Welcome to WRESTLEVERSARIES, where we take a look at a wrestling show from 15, 20, 25 or 30 years ago and discuss the good, the bad and whether any of it still holds up!
The closest beaches to Orlando, Fla. are about a 75-minute drive away. The whole thing is just so WCW. At least they have sand on the entranceway. Maybe that’s the beach they’re talking about.
Country singer Daron Norwood kicks things off with the National Anthem, dressed resplendently in an American flag shirt. When he’s done singing, we get another 5 minutes or so of preparation before the first match.
World Television Championship Match: Lord Steven Regal (c) vs. Johnny B. Badd – Sting was supposed to challenge Regal for the TV Title, having just lost a World Title unification match to Ric Flair in June. But Sherri Martel scratched his eye during a match with Ric Flair, so he had to bow out. I was a huge Regal fan as a teenager. Everything about the guy’s presentation was just so fantastic. His facial expressions were easily the best in the world. He wrestled such a different style from everyone else on American television. He and Badd work really well together. Despite the ridiculous gimmick, Badd is a pretty good worker at this point. I wouldn’t be surprised, though, if Regal legitimately knocked Badd loopy with one of those elbows or a head butt. I wonder if they had any intention of actually putting Sting on this show. If so, did they plan on him winning the belt? Was that the initial plan? Regal manages to roll Badd up for a pin to retain the title and then lets Badd beat up his valet. Regal grabs the tights but no one makes any mention of it.
As Bobby Heenan and Tony Schiavone talk about the match, Japanese wrestling legend Antonio Inoki can be seen putzing around in the background, and then “Mean” Gene Okerlund brings him the ring to present him with a plaque for the sole purpose of giving Regal an opportunity to bad mouth him to set up his next angle. When we get back to the announce team, Jesse “The Body” Ventura has replaced Heenan and he looks like he wants to be anywhere else but here.
Vader vs. The Guardian Angel – The Angel used to be The Boss, man, until he beat up Vader with his night stick and Commissioner Nick Bockwinkel stripped him of his gimmick. So he went to New York City and hooked up with Curtis Sliwa, leader of the Guardian Angels. The Angels are a group of guys that Sliwa brought together in 1979 to combat violence in the NYC subway system, training its members to make citizen’s arrests. In the 1980s, Sliwa made up a few kidnapping attempts to make himself and the Angels seem more important to the City. Now, he’s a conservative radio talk show host. He also fathered two children with Queens Borough President (and Queens DA candidate) Melinda Katz through in vitro fertilization. When Katz was inaugurated as Borough President in 2013, I managed to snap a very rare photo of Sliwa without his red beret. I consider it a crowning achievement.
Writing about all of this stuff is more interesting to me than a Ray Traylor match, or a Vader match post-1993. The Angel gets disqualified when the referee sees him with a telescoping nightstick and Vader cowering in the corner, even though the Angel didn’t hit him with it. Everyone is always trying to hold the Guardian Angels down.
Grudge Tag Team Event: Bunkhouse Buck and Terry Funk vs. Dustin Rhodes and Arn Anderson – After Buck and Funk attacked Rhodes at the last pay-per-view, Rhodes reached out to Anderson to be his partner. And everyone with half a brain could see what was coming. Rhodes is in the ring for most of the match before he gets the hot tag to Anderson, who comes in the ring and hits a DDT on his own partner, joining up with Buck and Funk. The Rhodes family has never been known for their brains.
There are three matches left on this card and just about 100 minutes still to go. Whoever booked this show needed a lesson in ebb and flow.
United States Championship Match: “Stunning” Steve Austin (c) vs. Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat – Austin is, along with Regal, one of the guys that really caused me to get into WCW in the early 1990s. And it’s so weird watching a pre-Stone Cold Austin. It could easily be two completely different guys. Without Hogan coming in, Austin probably could’ve been in the main event not long from this point. These two have graduated from battles over the TV Title a couple of years earlier, and they’ve worked with each other so much that you know they’re going to have a good match. The psychology of the match builds so perfectly. Austin starts to get desperate, fearing that Steamboat is going to overcome, so Austin tries to get himself disqualified. Finally, with his feet on the ropes, Austin manages to get the pin to retain. For a 20-minute match, there was nothing that took me out of the match or left me bored.
Okerlund makes his way into Col. Rob Parker’s stable’s dressing room as Buck, Funk and Anderson celebrate making a fool out of Dustin Rhodes. In the middle of a classic Anderson promo, Buck and Funk pour beer and champagne on Anderson’s head. What a waste of booze.
World Tag Team Championship Match: Cactus Jack and Kevin Sullivan (c) vs. “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff and “Pretty” Paul Roma – I love that Paul Roma is still wearing his Young Stallions jacket, from his time as a WWF job guy, here. WCW’s tag team scene in 1994 was a mess, but I am a big fan of the Pretty Wonderful combination. Jack and Sullivan as tag champs, with Sullivan’s “brother” Dave at their side, was never going to last long, especially after Jack went on ECW TV as part of a deal with Paul Heyman and trashed the tag team titles. Jack never would have fit in to a Hogan-led WCW anyway. Fun match as both teams go all out. These four guys meshed better than you would expect. Pretty Wonderful shows some old school heel tag team tactics to get the better of the maniacal Jack and Sullivan and win the tag straps.
WCW World Heavyweight Championship Match: Ric Flair (c) vs. Hulk Hogan – There aren’t a lot of ways I consider WCW to have been smarter than Vince McMahon and the WWF. But this is one of the few times. They signed Hogan and IMMEDIATELY booked the dream match of the 1980s and early 1990s for the first possible show they could. And they went all out with this. Shaquille O’Neal is there to present the title to the winner. Mr. T showed up to be in Hogan’s corner. Michael Buffer does the introductions and goes into a bizarre spiel about Buzz Aldrin going to the moon 25 years before this. He also says Hogan is returning to the ring after a “3-year layoff,” but he was just WWF Champion 13 months before this show.
Hogan actually shows off some wrestling moves early, with a stepover armbar roll takedown and a hammerlock into a leg sweep, and it looks so very weird to see him do actual wrestling holds. Giants aren’t meant to do gymnastics, man. The match quickly turns into a Hulkster special. Once they get into the classic formula for a Hogan match, there are few deviations. And you know what that means. The big boot and the leg drop put the champion away and giving Hogan the belt.
Bobby Heenan really makes this whole scenario work. Of everyone in WCW, he has the most history with Hogan, leading his stable in the WWF to attempt to beat the Hulkster to no avail. And his depressed cries on commentary as Hogan poses is just perfectly executed. “The Brain” is inconsolable and can’t even call the replay. Having Hogan debut in WCW without Heenan and Okerlund here would have been completely out of place.
We spend 10 minutes after the match following Hogan into the backstage area, where he meets up with Brutus Beefcake, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan and Brian Blair to let everyone know that this is his house now.
Final Thoughts: This was a great show. WCW stepped up its game with the biggest star in wrestling now on its roster, even if the planning of the show felt a little off.