Wrestling in the Clinton years: Hall Hell Breaks Loose.

By Martin Dixon (@BunnySuicida)Screenshot_2015-08-04-10-05-16 Oh boy, here we go. Big changes are afoot for Wrestling in the Clinton years. Not only is Nitro now two hours in length (and I apologise for the length of this edition in advance, I’ll try streamlining things as I go forward) but there’s a strong case to be made for this being the moment wrestling changed forever. Wether that is for good or ill is another debate for another time but one thing is for sure, WCW was never the same after this episode. WCW Monday Nitro, May 27th, 1996. Confusingly the 1st and 2nd hours of Nitro feature different commentary teams with Tony Schiavone and Larry Zybszko (making his Witcy debut) handling this 1st hour, they run down what’s to come on the show including Sting facing Scott Steiner in the main event, The Giant defending his world title against the Shark (yay!) and in the first match,  Ric Flair and Arn Anderson face Marcus Bagwell and Scotty Riggs, better known as the American Males (or “the young and the useless” as Zybszko dubs them. Oh Larry, only three minutes in and you’ve stolen my heart with your commentary). Flair and Scotty Riggs begin the match with a side headlock by Ric on the mat but Riggs uses a headscissor to escape. Riggs is the one with a headlock from a second lock up. Flair shoves him off into the ropes but is felled by a shoulderblock. He soon regains control and throws Scotty through the ropes where him and Arn double team Riggs outside the ring. Ric and Arn take turns to attack Riggs and once again he is thrown out of the ring. The Horsemen try their double team assault again but this time they are thwarted by Riggs himself as Bagwell dashes in to aid his partner. All four men brawl in the ring where Flair is sent sky high by a backdrop from Bagwell as Riggs pounds Anderson in the corner.  Bagwell blasts Flair with 2 dropkicks and a clothesline that sends him over the top rope (which isn’t a disqualification this week). The American Males stand triumphant in the ring, firing up the crowd as the Horsemen cower at ringside and Flair grabs a drink from his VIP table that is set up in the aisle again. The match resumes with Arn and Bagwell squaring off with Anderson quickly getting the upper hand, throwing Bagwell out of the ring and propping him up against a ring post. Arn takes a swing aiming to knock Bagwell’s head into the post but as Marcus moves, Arn’s hand collides with the metal allowing Bagwell to land a barrage of punches as the show takes an ad break. The show resumes with Marcus fighting off both Horsemen, sending Flair skywars once more and tagging Riggs as Ric tags Arn back into the match. From the apron Ric grabs Riggs’ leg as he bounces off the ropes, distracting him long enough for Anderson to clip Scotty’s knee from behind.  Riggs’ leg becomes Arn’s focus as he repeatedly rams it into the apron and lays in many kicks to the knee. Flair takes over the beatdown as Woman gives Tony and Larry some champagne. That’s nice of her. Riggs tries to mount a comeback from his knees with punches but he cannot stop Arn from delivering more punishment to his leg but he does manage to get some breathing space after an enzugiri to the back of Arn’s head that sends Anderson tumbling out of the ring.  Flair dashes into the ring in an attempt to cause a distraction as Riggs crawls towards his partner and safety and Ric gets into a shoving match with the referee again. Scotty makes a desperate leap as Anderson closes in on him and finally makes a tag. Bagwell rushes the ring and attacks both heels,  giving Flair a third backdrop before climbing the ropes for a missile dropkick that looked very impressive.  Marcus snatches Flair in a small package but the referee is too concerned with sending Riggs back to his corner to count and when he finally notices, Ric is able to kick out. Marcus also hits a very nice fisherman’s suplex but Arn is there to break up the pin with a swift kick to Bagwell’s back. Following a Riggs dropkick on Ric Bagwell tries for another pin Woman reaches into the ring and rakes her manicured nails down Bagwell’s face and not even this is cause for a disqualification. In the confusion that follows Anderson is able to hit a DDT on Bagwell and Ric struggles over to the prone Bagwell, draping his arm across him for the match winning pinfall. After the match Ric douses himself in champagne before joining Gene Okerlund at his table for a brief interview.  Arn cuts a great promo on Mongo and Kevin Greene ahead of Great American Bash and Flair punctuates the interview by quoting the song Afternoon Delight and proclaiming that “Debra [Mcmichael] belongs to the Nature Boy!” What a cad! The match was fine but the interview afterwards was golden. Flair is still the man when going off at everyone and Anderson’s straightforward menace in his delivery are great to watch and listen to. Following that is a quite terrifying training montage from Mongo and Greene with far too much grunting and Greene shouting “We’re coming hard!” Whatever you say big guy. Strangely the main event is second on the card as Steve Doll faces The Mauler with manager Robert Parker. You may scoff but this is easily the most important thing on the show as Doll and Mauler write themselves into wrestling trivia legend as forever being the answers to the question “Who were wrestling when Scott Hall invaded Nitro?”. Yes we are at the moment everything changes. There’s actually quite a lot of action prior to Hall hopping the guardrail, again masking that something is up. Mauler mostly demolishing poor Doll. Following a break in the action a figure can be made out walking down the steps in the top left of the hard camera shot. Seeing the fans rise rpw by row as the figure passes is a fascinating sight as they all begin to realise just who is passing them. As the invader reaches ringside we finally see who it is as an as yet unnamed Scott Hall hops the guardrail and demands a mic. Hall enters the ring unchallenged as the match between Doll and Mauler just ends with no resolution. With his slicked hair,  toothpick and thick “cuban” accent this to all intents and purposes is Razor Ramon stood in the middle of Nitro’s ring and delivering a declaration of war: I honestly can’t imagine the shock someone must’ve felt seeing Razor Ramon stroll out on Nitro, especially as it wasn’t widely known that Hall had left the WWF at the time. To it’s eternal credit the WCW creative staff played a masterstroke by not referring to Hall by name and alluding that “Ramon” was there on the WWF’s orders in the opening salvo of a possible war between the two companies.  Schiavone and Zybszko knowing to keep quiet during and immediately following was commendable too. Even with endless replays and 19 years of history after it this segment in context of not only this episode but Nitro as a whole up until this point still had the power to send chills up my spine. This marks the beginning of a seismic shift in wrestling in the US and has effects still being felt today.  Wow. So how do you follow wrestling history?  Probably not with Craig “Pitbull” Pittman but WCW’s going to attempt to anyway as he faces Diamond Dallas Page dressed in neon green this week. Larry continues his good impression on commentary by calling Page “The new American Dream” in reference to his recent reversal of fortune.  I could see Page in polka dots. Super heel Page begins the match by mimicking standing at attention to poke fun at Pittman’s marine corps background.  Pittman obliges DDP when he asks him to “drop and give me 20” and begins a series of one-armed pushups. Page tries to get the drop on Pittman during this display of athleticism with a kick to the gut but Craig is wise to Page’s cheating and rolls out of the way, leaving Page to take a prat-fall flat on his back.  Pittman takes Page down with multiple shoulderblocks until a sneaky thumb to the eye gifts Page the advantage. Headbutting Pittman only hurts DDP and he staggers out of the ring, landing dazed among a pile of camera cable.  Stereotyping is alive and well in 1996 it seems. Page gains the advantage once more by dropping Pittman throat first across the top rope but can’t avoid Craig’s “Code Red” armbar finisher. The hapless Pittman even screws up his own move as Page is face down in what is basically a Fujiwara armbar.  Page escapes by grabbing Pittman’s manager Teddy Long as he stands near the ring and shoves him into a guardrail.  As Pittman lets go of Page to tend to Long DDP grabs him with a Diamond Cutter to win a very dull match. Page’s outlandish heel routine is entertaining as heck but Pittman is far too rough around the edges and often looked ungainly and out of his depth. The first hour is closed out with a video of Randy Savage’s erratic behaviour leading to his indefinite suspension from WCW as well as an interview with Shark ahead of his world title match.  Yes the Shark is apparently the number one contender. He does have a bigger bone to pick with Giant and the rest of the Dungeon of Doom however as it turns out that Shark has been booted out of the Dungeon and isn’t very happy about it. Finally there’s a hilarious-in-hindsight video package narrated by Lee Marshall (famous for being the voice of Tony the Tiger) of Hulk Hogan’s celebrity friends including Shaq, Dennis Rodman,  George Foreman and Sugar Ray Leonard.  The video stokes Hulk’s ego further by calling him the “Greatest Champion in history!” The second hour begins with a change of personnel as Eric Bischoff and Bobby Heenan take over announcing duties from their familiar place in the famous Nitro booth. Poor Schiavone and Zybszko had to sit at ringside like riff raff it seems. Giant’s deeply overshadowed World Title reign continues as he faces Shark to begin hour 2. This sadly is a very formulaic match as the two behemoths just club each other for a few minutes until a distraction by Jimmy Hart allows Giant to lift Shark into the air with a chokeslam to successfully defend his championship.  Giant is super popular with the crowd and is very capable of having good matches even at this early stage but not against Shark. The two big men cancel each other out leaving me very indifferent to this match. Giant works best against smaller opponents that be can toss around and generally look menacing,  as does John “Shark” Tenta. After the match Big Bubba of the Dungeon disgraces Shark further by shaving half of his hair off to kick start their feud. The dullness continues into the next match as Lex Luger defends his TV title against Maxx, the former Maxx Muscle given a makeunder to leave him looking like the most generic, Create-A-Wrestler template imaginable. Maxx dominates Lex for a good portion of the match but it is all very plodding. Luger manages to eke out a win after hitting Maxx with his suspect forearm and a powerslam before hoisting him up into a torture rack for a submission win as the fans go crazy for the rack. Lex’s popularity with the crowd seems to be bulletproof. Gene joins a victorious Luger for an interview where Lex states that he wants to face every “big man” in WCW and put them in the rack before facing Giant in a well delivered speech.  Luger’s character is once again called into question as Gene wonders aloud how Luger got a title shot ahead of DDP who won Battlebowl. I hope you all like armbars because Brad Armstrong and “Hardwork” Bobby Walker brought enough for everyone. Armbars punctuate this entire match as both opponents exchange them liberally. Walker is apparently a graduate of the Power Plant, WCW’s training school and he proves to be a terrible advertisement for it as he repeatedly slips and stumbles when climbing the ropes, much to the crowd’s amusement.  The only reaction from the fans to the match comes from a chuckle as Walker slips before delivering a top rope shoulderblock that amazingly is the finish as Armstrong’s shoulders stay down for the three count to end an interminable match. Walker looks to need a lot more training at the Power Plant it seems. Thankfully Europe is on hand to save the day through superior wrestling as Lord Steven Regal faces Alex Wright in the next match.  Regal’s technique gives him an early advantage as he twists Wright into a wristlock.  Wright flips out of the hold and takes Regal to the mat with a wristlock of his own but Regal is close enough to the ropes to escape.  Again Regal tries for a wristlock and again Wright frustrates him by escaping and hitting two flying headscissors that send his lordship scurrying out of the ring. His respite is short-lived as Wright slides under the ropes into Regal and knocking him into a guardrail followed by a topé over the top rope before another ad break. A new Glacier video airs with even more thumping techno music and swish CG imagery. Regal is on top as the show resumes, working on Wright’s left arm but is soon on the back foot again thanks to a shoulderblock.  Momentum swings back in Regal’s favour with a series of blows followed by a drop toehold into an STF. Wright counters a European Uppercut into a belly to belly suplex that gets a near fall as Bischoff begins to ruin Hall’s invasion by repeatedly making reference to it and teasing his appearance at the end of the show. Personally I liked the announcers not making reference to Hall, that felt more “real”. Regal and Wright exchange with Alex winning out and rolling Regal up for a pin after moonsaulting over him from the top rope. I have no idea if that was intentional but it looked really cool regardless. As Regal holds Wright in an armlock he turns to the camera and spouts off a diatribe directed at people coming from “other bloody wrestling companies”, showing that wether face or heel, everyone is against the WWF. A dropkick to the head gives Wright some hope, as does a European Uppercut and a jumping wheelkick for another near fall but Regal counters a monkey flip,  dumping Wright on the back of his head and pinning him to win an incredibly entertaining match. I loved the stiff strikes and crisp mat work and this was a great answer to the dull matches that preceeded it. Regal is interviewed by Okerlund in the ring after the match and begins to run down everyone he can think of. He calls Gene “a miserable little toad”, calls Wright “Junior Adolf”, Giant an “escapee from Barnam and Bailey’s [circus]” before challenging Sting in an effort to insert himself into the world title mix. He lastly calls Sting a “painted face bloody clown” to cap off an excellent promo. Time for the main event as friends Sting and Scott Steiner collide. A gentlemanly handshake between the two shows off their sportsmanship to kick off their match.  Sting is the first to fall as Steiner hits an armdrag but Sting reverses a hiptoss to make them even. Scott lifts Sting high into the air following a third lock up and drops him to the canvas with a press slam. Sting retaliates with a dropkick that sends Scott through the ropes and Sting slingshots himself over the top rope to land onto Steiner for more damage. Back in the ring Scott counters a backdrop into a double arm powerbomb and his amazing spinning belly to belly suplex Sting rolls out of the ring only to be levelled bt Steiner as he flies from the top rope with an axehandle. Scott runs into Sting’s boot in the corner but still hits an overhead belly to belly from an irish whip to remain on top. Scott locks in an STF that even John Cena would laugh at but he turns it into an actual Fujiwara armbar to show Craig Pittman how it should be applied but Sting refuses to quit. Sting counters a suplex into a Scorpion Death Drop but is too exhausted to make a pin and both men lie on the canvas for a little while. They each struggle to their feet in opposite corners leading to Sting hitting a Stinger Splash but misses a second amd crashes into a turnbuckle.  As he staggers back Scott grabs Sting in a full nelson and hits a wicked dragon suplex.  The crowd cheers as Lex Luger appears to cheer Sting on from the sidelines quickly followed by Rick Steiner.  Scott hits a top rope suplex on Sting but opts to attempt a Frankensteiner instead of pinning his opponent.  As he is whipped into the ropes Sting holds on and Scott misses his move and crashes to the mat. Sting leaps to try to win with a Scorpion Deathlock but Steiner is too close to the ropes and escapes. Steiner’s attempt at a tombstone piledriver is reversed by Sting into one of his own and tries for a splash but Scott lifts his knees and Sting crashes onto them. Steiner tries to suplex Sting from the apron into the ring but Sting again reverses it into a suplex to the outside. Scott lands on his feet however and drags Sting out with him for another suplex on the ringside mats. As he lifts Sting up Luger and Rick begin to argue as Sting blocks the move. The match gets thrown out as a brawl breaks out between all four men. The locker room empties as officials, security and wrestlers separate everyone to compound a deeply unsatisfying ending to what had been a great match.  Oh well, that’s Nitro I guess. Lastly Bischoff and Heenan are at their desk to try and make sense of what has happened before Scott Hall appears once more.  He makes repeated vague nods to “we” suggesting again that he is not working alone and issues a challenge to Billionaire Ted to find 3 wrestlers to face him and whoever else he has in tow. Hall finishes on the legendary soundbite “we are taking over, you wanted a war, you’ve got one.” The announcers and arena falls into stunned silence as the show ends and Hall retreats. Even Bobby Heenan looks concerned at what may be on the horizon.  A very powerful image. Aside from the earth-shattering debut of Scott Hall,  this was a rather forgettable edition of Nitro for its first feature-length show. There were a lot of matches but most of those were filler,  even a world title match. Regal, Wright, Page, the Horsemen and American Males did bring the entertainment value though and THAT debut more than made up for the dullness. Its place in history is guaranteed so regardless of the likes of Bobby Walker,  this episode needs to be seen of only to see the beginning of the end of the dark ages of the mid-nineties.  As high a recommendation as I can give. If you’ve made it to the end of this,  please feel free to give yourself a medal and if you’re reading for the first time, please consider coming back as it only gets more interesting from here.

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