WWE network reveals the appearance of Jushin Thunder Liger who I have always been fascinated by ever since I saw photos of the masked man in wrestling magazines in the 90s, years before I even saw one of his matches. For the longest time I was struck by his colourful costumes and that in every photo I saw him he was in mid-air for some outlandish dive. Liger looked like a superhero and was a million miles away from what I was used to in wrestling and thankfully I was even more impressed when I finally saw a Liger match against Great Muta (another long time favourite of mine) and that’s when I knew Liger was the one for me so it’s great to get the chance to mention him within the realms of WitCY. But enough gushing, on with the episode because sadly it isn’t all good.
WCW Monday Nitro, May 6th 1996.
Following a rather pedestrian aerial view of Daytona Beach, Florida, Bobby Heenan’s mic fails during the introduction telling us what is coming up on the show. Despite apparently no showing a match against the Giant Lex Luger gets another crack at the new Champion in Giant’s first defence of his belt, the nascent WCW Cruiserweight division makes an appearance as Dean Malenko faces the aforementioned Liger and having being apparently possessed by Satan, Randy Savage is backstage “with eyes rolling and head spinning” ahead of his match with Hugh Morrus. I’m not sure if Savage is fit to compete with such demonic ailments.
Pepe is dressed as a sailor.
The Dungeon of Doom theme signals the arrival of Hugh Morrus for the opening match against Savage. During Morrus’ entrance Bischoff talks about the “special June” coming to WCW TV and unveils Hog Wild, the biker themed Pay Per View from Sturgis due to happen in August. Mongo calls bikers “True Americans” to make his presence felt. Heenan smartly stays quiet as Randy Savage makes his entrance. Savage doesn’t look especially unhinged but soon he has good reason to snap as Morrus jumps Randy in the aisle and proceeds to beat Savage around ringside for a while.
Morrus finally rolls a beaten Savage into the ring and begins to mock the Macho Man by putting on Savage’s signature hat, glasses and jacket. This disrespect causes Savage to fly into a rage, viciously clawing at Morrus’ eyes before choking him with his own jacket. Savage even “hangs” Morrus over the top rope in an uncomfortable image. Just as I began to wonder if a match had actually begun, the referee hastily calls for the bell and tries to calm Savage down, who had given up choking Hugh to deliver a top rope elbow to the fallen Laughing Man. Savage’s wild ways continue as he strikes the referee with a punch and bodyslam before dropping another elbow on the poor official.
Lastly, an army of backstage staff and local police descend upon the ring to usher Savage back to the locker rooms and presumably a local jail cell for his actions.
Finally! For all the talk of Savage being a loose cannon, I had seen precious little evidence to back this up on-screen. It was great to see Savage finally behave like he had been portrayed by Eric and company and this segment was very powerful viewing, especially with Ric Flair taking his antagonising of Savage to a new level later in the show.
A memorial to the recently departed Ray Stevens is shown along with some very sincere condolences from Eric and Bobby and also features a donation line to the legendary Cauliflower Alley Club at Stevens’ family’s request in a very classy move by WCW.
Next up is the Liger/Malenko match and this delivered on its promise with aplomb. Liger looks resplendent in a black and white outfit with yellow highlights and with Sonny Onoo in tow. We also learn of new WCW Cruiserweight champion Shinjiro Ohtani who won a tournament in Japan that had been running for several weeks prior. Ohtani will make his debut for WCW on a future episode of Worldwide. Why he couldn’t debut on Nitro is beyond me and a little disappointing as I only really know Ohtani through name and haven’t seen much of his work so it would have been nice to kill two birds with one stone as I continue the blog.
The match begins with a side headlock takedown by Malenko but Liger is soon free thanks to a headscissors on the mat that restores the status quo. Dean takes Liger down again with a drop toehold from which he traps his masked opponent with a front facelock but this is soon reversed by Liger into a hammerlock in a great display of chain wrestling. Malenko returns to his feet where he remains in Liger’s clutches thanks to a wristlock but Dean is able to escape with a kip up that lets him grab a wristlock of his own to turn the tide. The balance is restored as Liger trips Malenko’s leg to free himself.
Bischoff recieves a message over his headset that Savage has indeed been detained by local law enforcement as Liger blasts Dean in the head with an enzugiri that sends Malenko scrambling to exit the ring and regroup.
The crowd suddenly erupts and all heads turn to the entranceway as the screen splits to show Ric Flair in full tuxedo along with Woman and Elizabeth in slinky red outfits make their way out. Sadly the way in which the WCW production crew choose to split the screen is particularly irksome as it leaves around 60% of the screen is taken up with a Nitro logo leaving just two small screens for viewers to try to follow the action with. On a small computer monitor this proves very annoying and thankfully not a lot of the show is viewed like this. Flair and the ladies make their way to a table laden with fancy crockery and silverware set up in the entrance along with copious bottles of champagne as the action in the ring resumes with Liger hitting a senton on Dean for a near fall as the split screen ends to show the whole match. Annoyingly the crowd’s attention is focused on Flair et al so this match plays before a sea of people all looking left. Liger gets another near fall from a brainbuster just before an ad break halts the action.
We return to see Malenko levelling Liger with a dropkick before grabbing a leg submission that has Liger screaming in agony but refusing to quit and eventually struggles to the ropes to free himself. Malenko begins to target Liger’s knee in preparation for his Texas Cloverleaf hold but as he goes to apply his signature move, Liger cannily grabs Dean with a small package for a surprise two count. Liger continues his comeback with a handspring elbow for another near fall. Liger keeps going with a rolling kick to Malenko’s face in a corner and with Dean stunned Liger hoists him onto the turnbuckle. Dean tumbles from the ring as Liger dropkicks him from his seated perch and climbs the ropes himself, leaping onto Malenko on the floor to snap the fans’ attention back to their match.
Liger tries another handspring elbow back in the ring but Malenko manages to counter it (rather awkwardly sadly) into a pin for another near fall. Soon Malenko catches Liger on the top rope, halting the man from Japan’s attempt at another dive and joins Liger on the top rope from where he hits his incredible top rope gutbuster as he brings Liger crashing down across his knee. Instead of trying for a pin though Dean drags Liger to his feet for a powerbomb but as he is held in the air, Liger shifts his weight and crashes down on top of Malenko for another dramatic near fall.
The two opponents begin to exchange some expertly performed reversals until Malenko drives Liger into the canvas with a nasty looking sit down powerbomb that finally keeps Liger down for a three count and giving Malenko the victory in what proved to be an exquisite television match that may be my favourite that I’ve seen so far. What a fantastic showcase for the emerging Cruiserweight division that would become WCW’s calling card going forward and a great example of WCW’s superiority over WWF television at the time.
Next, Ric Flair is pulled away from his evening of fine dining by Gene Okerlund who wants to grab an explanation from the Nature Boy as to his opulent set dressing. Ric and the ladies reveal that Savage is footing the bill for all this as Liz is using her half of her kayfabe divorce from Randy to fund all this and antagonize Randy further. Ric glosses over his title loss to the Giant as he once again spies Debra Mcmichael sat in the crowd. He orders his waiter (yes he has a waiter now) to give Debra a glass of champagne as he macks on Mongo’s missus once more but Debra is unimpressed and pours the Perignon on the ground. Undeterred Flair boasts that he will get what he wants eventually and him, Woman and Liz go back to their meal. Flair was at his sleazy best throughout this interview and this new wrinkle of the Flair/Savage feud is very intriguing.
Battered, bruised and sporting a large variety of bandages, Lord Steven Regal is up next to take on Sting in a rather lacklustre match I’m sad to say. The match takes ages to get going as Regal would rather converse with the fans instead of engaging his opponent. Sting tries for a scorpion deathlock very early on but Regal’s flailing stops Sting from turning him over and he manages to reach the ropes and escape in the match’s sole highlight. The finish comes after a lot of stalling and posturing and sees Sting reversing Regal’s attempt at a double arm suplex, turning it into a backdrop amd landing on Regal for a pin fall and the win. Given the names involved I had hoped for more entertainment from these two but sadly this was only ever okay.
This all brings us to the main event anf firstly a huge and not welcome surprise as both Sting’s and Lex Luger’s themes play simultaneously. That mild amusement soon gave way to abject terror as the bumbling buffoon Hacksaw Jim Duggan comes wandering out to everyone’s confusion. Ring announcer David Penzer is clued into the situation by Duggan and he informs us that Lex Luger has again failed to show up for his allotted match, with Duggan volunteering to face the Giant in Luger’s place. This is still a World title match remember, so the frightening prospect of Duggan as Champion is a very real possibility. Rightly the crowd mercilessly boo this development as Giant and Jimmy Hart make their way to the ring.
The “valiant” Duggan attacks Giant as he steps over the top rope but Giant keeps swatting Jim away. All before the match has officially begun too, what a hero that Jim Duggan is. He even jumps Giant from behind when the match does officially begin too.
The match is utter dreck, selling by Duggan is completely subjective at best and only succeeds at making Giant look weak. Giant’s no-selling of Duggan’s blows is at least in character as the two flail away at each other until the finish where Duggan’s attempt at taping his hands once more leaves him open for a terrible chokeslam that Jim barely jumps for that finally ends this tiresome bore.
After the bell Giant gives Duggan a second chokeslam that does look a little bit better and this wanton display of violence brings a “who’s who” of the dregs of WCW’s roster to the ring to try and defend Duggan. One by one, Cobra, one of the Cuban assassins and Alex Wright are felled by chokeslams. Ric Flair also rushes the ring with a wooden chair and breaks it over the head of the Giant but even this has no effect on the massive World Champion. Only Sting (Giant’s opponent at Slamboree that I only remembered writing this as it wasn’t brought up on air) can harm Giant as he leaps at Giant’s knee from the top rope before a barrage of punches and an axehandle finally cut Giant down to size. Sting even tries for a sharpshooter but Jimmy Hart hits Sting on the back of his head with his megaphone. Sting doesn’t sell this as he stares Hart down.
Attention turns to the entrance once again as Lex Luger finally appears, sprinting to the ring clad in pinstripe workout gear and carrying his gym bag and briefcase in another hilarious Luger moment. The two chase Giant and Hart away as Gene attempts to interview Luger as to his whereabouts but Sting is to irate at Lex and the two argue with Luger insisting that he was the victim of car troubles as the show ends.
I’ve already admitted to loving the saga of Lex Luger and his questionable alignment and with Giant on top and his association with Hart, a possible angle of Luger no showing title matches so Giant can face lesser challengers is very very intriguing to me. Although this is tempered by the knowledge of the impending arrival of The Outsiders and the continuity shake up of the nWo on the horizon but while it continues I’m enjoying this immensely.
Dodgy Sting match and the fact that Jim Duggan had a world title match aside, this was a killer episode of Nitro with Liger and Malenko having a stellar match and Randy Savage’s feud with Ric Flair getting some much needed development. This moved everything along brilliantly, was thoroughly entertaining and is a show I can honestly recommend checking out. The streak continues!
Once again thank you if you made it this far, and if you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read please share with whomever will listen.
Until next time peoples, enjoy!