Wrestling in the Clinton Years: Prognosis: CHOKESLAM!

By Martin Dixon (@BunnySuicida)

69 DUDES! Hello and welcome to this most naughtily numbered edition of Wrestling in the Clinton years.  It also reminds me just how many of these things I’ve written and my mind boggles at how many words comprise WitCY.  If you’ve read them all award yourselves a medal and lets oil up and get stuck into the latest episode of Nitro.

WCW Monday Nitro, June 17th 1996.

Perhaps the most lavish pyro display yet announces the start of Nitro to the packed house in the Richmond Colosseum in Richmond, VA from where the show is being broadcast.  Tony Schiavone and Larry Zybszko are allowed in the announcers booth this week instead of being stuck at a desk adjacent to the ring.  With the shocking attack by the Outsiders on Eric Bischoff at the Great American Bash the previous night, including Bischoff being powerbombed through the stage, Schiavone will be hosting both hours of Nitro.  Zybszko is still only on hand for the first 60 minutes with Bobby Heenan joining for hour two. We see some of the famous “Nitro stills” of last night’s PPV in a lengthy recap that culminates in footage of Bischoff about to go through the stage. It must be noted that the “F” of “WWF” is censored here meaning that the WWE network is using some of the old WWE 24/7/Classics on Demand footage when it comes to Nitro. Finally the introduction ends and the Harlem Heat theme takes us to the first match as Stevie Ray faces Rick Steiner.

Stevie attacks Rick as soon as he enters the ring and begins clubbing the elder Steiner to the mat. A hard clothesline by Ray sends Steiner tumbling 225 degrees in the air and crashing down face first on the canvas too. Rick gets back into the match with a belly to belly suplex as Stevie runs at him and a top rope bulldog by Rick earns him a near fall. Stevie fires back with a powerslam out of nowhere but misses a chop from the second rope.  This allows Rick to hit a clothesline and win the match as he pins Stevie.  After the match Booker T rushes the ring and the two brothers beat Rick up some more. Scott Steiner saves his brother before he is the recipient of a Harlem Hangover and the first match segment ends as quickly as it began. Sadly this was far too brief to be of any entertainment even as an opening match.

WCW has accepted the Outsiders’ challenge and will name its three chosen wrestlers later on the show. We learn this as the second match begins. The Disco Inferno will take on Joe Gomez who finally gets to make his debut after getting attacked by the Horsemen last week. So what about his debut? Did Gomez look like the hot new prospect he was talked up to be last week? Not in the slightest. Despite shining early with some nice Japanese style armdrags (a rarity in WCW), he is quickly made to look inferior to the buffoonish Disco who constantly worries about his hair, fixing it throughout a beat down of Joe after the latter nearly decapitated himself on the top rope missing a crossbody.  Disco even hits one of his many finishers on Gomez, dropping him with a neckbreaker (and that may be the first neckbreaker of 1996) but takes an age posing and dancing before making a pin and ends up getting caught in an inside cradle and getting pinned by Gomez.  Disco doesn’t seem fazed by his loss however as he says into a camera “at least my hair is okay”. What a lame duck showing for Gomez.

Backstage Gene Okerlund is in the company of Ric Flair and his ever growing harem. Flair,  Woman and Liz are now joined by a newly heelish Debra Mcmichael whom Gene demands an answer for her and her husband’s actions at the Great American Bash.  Debra blandly says something about money being their motivation for joining the Horsemen but Ric is once again on top form as he takes the mic to gloat at the Horsemen  being back at full strength before firing more barbs at Randy Savage ahead of their collision later.  Good stuff.

Timely stuff too as the Horsemen are up next.  Arn Anderson and Chris Benoit have patched up their differences and are teaming up against the American Males.  Benoit is sporting a very nasty looking black eye after his war around the arena with Kevin Sullivan the previous evening.  The Males look to be in for a rough time as Arn blitzes Scotty Riggs at the bell, even knocking partner Marcus Bagwell off the apron too. Arn narrowly avoids a Riggs dropkick by sliding out of the ring but this puts him within striking distance of Bagwell who gains some retribution with a punch that decks “the Enforcer” and rolls him back into thr ring to a waiting Scotty. After suffering a backdrop and dropkick from Riggs Anderson manages to tag in Benoit who tears into Riggs, chopping away at his chest with fury.

After some back and forth action Bagwell manages to get into the match and lands a fisherman’s suplex on Arn but Benoit is soon back to brutalise the poor Marcus with headbutts and more chops than is possibly necessary.  All the while the crowd are going ballistic for the Horsemen and Benoit in particular as he hits a diving headbutt to Bagwell,  his head landing on Bagwell’s jaw with a dull thud. Riggs is on hand to save his partner from the subsequent pinfall.

The Males hit their double dropkick finisher on Benoit but a sneaky elbow to the back of Riggs’ head allows Benoit to suplex him onto the top rope and win the match for the Horsemen in a muted but satisfying end to a great match by both teams.  It pains me to say this but this match reminded me why I loved Benoit as a wrestler. Watching him carve up the babyfaces with vicious but crisp moves was a thing of majesty to watch, even if I still have trouble distancing myself from the tragedies of 2007.

After their win Arn and Benoit are interviewed in the ring by Mean Gene.  Both men take the opportunity to gloat over their beat down of Sullivan in Benoit’s match last night. Both also share in Flair’s crowing about the Horsemen once again becoming a quartet.

The previous night John Tenta gained a measure of revenge against Big Bubba for shaving half of the former Shark’s hair but shaving a piece out of Bubba’s beard. Despite that this feud is slated to continue as the two have a rematch in the next segment.  Tenta has the most unusual affectation in his new “man not Shark” gimmick by having no entrance music that in a modern age where even the lowest of wrestlers will have a theme of some kind is very striking when he strides to the ring in silence.

The match begins with the two brawling on the arena floor but soon moves into the ring where Bubba is sent skywards with a backdrop and a dropkick that is very impressive for a man of his size.  Tenta continues to dominate Bubba until John gets his testicles introduced to a ring post after being tripped up and falling flat on his back.  It’s then time for Bubba to begin an extended beatdown, eventually locking Tenta in a camel clutch to try and make him hum-bel but Tenta refuses to quit and eventually escapes.

Tenta comes back to life with a series of punches, a pair of powerslams and a splash in the corner.  Sensing his charge being in real danger Jimmy Hart who accompanied Bubba tries to save his man by whacking Tenta with his megaphone. This doesn’t faze Tenta and he gives the weasily Hart with an atomic drop before another pair of powerslams to Bubba give Tenta another win. What makes this confusing is Tenta places his feet on the bottom rope during the pin for no real reason. Quite why a babyface would do such a thing is unclear.

After the match Tenta opts to antagonize Hart some more by chasing him around ringside. He chases Jimmy into the ring and as Hart passes a groggy Bubba,  he passes him an object. As Tenta passes Bubba he is struck by what looks suspiciously like a sock. Whatever is in this sock is enough to knock Tenta to the ground as Bubba continues to strike Tenta. His beatdown completed, Bubba empties the contents of the sock all over Tenta’s lifeless form. The sock was full of silver dollar coins so no wonder Tenta was waylaid so easily. It seems this feud will carry on.  Larry must get extra points for his hilarious line “is that more of Savage’s alimony?” As Bubba dumps the coins over Tenta. Well done Mr Z.

Following a rather standard interview with Bubba by Gene and another Gene interview with the returning Randy Savage that is full of brilliant “Macho Man” lunacy, after all the jibes and taunts,  Savage finally gets his hands on Ric Flair in a match.

As he makes his way to the ring,  Savage takes a detour to the announcers’ booth to scare poor Bobby Heenan as he prepares to join Schiavone for hour two.  Randy chases Heenan up the aisle and around the ring before Bobby makes a maf dash back to the desk, panting and flustered and ranting at his treatment just like the old days of his legendary WWF commentary.

Ric is joined by Woman,  Elizabeth and Debra as he cockily walks to the ring,  grabbing a mic to goad Savage once more about his kayfabe divorce.  Savage has a mic too and his reply is simply a promise to kick Flair’s “ass” before dashing towards Ric,  grabbing and ramming the Nature Boy’s head into a guardrail. Still wearing his robe, Flair makes an escape and heads into the ring with Savage in hot pursuit.  Despite Flair’s pleas for mercy Savage continues to attack Ric relentlessly,  whipping him over the top rope as Nitro takes another break.

When the action resumes Flair is finally fighting back throwing Savage out of the ring and as Woman and Debra distract the referee, he holds Randy in position for Elizabeth to slap her ex-husband across the face. This only angers Savage and Flair’s head is soon being rammed into the VIP table over and over again as the referee desperately tries to impose some form of order in this wild brawl. Savage even douses Flair in champagne to add insult to injury.

The action returns to the ring where Randy continues his assault with Flair seemingly having no answer to the rage of the irate Macho Man but his response to Savage leaping at him from the top rope to the arena floor is to move and allow Randy to crash into a guardrail.

Flair begins to chop away at Savage’s chest but he bounces back to his feet after each one and regains the upperhand as Flair misses a top rope axehandle.  Flair has to resort to using something pulled from his trunks (ooo-err, it really is episode 69!) and whacks Savage with it. This only nets Ric a two count much to Flair’s chagrin and he and the ref begin an argument.  As Savage struggles to his feet he hits Flair from behind with a high knee,  knocking him into the ref who goes tumbling out of the ring.  With no order around Savage hits Ric with a low blow (so no funny business for him tonight) and delights the crowd with a stunning top rope elbow drop. Savage climbs for a second one when Ric’s gaggle of ladies hits thr ring and they stand between Ric and Randy,  hoping to prevent Macho leaping again.  Savage doesn’t care to stop and jumps anyway. The girls scatter and Ric is drilled once more. This precedes Chris Benoit running into the ring to save his boss but Savage stops him with a piledriver.  Arn Anderson’s attempt is thwarted too but as Randy goes to attack Flair some more and his focus slips, Mongo appears and whacks Savage with his metal briefcase twice.  Mongo pulls Flair onto Savage as Arn rouses the referee who groggily makes the three count that gives Ric a very tainted victory.  A good old-fashioned Horsemen beat down begins with all four men stomping poor Savage into the mat.

This was a good example of a clusterfull finish that neatly bookended the Savage/Flair feud. Savage got his hands of Flair after an age but the canny Horsemen came out the victors.  Although there is more that could be told with this tale, I think this is as close to an end as we will get as Savage becomes embroiled with tackling the Outsiders after this, which is a real shame as this was an excellent brawl.

Backstage The Giant and the Taskmaster look mean as Gene interviews them. Sullivan rants about a coming war between the Dungeon of Doom and the Horsemen.  Brian Pillman’s name is dropped once more. He’s gone WCW, let it go! Giant makes an excellent point that if the Horsemen are WCW’s elite, why does he hold the world title and not them? He challenges all the Horsemen at once and then screams “PROGNOSIS: CHOKESLAM!!” for some reason.  Overall this was some good mic time for both men.

Glacier is still on his way.  At least this time we get brief flashes of the Glacier costume in amongst the quick cuts, CGI and thumping techno music.

More time is killed as stills of Bischoff going through the stage and Mongo selling out are shown, as well as Sullivan and Benoit fighting in a toilet.

In his Nitro and Witcy debut Rey Mysterio Jr faces Dean Malenko in a rematch from the PPV with the Cruiserweight championship up for grabs. The action here starts incredibly quickly as Rey lands on his feet from a monkey flip by Malenko. After the two exchange hammerlocks Mysterio makes a favourable impression with the crowd as he springs off the ropes to level Malenko with a moonsault.  Dean tries something similar but can’t hit Rey and ends up getting rolled up for a close near fall.  He answers this by nearly decapitating poor Rey with a clothesline.

This begins a very painful stretch (literally) for Mysterio as Dean hits a hard backbreaker before stretching Rey across his knee as the masked newcomer screams in agony. Rey refuses to submit though,  even as Malenko nearly bends him in two with a half Boston crab.

Rey mounts a brief comeback but Malenko still keeps control of the match with a wicked powerbomb that looks to end Mysterio’s challenge but the resilient Rey somehow kicks out and even rallies enough to dazzle the crowd with a springboard huracanrana to the floor.  Sadly this is still not enough as soon after this Dean catches Rey with a reverse DDT that keeps the Cruiserweight title in his possession and caps off a quite excellent match that sets the standard so far for WCW’s fledgling Cruiserweight division.

Also on commentary Tony calls the reverse DDT “an inverted bulldog”. I know that is the incorrect term but I do like that as a name for a move, but that’s just me I guess.

Now it’s time for the main event.  Scott Steiner was somehow injured by Harlem Heat at the start of the show and goes into the fight with a lot of tape around his ribs. Of course this paints a massive target for the Giant to focus on and sure enough,  the Champion wastes no time in attacking Steiner’s torso. Scott foolishly attempts a bodyslam at the outset which results in Giant’s huge bulk crashing down onto him. This begins a protracted sequence of moves all targeting Scott’s ribs as Jimmy Hart jumps for joy at ringside.  After a ridiculous amount of punishment Scott manages to dodge a corner charge by Giant and summons all his strength as he lifts Giant with a T-bone suplex that ignites the hot crowd. With the referee distracted Scott grabs a wooden chair brought into the ring by Giant earlier in the match but didn’t have a chance to use and smacks it across Giant’s back. The blow has no effect however and Giant blasts Steiner with a chokeslam to win the match and keep his belt. This was a pretty fun match as well and showed me that Scott Steiner was a very good wrestler before morphing into “Big Poppa Pump”. A very satisfying end to the show.

Well, nearly ending at least as Gene closes the show by revealing the three men tasked with repelling the “hostile takeover” at Bash at the Beach.  Sting, Lex Luger and Randy Savage are the chosen warriors and will defend WCW’s honour in July. How can they possibly lose? Oh right…

This was so much better than last week it’s scary, Rey Mysterio and Dean Malenko had  near classic,  Savage and Flair was a wild brawl, the tag match was deeply enjoyable and even the Giant and Steiner told a good story in their match. All this and a killer build up towards the legendary Bash at the Beach pay per view too. Well done WCW, I was starting to get worried.

It’s fitting that Dean Malenko should feature so heavily on this the 69th Clinton years as he is the man who knows the most holds, or “positions” (snigger). Anyway as always thanks for reading if you’ve made it this far, you’re all alright by me.

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