Wrestling in the Clinton years: You didn’t get the memo about casual Monday?

Hello and welcome to one of the more significant editions of Wrestling in the Clinton years, this being the first of the famous “Disney tapings” from the famous Florida theme park and the first episode since the reveal of the third man who joined the Outsiders at the previous night’s PPV.  Get this, the third man was only Hulk Hogan!  After one of the most shocking heel turns in wrestling history the fallout from this should be great, I can’t wait to see what chaos the New World Order will visit upon WC- oh Hogan isn’t here? Alright well what about Hall and Nash then? Not until the last segment of the show,  oh okay then. On with the recap I guess.

WCW Monday Nitro, July 8th 1996.

From a parking lot on the grounds of Disney, Tony Schiavone and Larry Zybszko introduce the first hour and it must be casual Monday as Tony is in a grey polo shirt and Larry is decked in a monstrosity of a Hawaiian shirt. All talk is of Hulk Hogan’s return and turn to betray WCW. Schiavone apologies for his “Hulk Hogan you can go to hell” from last night and even Larry is disgusted at Hulk’s actions. The Hogan talk becomes such a constant on the show the commentary ends up becoming white noise but thankfully WCW now has its Cruiserweight division to inject a little excitement into the show and that’s what kicks off the show as Dean Malenko puts his title belt up against Rey Mysterio Jr and this is how you kick start a show.

This match is almost too fast to recap at the start as both men exchange crisp reversals before Rey hits Dean with a tilt-a-whirl armdrag that has Malenko falling out of the ring.  To keep the champion off balance Rey fakes a dive from the ring, spinning through the ropes with what would become the 619 to further the mind games. The very casual crowd of park attendees react very favourable to this match as they cheer on Mysterio for his flashy offence and boo Dean as he grounds Rey with a Surfboard submission through an ad break. I like how the rest hold here is done off screen unlike some wrestling companies I could mention.

Dean’s dominance continues with a double arm powerbomb and a camel clutch that readjusts Rey’s spine. All through this the modest crowd are vocal and responsive and do add a ton to the unique atmosphere offered by the new location. Mysterio manages to surprise Dean with a rollup as he tries for a running knee but only gets a two count and gets dumped onto the top rope from a suplex for his impudence before he returns to his solid mat wrestling. This frustates the fans who are eager to see more high flying and they collectively will Mysterio back to his feet.  Good, this is the perfect reaction for a match of this type and goes a long way to endere this crowd to me even more.

Poor Rey recieves a brainbuster on the ringside mats bit still kicks out of a pin and even reverses a Pumphandle slam into a near fall.  His comeback continues with a huracanrana over the top rope and a beautiful Asai moonsault that wipes out both champion and challenger for a while.  They eventually struggle back to verticality and Malenko makes a dash for the ring, Rey follows but makes a detour to the top rope and leaps off with a dragonrana to Dean that ignites the crowd and earns him another two count. Sensing championship gold Rey heads up the ropes once more but this time he is cut off by Dean who leaves the crowd stunned with his top rope gutbuster. Malenko looks to have the match won as he covers Mysterio but instead of taking the win, he lifts Rey’s head off the mat like a true villain aiming to deliver more punishment which he does with an overhead belly to belly suplex.  Again he pulls Rey put of a pin but as he goes for a tilt-a-whirl slam,  Rey counters it into a huracanrana and Dean gets caught in a pin and Rey Mysterio Jr wins the WCW Cruiserweight championship as the fans go wild for the plucky masked man.  This was a stunning match and is another highlight of mid 1996 WCW.

Backstage Mean Gene is with the Steiners and the Nasty Boys who will fight later in the show. Scott Steiner tells Knobbs to shut up for no reason before Rick Steiner suffers some kind of breakdown and thinks he is a real dog. Apparently these two teams are fighting over the right to face Harlem Heat at Hog Wild, the next PPV and infamous waste of money.

At this point I’d be happy if Glacier never debuted, I’m pig-sick of these videos.

Next up, Hugh Morrus and Big Bubba face The Blue Bloods of Steven Regal and David Taylor in a baffling heel vs heel affair.  The fans have decided that Bubba and Morrus are the faces in this one over the Brits as chants of USA ring out. Sadly, nothing really happens for a while until John Tenta runs out to attack Big Bubba to continue this feud that will not die. Tenta’s attack leaves Morrus at the mercy of Regal and Taylor who hit him with a double team backdrop to win a nothing match, but at least the plucky Brits won over the dastardly colonials.

More cruiserweight goodness next as Psicosis makes his Witcy debut against Eddie Guerrero.  Sadly the beginning of this match is ruined with an inset promo where new Cruiserweight champion Rey Mysterio Jr expresses his dismay at Hulk Hogan without saying anything about winning the title. When the focus returns to the match the crowd rises to its feet in appreciation of the lightning quick pace set by Eddie and Psicosis culminating in Psicosis somersaulting onto Guerrero from the top rope to the arena floor.  Eddie clutches his shoulder in pain and that is where Psicosis focuses his attacks, ramming it into a turnbuckle and applying a Fujiwara armbar as we learn that Hogan will explain himself further next week on Nitro.  Way to capitalise on that white hot angle, WCW.

Eddie catches Psicosis with a surprise huracanrana for 2 and also catches the masked man as he flies off the ropes with an atomic drop but can’t avoid running into a ringpost as he charges Psicosis who dodges. Quick as a flash Psicosis hits a top rope huracanrana but Eddie kicks out as he does from a top rope sunset flip but as Psicosis climbs the ropes for a third time, he is caught by Eddie who uses a surge of adrenaline to hit a top rope superplex followed by a frog splash to win a match that the crowd gives a standing ovation, and who am I to argue with them as that match deserved such recognition.  Thank heaven for the Cruiserweight division.

A somber Gene Okerlund is back to interview Kevin Sullivan, the Giant and Jimmy Hart about Hogan (of course). Hart is speechless, Sullivan is angry that after trying to end Hulkamania for the better part of 18 months, Hogan himself tears it down in a matter of minutes and Giant is boastful, saying as long as he is champion nothing can go wrong. A great segment that neatly tied up the Dungeon of Doom’s crusade against Hulk Hogan now that he has embraced the dark side.

We had a heel vs heel match so I guess it’s only fair that we get a face vs face encounter to redress the balance. The Nasty Boys and the Steiners have a really uninspired brawl only lifted by Scott Steiner hitting various suplexes on the rather sizeable Nasty Boys.  During the match a muted firework display heralds hour two and the return of Bischoff and Heenan who missed the memo about casual Monday.

All eyes turn to the entrance way as Colonel Parker and Sherri return to Nitro to distract the teams and the referee.  Sherri hops up on the apron as Parker drills Sags with his cane and the Steiners pick up a tainted victory and a tag team Championship match.  A baffling end to a boring match.

Gene appears again to interview Knobbs and Sags.  Sags tells him that wrestling is about “attitude” and maybe the Nasties need to change and adapt. Knobbs is angling after a spot in the nWo by declaring his admiration for Hogan and the Outsiders.  Nice try, Brian.

Bobby Heenan was right about Hogan all along it seems but he takes little pleasure in that fact on commentary as he transforms into a babyface and retroactively babyfaces everyone he ever managed against the Hulkster over the years. Think on that for a second.

New United States champion Ric Flair defends his prize against Jim Powers in the next match. Sadly Ric is completely on autopilot and Powers is far too boring for me to care about his challenge, falling prey to the figure four after a chop block by Ric in another perfunctory match.

After the match Gene interviews 3/4 of the Horsemen. Arn Anderson takes point and delivers a scorching promo on Hogan, calling him out over his hypocrisy as a role model. Mongo rants and raves and Flair reels off their accomplishments before making another challenge to the Giant in true Nature Boy style. If only the Horsemen were the ones facing the nWo on equal terms to make for some truly killer television.

Chris Benoit was absent from the Horsemen interview because he is wrestling Sergeant Craig Pittman in the next match. I say “wrestling” but I really mean “beating up mercilessly” as he utterly decimates Pittman with strikes and chops to such a degree that Pittman’s fatigues begin to droop revealing his embarrassing thong underneath. Is that military issue? As Benoit traps Pittman in the crippler crossface manager Teddy Long enters the ring to submit on behalf of his charge. Benoit made Pittman look like an absolute clown in a dazzling display of brutality that was essentially a squash match, but an entertaining one.

The main event sees Sting wrestling Arn Anderson in a very solid match between two great performers. Early on the two exchange hammerlocks and shoulderblocks. The action soon moves out of the ring as where Arn tries to give Sting a piledriver on the floor but gets reversed into a backdrop right before an ad break that features yet another Glacier video.

The action resumes with Sting beating up Anderson with kicks and punches but as he leaps into the air,  he is caught by Arn and splats on the canvas thanks to a magnificent spinebuster and a series of vicious stomps.

Bischoff gets a message that Hall and Nash have been seen arriving and does a great job feigning concern that the open air arena means security will be stretched and may not be able to stop the pair from causing more mayhem.

Arn traps Sting in an abdominal stretch complete with heelish rope grabbing that the crowd inform the referee of and he stops Arn from cheating.  Sting uses a hiptoss to escape the hold a tries for a splash on the mat. Arn lifts his knees however and the Stinger crashes down upon them in great pain and Anderson capitalises with a Boston Crab to compound the agony. The ever resilient Sting refuses to quit as the camera view switches to show an ominous black limosine parked adjacent to the makeshift arena.

Sting’s refusal to submit begins to frustrate Arn who lets go of the hold to resume his beatdown, even taking to the skies from the second rope for a double axehandle.  Sting counters that though as Hall and Nash exit their limo and make a beeline for the ring. Security prevent them entering the ring as they reach the stands and Sting and Arn stop fighting to face up to the invaders.  Among the confusion though Sting rather heelishly attacks Arn and locks him in the Scorpion Deathlock to win and send a message to the Outsiders.

Gene is back to interview Sting about the nWo and WCW’s loss the previous night as well as the injury to Lex Luger in the match.  Understandably Sting is upset at Hulk Hogan and even references the infamous “Darkside Hogan” promos from late 1995 as a warning noone realised.  Randy Savage joins in to speak on who he christens “Hollywood Hogan” promising that what he will do to him when he gets his hands on Hogan can’t be described on television or at a Disney park. The match was good, the Outsiders were unnecessary but the promos from Sting and Savage were great.

Back at their limo Hall and Nash have a few lazy words with Gene Okerlund,  promising Hogan will be there next week after finishing filming his latest movie.

The show closes with a recap of the Hogan heel turn in a series of stills before Bobby Heenan reels off an impassioned speech railing against Hulk Hogan to cap off the show. That speech by Heenan was a fabulous point to end on and shows just what a continuity shake up the nWo will prove to be going forward. It’s a shame that they weren’t more of a factor on this episode though in the immediate fallout of the Bash. Away from all that the two Cruiserweight matches were amazing and the different atmosphere provided by the change of location made for a very watchable episode,  just one a little forgettable in the bigger picture.  This is a far cry from the stellar post Pay Per View Raw episodes of today.

Thanks for reading and don’t forget about casual Monday.

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