January 8 1998
It’s the twenty year anniversary of WCW Thunder starting this year, which is a longer period of time than I thought it was. So I’m taking a walk back in time to the very beginning. I’m going to watch all of the WCW Thunder episodes that WWE has put on the Network. Starting at #1. So, what do I remember about WCW in early 1998?
- Bret Hart had just jumped ship from WWF under a cloud of ugliness. We’re still in the fallout of Montreal. Bret has debuted in WCW but hasn’t wrestled yet. His first match, bizarrely with Ric Flair, will be on the next PPV.
- We’re coming off the back of a horrible Starrcade show. The point at which I lost all faith in WCW the first time around. So basically I saw none of these Thunder shows.
- The nWo being divided is the focal point of everything.
- The likes of Benoit, Jericho, Raven and all the luchadores were stealing the shows at this point.
I had no clue what the card was for this but when I looked it up I was shocked. It’s loaded. 12 matches (on a 3 hour TV show). Headlined by DDP vs. Nash for the US title but also featuring matches for other titles, Goldberg, Bischoff vs. Zbyszko for control of Nitro (albeit the Starrcade match merely replayed) and Jericho vs. Flair.
We’re in Dayton Beach, Florida. Hosts are Tony Schiavone, Bobby Heenan and Lee Marshall. Lee fucking Marshall? How did he get on this show? I will give him one thing; his voice is a delight but his opinions are worthless. The building is packed and everyone is hyped but instead of starting the show they throw to the announcers and then a load of footage of wrestlers arriving at Nitro last week. Bischoff looks upset because he probably just realised Hogan fucked him at Starrcade. This goes on for ages recapping half of Nitro in the process. The excuse being that Randy Savage isn’t here yet and he’s due in the opening match. What?
Chris Adams vs. Randy Savage
Adams is a 20-year pro at the tail end of his career. In typical of this era news he’d be dead 3 years after this. Savage is also dead. As is his valet Miss Elizabeth. Heenan is dead. Lee Marshall is dead. Which means Tony Schiavone is the only guy that’s actually alive 20 years after this match. Savage is the heel but gets cheered loudly by all concerned as he’s in the nWo. Lex Luger runs in, hits Savage with a chair and Adams gets the pin. Randy Savage during this era is not a pleasant sight. He dogged so many matches.
Final Rating: ½*
Promo Time: Hollywood Hogan & Eric Bischoff
“Six sides only got you so far”…no wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. That was when they ruined TNA. Hogan should be playing second fiddle to Sting at this point but instead he’s out here to cut a rambling promo. He promises the footage that airs tonight will reveal he was robbed at Starrcade, which he was thanks to him getting in the ref’s ear beforehand and ruining the entire angle, WHICH A FUCKING YEAR TO BUILD TO. How fucking selfish and stupid do you have to be? WCW was out of business three years after this.
Here’s a shot of Hogan going into business for himself and Eric Bischoff being too sycophantically stupid to notice.
We move on to JJ Dillon reversing the decision in the opening match because Lex Luger blatantly interfered. Luger walks out to complain about it in nonsensical fashion. “I’ve had it up to here with decisions…and nWo”. You tell him Flexy Lexy.
Louie Spicolli vs. Rick Martel
The body count continues with Spicolli who died the month after this from an overdose of somas. Spicolli has an overinflated reputation thanks to his early demise. As a wrestler he was bang average. Martel was enjoying a career renaissance at this point, which would lead to a cracking series with Booker T before an injury forced him into retirement. He walks Spicolli through this while the cameras get distracted by Raven and his Flock strolling around in the crowd. WCW had issues with focus but it was never boring. Spicolli submits to the Boston crab after a very basic match.
Final Rating: *1/4
Video Control gives us more clips from Starrcade. This time from Giant having to beat up Scott Hall after Kevin Nash couldn’t be bothered to show up.
Tenzan vs. Ohara
Japanese wrestlers don’t get first names. They bring Mike Tenay in to commentate as the normal guys don’t know either wrestler.
Tenzan is in nWo Japan. Ohara was a regular New Japan wrestler, managed by Sonny Onoo. The crowd don’t care about this at all. Tenzan didn’t get good until later in his career and Ohara is borderline bad. It’s not the kind of match that inspires you to buy some New Japan tapes. Tenzan wins with a diving headbutt and the crowd seems happy. This was not good but it wasn’t outright bad either. Seeing Tenzan in WCW is a slight curio but nothing more.
Final Rating: *
Video Control gives us some footage of Ric Flair calling out Bret Hart. Flair irritated that Bret thinks he’s better than Slic Ric. Impressed how Hogan managed to manipulate Bret out of his business so quickly.
Chris Jericho vs. Ric Flair
WWE has actually dubbed Jericho’s theme with his WWE one. That’s remarkable.
Jericho apologises for his heelish behaviour of late and promises it’ll never….ever happen again. Flair has grassroots support after having wrestled the Southern territories since the early 1970s (barring the 1991-93 WWF run). Jericho has that enigmatic, exciting new style and Flair sleepwalks through it all. The same way he wrestled every match with someone he didn’t know. Jericho is clearly into it and sells like a champ. Despite the lack of past contests the match is easily the most fluid thing on the show to this point. Jericho gets hooked in the Figure Four and submits quickly. There’s a gulf in popularity here and Jericho, Conspiracy Theorist, was about to hit another level as a sports entertainer. He pitches a fit after the match.
Final Rating: ***
Meng vs. The Giant
The true monster here is Meng and Giant knows Meng would rinse him in a real fight. So he’s relatively tame with his strikes and whatnot. Tony, in maximum shill mode, spends the whole match shilling “Snickers Souled Out”. He says Snickers so many times it loses all meaning. Chokeslam finishes Meng.
Final Rating: *
Steve “Mongo” McMichael vs. Bill Goldberg
Goldberg beat Mongo at Starrcade but they feel the need to stretch the feud out some more here. There’s a suggestion either one of them could be a breakout star as a monster. Goldberg is so, so green here. It’s amazing he’d be WCW’s main star in a matter of months. Testament to anyone breaking into the business; you can make it at any time depending on luck, timing and commitment from the promotion you’re working for. Ugly spear is followed by a sloppy Jackhammer, hampered by Mongo not knowing what the move is despite having already taken it before. The Streak wasn’t a thing yet but comms mention he “may be undefeated”.
Final Rating: ¾*
WCW World Tag Team Championship
The Steiner Brothers (c) vs. Konnan & Buff Bagwell
Scotty is about a month away from turning heel. They’re managed by Ted DiBiase and on the same page at this point with Scott beating the shit out Bagwell. It’s notable from the booking that Rick is the Steiner’s weak link as he takes the heat. Maybe they actually planned this turn out in advance? Presumably. Not that Rick takes much in the way of heat because that would involve selling. There’s no doubt Scott looks like a star. If WCW hadn’t been so dim-witted they could have turned him into a legitimate main event in early 1998. He hits the Frankensteiner, while Rick waits around for the Steiner Bulldog, and gets the pin himself. That turn definitely brewing. Scott Steiner looked aces here in dismantling two midcard guys.
Final Rating: **1/2
For Control of Nitro
Eric Bischoff vs. Larry Zbyszko
Referee is Bret Hart. Comms calls Bret a “tweener”. Based on his reactions here I can see why Bischoff doubled down on the New World Order. The crowd were rabid for anything with the Black & White t-shirt and the nWo section is most of the crowd.
This is from Starrcade ’97. I have no idea why they felt the need to show the whole thing again. The match is terrible because it’s veteran Zbyszko, who’s too old to be in a hip edgy promotion like WCW in 1998 and Bischoff who isn’t a wrestler at all. They stick the bout bang in the middle of the show and it kills all the momentum. Keeping in mind the show is airing live so presumably this is also airing in the building to keep the fans amused (or perhaps the dark match is happening?)
Final Rating: DUD
Promo Time: Larry Zbyszko
Larry is supposed to be a mega babyface but his introduction is met by a chorus of jeers. He cuts a decent promo, which is once again met by a chorus of jeers. This cuts to footage of the nWo beating up Ray Traylor and kicking him out of the nWo. Isn’t it nWo 4 Lyfe?
Scott Hall vs. Ray Traylor
Ray was on his way out of WCW with them figuring WWF didn’t have anything useful for him to do. Naturally Vince McMahon went out of his way to make Bossman relevant later in the year. Hall does not bring much in the way of effort here. Ray tries to compensate but ends up blowing himself up. Larry brings the distraction and a very poor Traylor Spike gives Bossman his last big WCW win.
Final Rating: *
WCW Cruiserweight Championship
Ultimo Dragon (c) vs. Juventud Guerrera
This is Juvi before he went insane and a very composed Ultimo as the champ. It should be a decent match. The action is slick, fast-paced and state-of-the-art. Naturally the commentators talk about Scott Steiner getting fined for slapping the ref earlier. Juvi botches something so Ultimo starts kicking him in the face as punishment.
One of the highlights of doing this Thunder recap is going to be seeing guys like Ultimo Dragon in their prime again. Tasty Sayama-esque kick combo here. pic.twitter.com/ul1KMUcgx8
— Arn (@ArnoldFurious) September 21, 2018
Juvi is out of position for the Asai Moonsault and they botch again.
Ultimo at it again, this time shutting down Juvi flying crossbody with a terrific dropkick. pic.twitter.com/z0h3EbydVV
— Arn (@ArnoldFurious) September 21, 2018
Again Ultimo makes up for it with a terrific spot right afterwards. You never know which Juvi you’re going to get. This one is a fucking mess. 450 Splash from Juvi and they switch the belt because it’s the first Thunder and something important has to happen. I always think it’s tell-tale that Juvi didn’t get picked up by WWE until 2005 and then didn’t last very long. Completely unpredictable. Sometimes superb, at other times dreadful. Sometimes in the same match! This match had high highs and low lows.
Final Rating: **3/4
Promo Time: Bret Hart
Bret gets caught out by his own pyro. He’s out here to talk about the Flair match at Souled Out. He puts himself over for a bit until Ric Flair turns up to interrupt. They jaw about who the best is and decide that a match will sort it out. Watching this back it makes sense that they took this route as Bret walked into WCW and said he was the “best there is” and Flair naturally took exception to that. It makes sense. Although keeping Bret out of the main event when he was the hottest free agent in the history of wrestling and at his peak makes very little sense.
Scott Norton vs. Lex Luger
If you only saw Norton in WCW you’d be hard pushed to understand his popularity in Japan but he was much better in the Land of the Rising Sun. I don’t think he had a single good match in WCW but in NJPW he was a big deal. I don’t think it’s big fish/small pond either just a difference in approach and styles that suited him. Norton is nWo so naturally during this short match Buff Bagwell runs in, Luger kicks out of Norton’s finisher and racks both of them before fighting Randy Savage. Jesus.
Final Rating: DUD
Video Control gives us a replay of the bullshit finish of Starrcade where Hogan blatantly won clean thanks to his corruption of Nick Patrick. Thus making Bret Hart look like an asshole for disagreeing and Sting look like a total chump for jobbing clean. Hogan even sandbags Sting during his big comeback. I’ve never seen a more selfish performance from a professional wrestler. He even refused to tap out thus giving us Bret’s word that Hogan submitted. Absolute horseshit. One of the all time worst things in the history of professional wrestling. It makes me mad just thinking about how badly this got fucked up because of that prick Hulk Hogan. What an absolute cunt.
They go on to show footage from Nitro where they tried to plaster over the cracks by having Hogan actually lose only to have Hogan “with a handful of tights”, which didn’t happen and another normally counted fast count. They fucked up the make up match! That’s like apologising to someone for spitting in their face while spitting in their face.
Promo Time: JJ Dillon
JJ is out here to address the WCW title situation. After the controversial Hogan/Sting re-match (the one where Hogan scored another perfectly legitimate pin) JJ is stripping Sting of the belt.
Sting is upset, I think, or maybe he has gas. I’ve always referred to this version of Sting as Sad Mime Sting. Sting calls JJ “gutless” and turns to Hogan. “You? You’re a dead man”.
WCW US Championship
Diamond Dallas Page (c) vs. Kevin Nash
DDP battled his way up the card and became the great white hope for the dwindling WCW fanbase. The one guy the crowd liked even though he wasn’t in the nWo. The show has overrun at this point so don’t expect a long match. Not that a long Nash match is on my ‘to-do’ list.
Nash is coming back from 3 months on the shelf with a knee injury. He was due to come back at Starrcade but no showed the biggest show of the year claiming a “heart attack”. That may be the biggest load of bullshit in the history of the business. Nash is somewhat sluggish due to his 3-month absence. Nash runs heat for pretty much the entire match to absolute silence. Page can’t hit the Cutter because Hogan interferes and that’s a DQ. This was utterly tedious. Nash was fucking terrible in 1998 and this was no different. Post Match Giant waddles down for a brawl and Nash looks gassed before indulging in a horrible brawl with the big man as we go off the air.
Final Rating: -*
WCW. Where to begin? They threw so much shit at the wall. This show alone has three JJ Dillon segments, a reversed decision, a guest match from Japan, a cruiserweight title switch, Goldberg’s streak, Flair in two segments, Giant in two segments, Scott Steiner getting fined for touching a ref when the rules are intentionally broken throughout the show and that isn’t even noticed, an entire match from Starrcade replayed plus huge chunks of another and half of last week’s Nitro and a Kevin Nash comeback in a goddawful main event. Plus they stripped Sting of the world title. That’s a lot to process from one show. It’s such a bizarre mixture of hype for future shows, current storylines and random shit. You don’t know what will happen from one segment to another. At least it’s never boring (main event aside) but it’s so off-the-wall and this is before the company got really silly!
Goldberg/Mongo for the beginnings of the streak.
Guerrera/Ultimo. In spite of the botches its great fun.
Jericho/Flair. Chris starting down a new heel route.
Nothing else on the show has any value whatsoever.