Yesterday we went over the main event of Starrcade 1997, which featured the most heavily hyped match-up in WCW history, as Hollywood Hulk Hogan took on Sting in a battle of good vs. evil, the leader of WCW vs. the leader of the nWo.
And after 15 minutes of an overbooked mess of a match, Sting was declared the winner by way of submission by Bret Hart, who wasn't actually the referee but took out the designated ref, Nick Patrick, because he supposedly tried to screw Sting with a fast count for Hogan which wasn't actually fast. The entire thing was a disaster.
As it turned out, Hogan didn't want to do a clean job, so he used the creative control clause that was written into his contract to avoid laying down for a pinfall. It was ugly and unsatisfying for fans but at least Sting was the winner, right?
The problem with the finish to the match at Starrcade was that it wasn't actually a finish. Pro wrestling is essentially storytelling that culminates in a match. There is, in theory, a beginning, a middle and an end. The beginning is the introduction of an issue between two parties, the middle is the hype to the eventual match, and the end of the story is the match itself.
But because Starrcade was booked the way it was, there wasn't a definitive end. That needed to be fleshed out and they attempted to do so the very next night (Dec. 29, 1997) on Monday Nitro on this date in WCW history.
But if you thought they were smart enough to dig themselves out of the hole they created, you were wrong. It actually got worse. Much, much worse.
Hogan started things off by coming out with Eric Bischoff to cut a promo about how the result at Starrcade was wrong because Nick Patrick made the three count and called the match and that should have been that. Tony Schiavone, WCW's lead commentator at the time, reminded us that it was a fast count.
Even though it wasn't.
Nonetheless, the gist of the promo was that Hogan and Bischoff wanted J.J. Dillon, the on-screen authority figure, to make it right. "We're open to suggestions from WCW," Hogan proclaimed.
So Dillon waltzed out later and said the decision from Starrcade was going to stick and he was sick and tired of listening to Hogan and Bischoff "cry and complain and make excuses." He said he spoke with Sting in his dressing room and the best way to fix the controversy would be to have a rematch right there on Nitro.
Later on, Dillon came back out to say no one accepted the challenge, which naturally led to Bischoff coming out and doing just that. The match was on for later in the night. "It took 18 months to get it the first time, it didn't take long to get it tonight," Dillon told Mean Gene Okerlund.
Indeed, these idiots not only screwed up the storyline by not giving the feud its proper closing at the biggest pay-per-view in the history of the company, but they were actually going to give the rematch away for free the very next night on TNT.
And so they did:
Yes, you saw that right. The video cuts off early because the broadcast cut off early. Sting hits a Stinger splash in the corner and sends Hogan to the other side to hit one more and as he's doing so, he bumps the referee and Schiavone tells us they're out of time.
And Nitro goes off the air.
Imagine how many people across America were watching this and wanted to throw a brick through their TV. Bischoff, at that time, was big on teasing the audience with an angle to close each show that resulted in a sort of cliffhanger that gave fans a reason to tune in next week. That's fine in certain situations but you don't tease the result of the biggest rematch EVER.
It's mind numbing how stupid this was.
The story continued the next week but instead of waiting for each new day to post a story on it, I'll just tell the rest right here and now, like WCW should have done back then.
One week later, on Jan. 5, 1998, WCW came on the air showing the nWo pulling up to the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Hogan got out of a limo without the world heavyweight championship, which gave away the fact that Sting was still the champ. They began the episode with J.J. Dillon telling us they were sorry for the broadcast going off the air early last week but they had "programming constraints."
Never fear, though, folks, the cameras were rolling and the footage showing the result of the match was captured in full. Unfortunately, it wouldn't be shown on this particular episode of Nitro because it was locked up in some bogus court order.
This was done for the sole purpose of getting over the new show WCW was debuting that coming Thursday night, WCW Thunder on TBS. At the beginning of that program, they would air the footage of the end of the Hogan vs. Sting rematch, in full, as well as some of the actual footage from Starrcade.
So, really, as a fan, you could have just skipped a few shows and not missed anything. The exact kind of backwards booking that slowly but surely killed WCW.
Not only did Hogan refuse to job to Sting at Starrcade, which is at least somewhat understandable considering the stakes and circumstances, he refused to job clean the next night on Nitro and they overbooked the finish even worse than the first match.
So now we've had two matches in two nights with no clear winner in either match. Both men have legit (storyline) claims to having won each match. Hogan, of course, has a far better case because of the original fast count that wasn't a fast count by Nick Patrick. Funny how he always seems to come off looking as good as possible in these situations.
This all resulted in J.J. Dillon again trotting himself out to the ring to make a decision on behalf of the WCW Executive Committee regarding the status of the world heavyweight championship. He called both Hogan and Sting down to the ring to announce the decision. And what did they decide to do?
They vacated the title. Dillon told Sting he needed him to hand over the belt because it was being held up.
So after a year and a half of build to a match between the biggest heel in the business at the time, Hogan, and the biggest babyface at the time, Sting, the two had a match at one of the biggest pay-per-views of all time that had a smoz finish only to rematch on Nitro that ended early but was later shown to have a smoz finish, as well, and the title was eventually vacated.
That was the payoff to one of the greatest feuds ever. Unbelievable.
The one thing they did right here was used this situation, dumb as it was, to have Sting speak for the first time on microphone by telling Dillon he "had no guts" and telling Hogan "you're a dead man." Of course, even that was a tad anticlimactic, considering Sting had done some talking that was picked up by the cameras at the end of the Starrcade broadcast. Still, this was a big deal at the time.
But by then, the damage was done. The angle was blown and the story didn't matter anymore because it was clear it would never have a definitive end. If there was ever a time to bring this program to its logical conclusion, it was at Starrcade, and for various reasons, that just didn't happen. Everything after was just overkill. It was all we, as fans, needed to see to know that we were being toyed with by greedy men who cared only for themselves and their own status in the business. What made sense didn't matter. What made money didn't even matter.
Sting didn't finally defeat Hogan for good until SuperBrawl on Feb. 22, 1998. Even then, he did so only after a ref bump allowed Randy Savage to attack Hogan and further the dissension within the nWo. By then, the focus had shifted away from Sting and to the fact that Savage had turned on Hogan and Kevin Nash was close to doing the same. It wasn't long after that Nash broke out completely and created the nWo Wolfpac.
The moral of the story, again, is that greed will eventually imprison us all and Hogan was the greediest of the greedy. So was Nash, and because they were so good at playing politics in the back, everyone else got buried underneath them sooner or later. Bischoff let it happen because he was a mark for the two of them but also because the nWo was his baby, his one big claim to fame. He never wanted to let it go.
By April of 1998, WWE had caught up to WCW. Fans like myself were sick of getting jerked around with overbooked matches that never had a definitive result. You can only do that so many times with so many big matches before the entire house of cards comes tumbling down. Stone Cold Steve Austin won the WWE championship at WrestleMania 14 and captured the attention of those who had previously been enamored with the nWo. It wasn't long before WCW was doing increasingly desperate things to continue competing with WWE, like putting the world title on Bill Goldberg on free TV just to pop a big rating. Even Hogan, who agreed to job clean in that match, could see the writing on the wall.
If only he had agreed to job clean to Sting six months prior at Starrcade. Then most of this mess could have been avoided.