Welcome to this- the seventeenth article of the series. Today we examine Bret Hart's hatred for clean pinfalls.
I understand that this article will no doubt cause some consternation. Some would say that this match between Hogan and Sting was one of the best moments of WCW and in a sense they would be right. It was the main event of the most successful PPV in WCW history- that in itself is a feather in its cap and it has one of the most iconic moments in WCW history, with Sting holding aloft the championship on top of the shoulders of the WCW wrestling locker room. What could be more of a happy ending?
Look closer though and there are problems aplenty in this match- problems that would cause WCW some real strife down the road.
Late 1996 saw the nWo becoming more and more prevalent in WCW as they completely dominated the cards to become the hottest story in wrestling. As 1996 moved into 1997 the question started to change from who would stop the nWo to can anyone stop the nWo. After all, many of the big names were now part of their organisation and other big names such as Lex Luger and Ric Flair had been crushed- particularly when Bischoff had joined the group himself and uttered the (now slightly more historically infamous words) "Either you're with us, or you're against us."
There was one hope left in the eyes of many WCW fans to end the tyranny of the nWo and that resided with Sting. While the nWo had continued to run over its competition, Sting had completely re-invented his gimmick- moving from a colourful larger-than-life babyface to a much darker character based on the 1994 film the Crow. Sting would proceed to overlook the matches from the rafters of the ring. People wondered what side he was on and how he was going to affect the war being played out in front of them.
These questions were soon answered at Uncensored in March 1997 when he came to the ring from the rafters and took out Hall, Nash, Savage and finally Hogan- nailing his colours to WCW and showing the nWo that at last, their stranglehold on WCW was in jeopardy.
It must be said that the lead up to this match was booked quite well...mostly. Eric Bischoff- who had a tendency during the later days in WCW for being one of the most ADD bookers in the history of pro wrestling (with the exception perhaps of Vince Russo) was remarkably patient with this- allowing this build to start in March 1997 and only in December be resolved in an actual match. There were a few reasons why this was important. Firstly and most importantly, people literally had to get angry at the nWo again. During the end of 1996 and the beginning of 97, they had become cool and as they added people like Dennis Rodman to their ranks, it only made them seem like the popular kids while WCW for old fogies. Bischoff therefore spent a good half a year trying to make the nWo legitimately bad again- having them cruelly beat up Ric Flair, Chris Benoit and Steve McMichael at War Games in order to gain some heat.
At the same time people popped when Sting would rappel out of the rafters and hand out some justice with his baseball bat to this group of outlaws. Likewise Sting was not wrestling on TV at all. Sure, he'd bash people over the head with a baseball bat, but he was not in the ring grappling- which added to the anticipation and mystique of when he would actually tussle Hogan for the title.
Bischoff planned correctly. By Starrcade 97 the nWo- and in particular Hogan were no longer cool, but irritating. What was cool instead to a lot of fans was the sight of Sting coming down with his baseball bat and laying waste to all the nWo cronies. The stage was set for an amazing moment in WCW history.
And yet when the two guys got into the ring together it seemed like anything but.
Much has been made of Hogan's politicking and machinations to stay on top of the professional wrestling world for longer than many would deem fit for a healthy wrestling environment, but if one had to point to one example of how his own narcissism helped to kill a golden opportunity for a promotion, this would be it (as well as the Fingerpoke of Doom. And Immortal- heck I guess I am saying that Hogan has done this more than once).
The fact of the matter was that Hogan refused to lose clean to Sting because (according to him) he was upset that Sting wasn't in great ring shape. Well knock me down. A man who hasn't wrestled in 15 months wasn't in great ring shape! What a shock! There's a reason Undertaker has had his Streak matches carefully choreographed for the last couple of years- it's that he knows that he isn't in full-time ring shape either and so he can't improvise or adapt as well as he once did. But he and his opponents still managed to craft great matches in the circumstances (except the last one where Taker was concussed out of his skull) because they respect each other's professionalism.
Hogan was anything but professional- essentially deciding that an angle that took almost a year to brew was not worth it because Sting was a little chubby (according to him).
In all likelihood as much as Hogan claimed he enjoyed being a heel, what he really liked was being the guy. He liked being the one that pop culture icons like Rodman would hang out with in WCW- just like he was the guy who hung out with MR T when he was Hulk Hogan in the WWE. While the babyfaces were old WCW babyfaces like Ric Flair or young smaller wrestlers who could be kept in the midcard, Hogan must have felt pretty safe- after all, he was a guy that looked cooler than the former and nobody knew the latter.
But Sting was a different proposition. He was a dark brooding babyface in the same sort of mould as the Undertaker (and Hogan probably remembered how that gimmick managed to capture fans' imagination during their title match at the 1991 Survivor Series, when the a lot of the crowd actually cheered for the heel Deadman). If Sting suddenly became the face that Rodman, et al wanted to hang with, where would that leave an aging Hogan who's best wrestling days were clearly behind him? That was probably the reasoning behind Hogan's decision.
So Bischoff, unable to get Hogan to lie down for the 1,2,3, instead had overbook the match in a way that made Hogan happy and everyone else completely p***ed off.
Firstly, the entrances. Why, on the biggest show of the year, does Sting not rappel from the rafters, but rather just walk rather listlessly to the ring? It's also made TEN times worse because it's on after the usual air guitar from Hogan that goes on for waaaaay too long. It looks like Sting is just an afterthought to the real star.
And then we get to the match.
Firstly, the match is incredibly slow. Yes, Sting is not in ring shape but it would be nice if Hogan actually confined some of his heeling to inside the ring instead of trying to go around to each and every ringside fan and yelling in their face. Sting barely got any offence on Hogan because everytime he did, he would fall over the top of the ropes and go talk to the fans for a bit- leaving Sting to look like a rube in the middle of the ring while the focus stayed firmly on Hogan.
But at least the fans would have thought when Sting no-sold the Hogan suplex that soon the Stinger would give Hogan the beatdown he deserved.
Nope, instead Hogan turned the tables pretty quickly, took Sting out of the ring, beat him for a good 5 mins before hitting him with the big boot and the atomic leg drop for the pin.
That's right folks, Hogan basically completely dominated the match and then pinned Sting cleanly. The crowd were bewildered. Their last hope had been beaten.
Luckily Bret Hart was ringside to claim that the count was fast (the referee, Nick Patrick, was a known affiliate for the nWo). Except it wasn't. He then claimed that "it was bulls**t and he wasn't going to let it ('it' being the Montreal Screwjob) happen again", which would have sounded a lot better had Hart had a camera on him at the time. Only in WCW, would they find a way to have their main event on their biggest PPV refer to the competition rather than focus on their own storylines.
But it gets better.
Then Hart decided to grab Hogan, who was at this point trying to sneak out of the ring with the belt and toss him back in the ring and decides to ref the match himself (why is this allowed? No idea). Sting then makes a comeback with a couple of Stinger Splashes before putting Hogan in the
Sharpshooter Scorpion Deathlock. Before Hogan actually taps Hart calls for the bell, looking for all intents and purposes like he just screwed Hogan.
Even WCW had to admit that their main event was such a clusterf**k that it was simply too illogical to deem as 'legal' so they vacated the title. By overbooking the match and throwing everything but the kitchen sink into it, Sting's championship reign was terminally damaged as soon as it began. The babyface is supposed to suffer from interference, not benefit from it.
The match also made Bret Hart look like a fool. The most over wrestler in 1997 was essentially used as a prop to further an overbooked main event match because Hogan was (rightly) worried about how both Sting and Hart could become the guy of WCW. So essentially you had the most over babyface of WCW in 1997 as well as the most over babyface in WWE in 1997 playing patsy for the games of the most over babyface of 1990- who still imagined that he could be the babyface while still being the heel.
The great irony is that three months later, WWE would show WCW how to book a champion properly. At Wrestlemania 14, Austin beat Shawn Michaels for the WWE Championship. The match was good, but not great, but was important as it legitimised Austin as the guy in a way that Starrcade never did for Sting. The booking was simple, the match was good and the right man won without any overbooking- allowing Austin to stand tall as the WWE's new face and take them in a new direction.
Hogan/Sting at Starrcade 1997 was a blowoff match with no blowoff, or a passing of the torch match where a poisoned chalice was passed instead. Instead it was a match to ensure that Hogan lost without looking bad- which conversely made Sting win without looking good. It was matches such as this that stopped WCW from making a clean break from angles like the nWo and instead had them going back to the same Hogan-centric well time and time again while their competition was prepared to give their champions a chance.
That's Article 17 folks- and a long one it has turned out to be too! Next time be sure to have your shovels at the ready- we're going for a burial!