Rewriting The Book – What if Goldberg never lost at Starrcade ’98? (Part III)
by Jed Shaffer
Previously in RTB, Goldberg’s undefeated streak remained intact thanks to corporate protection, but thanks to bad booking, his star power dwindled. WCW honcho Eric Bischoff turned Goldberg heel, and did so by aligning him with a returning Sid Vicious. Crowds chanted for Sting to face Goldberg, but Bischoff, obsessed with a long build, avoided it, and stuck Sting in a confusing feud where he aligned with a heel Ric Flair agaaisnt a face Roddy Piper and a heel Randy Savage. Diamond Dallas Page seemingly turned face only two months after turning heel, which would be a key element in setting up Bash At The Beach, which is where our story continues …
The road to Bash At The Beach
Goldberg’s heel turn seemed perfect, at least on paper. He was an unstoppable monster, hadn’t tasted defeat since his debut, he’d become egotistical about his winning streak … all perfect components for an invincible monster heel, right?
Leave it to Bischoff to go and over-season the soup. The return of Sid Vicious wasn’t just to kick-start a feud with Kevin Nash, oh, no.
As revealed on the Nitro after The Great American Bash, Sid was Goldberg’s bodyguard.
Normally, wrestlers get “bodyguards” when they’re either spineless jellyfish, prima donnas or pretty boys. Monster heels might have managers (see Harley Race with Big Van Vader, or Bobby Heenan with King Kong Bundy), but the whole idea of a monster heel gimmick is just that: he’s a monster. Other wrestlers are to him what flies are to a windshield. The idea of Goldberg with a bodyguard made as much sense as Jason Voorhees needing Michael Myers to be his wingman at the summer camp. And yet, Bischoff was convinced that Goldberg having a bodyguard was the way to go. Whether this was more intentional, subtle sabotage, or just another Bischoff brain-fart, we’ll never know. But the effect was instantaneous: Goldberg’s heel run started off as a mild sprint with a limp and shoes that were too tight. Audiences still booed, but he didn’t give off the same kind of aura that Vader did.
It seems the bulk of creative juices went into justifying the logic behind DDP’s turn back to the light after a scintillating one-month heel run. It turned out – courtesy of a very long-winded DDP promo that went so long, children enrolled in and graduated from college in its duration – that Kanyon and Bigelow had stalked DDP’s wife Kimberly and taken indecent pictures of her at home, undressing and in the shower. With said salacious pictures, they blackmailed DDP into doing what they wanted … until he got his hands on the negatives and destroyed them, which is why he turned on them at GAB.
Now, while the vast majority of wrestling viewers are red-blooded males who love looking at beautiful women, not everybody indulges in adult entertainment. So, for the benefit of those who don’t, the subject must be brought up because, well, WCW kinda stepped in it here big time. And the main problem is this: from 1994 to 1999, Kimberly Page was involved in multiple pictorials for Playboy’s news-stand specials. Sometimes in lingerie, but quite often fully naked. One layout was even in the shower, that vaunted place where Kimberly’s privacy was invaded. And one picture set even had DDP himself in it. And, hey, that coffin lid isn’t completely nailed shut, let’s pound one more in, shall we? In 1997, during Randy Savage’s feud with DDP, Savage’s valet Elizabeth referenced said nude pictures and, on live TV in front of the world (albeit with strategically placed tape to censor the offending bits) showed the world some pictures … from the most recent issue to hit the stands.
So, to put it all in perspective: DDP is angry because his wife has been seen naked and had pictures taken of in this way by co-workers. This is an invasion of privacy. What is not, however, is allowing said wife to be in – and appearing with said wife in – nude photo layouts for the world’s premier softcore pornography magazine. And despite said nude pictures being available at most any convenience store, these pictures being taken in their home made them different and thus exposed the Pages to exploitation and blackmail. Got it? Well, then explain it to everybody else in 1999, because nobody did then. And we still don’t now.
And why did they ret-con DDP’s heel turn away, you might ask? With the new plan to turn Goldberg, they needed more top-level faces. Because, you know, Sting wasn’t available to … oh, he was? Umm … yeah, see, here’s the thing … LOOK OVER THERE! [Changes the subject.]
So, with DDP now back to being a face (or never had been?), the stage was set for a main event of epic proportions … if it weren’t so damned convoluted. Watching WCW that summer needed more flow charts than an Amway sales meeting conducted by Ross Perot. The thorough mess of the Sting/Piper/Savage/Flair angle had people scratching their heads so hard, they were starting to scratch away memories. But then, then Bischoff had to top it with this: Bash At The Beach would be headlined with Sid and Goldberg facing DDP and Kevin Nash. This sounds like a Nitro main event, but nope, it’s a PPV main event … with the extra added bonus of a stipulation wherein “whoever pins, wins”. By that, it was meant whoever scored the pin would be WCW World Champion. Why Goldberg – from a kayfabe standpoint – would ever agree to such a match, since it turned his own partner into a half-assed opponent was never explained, but hey, they’d already failed to explain enough. At some point, you’ve just got to accept they don’t do explanations well and move along.
And what of the former members of the Triad, you ask? Since they didn’t have any connections, their brief brush with DDP served them about as well as watching Law & Order makes you a lawyer. They blamed each other for the failure to keep DDP under their thumb, Bigelow got moved into the fledgling hardcore division (burying Raven even further in the process, including a squash on the equally forgotten Thunder), and Kanyon shuffled into the undercard ghetto of the TV Title ranks. So much for that little youth movement. To say the lost opportunity disheartened the rest of the large contingent of wrestlers going nowhere fast would be overstating it, since none of them were heartened to begin with. WCW had long since stopped pretending any elevation of the midcard that didn’t involve a stepladder or a trip to Denver was impossible. The sudden disappearance of the Triad’s rub from DDP only served to underscore what everybody already knew and deeply resented: WCW was a place to watch your bank account get fat, and your career to sputter and die.
And speaking of sputtering and dying, we have the West Texas Rednecks/No Limit Soldiers feud. The lovely crowd reaction, in direct opposition to what the booking was, prompted Bischoff to make the big blow-off at BATB, rather than continue to run the angle to Fall Brawl, where there was talk of bringing back War Games for this … no, really. This followed an amazing decision that could only be described as WCW-esque: the Rednecks recorded a single called “Rap Is Crap”, which got actual airplay on some country stations, especially in the south … which naturally prompted WCW to call said stations and ask it to be taken off the air. Again, this was free publicity for WCW; they didn’t contact radio stations and offer them the song, and there was no payola. It went viral, before viral was a thing, all on its own. But because it made the Rednecks more popular – which ran at cross purposes to their plans – they killed it dead, and slated the angle to wrap up.
And just in case you’re scared WCW didn’t find a way to burn more money, you can put those fears to rest, friends. Somehow, Goldberg convinced WCW management to spend an untold – but no doubt eye-crossingly stupid – amount of money to get past-their-prime metal band Megadeth to perform “Crush ‘Em”, a song off their new album. And to license it to replace his signature theme song. For a month. Really. Sometimes, you don’t even need to make a funny observation; life will supply its own punchlines when the situation calls for it.
Oh, and then there’s everybody’s favorite angle, the Sting/Flair/Savage/Piper debacle. This time around, it got two spots on the PPV; naturally, one would assume, perhaps, Sting/Savage and Flair/Piper? Or perhaps the “friends” finally realized they were backing the wrong horse, and it’d be Sting/Flair (part 76), and Piper/Savage?
Nope. Try Piper/Sting, and Flair/Savage. No, really. Even with the crowd still demanding Sting (both live and on the WCW message boards, as it had been for months), Bischoff stuck to his guns to deliver matches that nobody asked for. To WCW’s credit, the Savage/Flair match was promoted as “The Final Encounter”, a tacit acknowledgment that these two had been in each other’s orbit far too long in the recent past, never mind that the rivalry traced back to 1992. Sting/Piper, on the other hand, was promoted as a historic first encounter. Had this been in 1992, when Piper was still had some mobility and the hips he was born with, and Sting hadn’t been hobbled by injuries and beaten down by years of being too nice for locker room politics, it might’ve had some value beyond the names. But in 1999, all it had were names and a feud that resembled a Mobius strip: it came from nowhere and it went nowhere and had a meaningless twist.
For once, though, while the product on screen veered from watchable-but-bizarre to wretched, the backstage area wasn’t a mire of drama. In fact, all was quiet on the western front. Jericho, one of the biggest rabble-rousers, finished out his contract and went north, where he debuted to a thunderous ovation and got in a promo duel with top talent The Rock. Those pesky anonymous backstage sources would be quotes as saying Bischoff was happy to see Jericho go and didn’t understand why WWF would “waste money” on a “half-sized, half-wit troublemaker” who looked like a “thrift-store Shawn Michaels knock-off”. Raven had gone completely quiet, taking his Thunder and Saturday losses like a champ. There was no griping about the “inner circle” or “F’sOB”, mainly because it had been neutered. For all intents and purposes, any kind of talent uprising seemed to have died out on its own. And with Bash At The Beach in front of him, Bischoff had no reason to doubt WCW’s best days were only ahead.
Other than the string of creative failures that had plagued him for the past two years. But that’s what past means; it’s not here and now, it’s back then. Right?
Bash At The Beach
Despite the fact that WWF was in no immediate danger from WCW, Vince McMahon wasn’t about to rest on his laurels. Despite not being one of the “Big Five” events, Fully Loaded was, in fact, fully loaded, with a strap match for #1 contendership between The Rock (the promotion’s #2 face) and Triple H (the fast-rising heel), and a main event that could either cut Stone Cold Steve Austin out of the WWF Title picture forever, or banish Vince McMahon from television forever. While still two weeks away from when Bash At The Beach would take place, every month was a battle for viewers dollars; some bought both, but many bought only one. Lately, the pendulum had been swinging WWF’s way, but WCW’s partisans swore up and down that the superior workers in WCW’s undercard made the purchase worthwhile (and would point to WWF’s increasingly nonsensical storylines … as if WCW didn’t have their fair share).
That argument went up like a rattan chair in a bonfire at Bash At The Beach.
For the unfortunate souls who watched it, Bash At The Beach 1999 was almost like a time machine. Eight years prior – three days shy of being eight years exactly – it had been The Great American Bash in WCW’s July PPV slot, and that event would go down in history as one of the worst PPV’s ever. No hyperbole, no objectivity, no editorial opinion; The Great American Bash 1991 was a headline-making Chernobyl-level disaster. In short: after Ric Flair was run out of the promotion with the world title in hand, the roster staged a protest over Flair’s treatment by turning every match, save the main event, into a negative-star, stroke-inducing nightmare. It was a breath-taking rebellion and a show of respect for a man who’d given all and was more or less pushed out the door by a callous and ignorant executive.
Bash At The Beach 1999 was shockingly similar. Had Wrestlecrap been around in 1999, it would’ve no doubt won the Gooker. Aside from the top three matches and one pre-taped match (more on that in a minute), every under-card match was the kind of awful that can only be achieved by somebody skilled enough to know how to do their job well look cartoonishly bad. Ernest Miller versus Disco Inferno? Eight minutes long, six of it a “dance-off” with some of the worst moves outside of a Grand Mal seizure. Scott Steiner won the US Title off of, and this is no joke, David Flair; of course, David Flair needed no help sucking in the ring, because he had the talent of a broken rocking chair, and Steiner was as cooperative as a drunken sloth. That No Limit Soldiers/West Texas Rednecks match? How about an 8-man elimination match, including Swoll – a massive lump of muscle with the mobility of a construction barrel – and 4×4, who stood 6’3”, weighed around 400 pounds, and made David Flair look like his dad. Then add in the fact that you had six wrestlers intentionally sandbagging it around them, and you get a match that sucks so bad, light bends around it. Finally, Buff Bagwell fought Rick Steiner. And, for reasons that kayfabe made sense unless you consider who these people are, this was a boxing match. Like David Flair, they didn’t have to dog it to make it feel like a punch to the head … but they were kind enough – or loyal to their heretofore unspoken cause (which we’ll discuss soon enough) – to do so anyway.
And that’s only the part of the show that sucked on purpose.
The pre-taped match was meant to further the development of the fledgling hardcore division (and was not promoted one iota, so, you know, great job on the development!). Why it took several PPV’s to launch a division is a question nobody bothered to ask, and somebody should have before they got to this point. This pre-taped match featured fourteen under-card wrestlers: Ciclope (an also-ran in an also-ran division), Jerry Flynn (notable Saturday Night jobber), Johnny Grunge and Rocco Rock (back from a cup of coffee in WWF), Horace Hogan (take a guess how he got there), Brian Knobs (see previous statement), Hak, Hugh Morrus, La Parka (noted chubby luchadore and air-guitar enthusiast), Silver King (see Ciclope), Mikey Whipwreck (because ECW?), Fit Finlay, Lord Steven Regal and Squire Dave Taylor (because British nobility is noted for their extreme physical violence). Again, please note this was for the hardcore division; while WCW’s iteration was a far cry from ECW’s circus-of-blood atmosphere, it was still meant to look ultra-violent. Aside from Hak, Brian Knobs and the Public Enemy, none of the wrestlers had been portrayed as anything even close. So, not only were they square pegs in round holes, the ante got upped by the match taking place in an auto scrapyard constructed by WCW to look like a real junkyard, minus all the hazards that come with it. Keep that in mind, because it’s vaguely important. The match is notable for many things, but quality is not among them: the lighting was so poor, the wrestlers more often looked like ninjas or 3D shadows. Jerry Flynn tried to use some electrical wires to create a shower of sparks on a car hood. This was meant to be an offensive maneuver, somehow. But the special effects didn’t work on time, and the sparks ended up coming out when Flynn gave up and just looked at the wires. Yes, for all intents and purposes, they’d just re-created the Looney Tunes gag of the plugged shotgun blowing up in Elmer Fudd’s face, totally on accident. A compactor lightly massaged a car’s roof that Finlay was in the trunk of, and this caused a mild car fire. A second car fire was started by a fire barrel being kicked over. And a good portion of it seemed to be filmed by a helicopter. If all this sounds like cheap special effects and poor camera work, you’re dead right. Finlay won by climbing over a fence … and for his efforts, he, along with more than half the participants, were legit injured, with Finlay getting a leg laceration that almost resulted in needing an amputation. That, sadly, is not a joke. All in all, showing this match to your friends qualifies as attempted murder. It’s a federal law. Really, look it up.
From there, the triple main event bowed, and in the interest of not making you throw yourself off the roof just by reading it, only the “high”-lights of the lower two matches will be given. Sting beat Piper, and Savage beat Flair.
There, highlights over.
Because unlike their under-card brethren, these matches were destined to be straight-up, grade-A crap, no matter what. Piper … well, if you haven’t gotten the gist of Piper in 1999 by now, you never will without subjecting yourself to the agony. And while Sting was a good worker, broomsticks can only be carried so far. And Piper was barely a broomstick. Flair/Savage was a little better, because they knew each other well, and there were echoes of their glory days. But what spoiled the match was just that: you could see it was the wrestling version of a greatest hits album, only played at half-speed. And on kazoos. It just made you long for the good stuff and, perhaps unfairly, resent what you were seeing.
And then came the main event.
To be fair, the match itself wasn’t bad. Actually, it was perfectly acceptable wrestling; nothing to make you call up your friends and rave, but nothing to make you curse out the cable company for a refund either. They worked the standard formula, with DDP playing the face-in-peril, and Nash got to make the hot tag. Almost not worth mentioning, really, as 99.9999% of the match doesn’t have a lick of anything useful to contribute to the overall career trajectory of Goldberg.
Except for the ending, which was pure WCW.
Wherein Sid pinned DDP.
This may not seem like a big deal unless you remember the stipulation: if you pin, you win. By the letter of the law, Sid was the new WCW World Champion.
So, when the ring announcer proclaimed the winners of the match to be “Sid Vicious and the WCW World Champion Goldberg”, a good portion of the crowd – read: all of it – was perplexed, and for good reason. The stipulation had been repeated over and over and over again on WCW television, up to and including this event. Over-payed guest ring announcer Michael Buffer had reiterated it right before the match. It was drummed into the heads of the audience like a Pavlovian command.
The following night, they’d explain the switch on-screen … and while it amounted to “typical 1999 WCW”, it was something. Behind the scenes, though, was another story. And, again, it’s one of those situations where we only know what the rumor mill said.
Those lovable unnamed sources got word to the dirt sheets that somebody got word to the WCW execs that Bischoff wanted to use the match to get the belt off Goldberg without having him actually eat a pin. With the drop-dead date of September looming ever closer, and the suits already thinking pretty little of Bischoff, it’s stunning to think he would try something so brazen as an end-around (again). To this day, Bischoff has sworn Sid winning the belt was never the plan, and what followed was always the intent. But those unnamed sources swear up and down that Bischoff was seen backstage dropping enough F-bombs to make Andrew Dice Clay blush. Numerous unnamed sources, in fact. It’s hard to take a faceless, nameless entity seriously … but when there’s a bunch of them saying the same thing, it’s hard to dismiss what they say, too.
Then again, some unnamed sources said that Bischoff’s panties were in a bunch because of the sandbag insurrection. WCW tradition was to fly all talent to shows, even if they weren’t used, and Bash At The Beach was no exception. Shortly after the last of the under-card matches, a large number of the under-card talent left; this is not rumor, as a number of them have come forward to say so, and why. The heat on Bischoff was bad enough with Goldberg (and with the PPV ending). Having a full-blown uprising and talent revolt, live on TV? That was like a death warrant, signed, sealed and delivered to his desk.
Whatever the case was with the main event ending, it and the revolt had to be dealt with. With just over a month left to show the execs Bischoff had a keen handle on the ship, he had no time to lose.
Fortunately – at least in Bischoff’s mind – he had an ace in the hole. Whether he had any other cards worth a damn …
The road to Road Wild
The first Nitro after Bash At The Beach built off the confusing ending to the PPV by explaining it away: Goldberg had gone behind Sid’s back and had the contract changed. How did he do that? If you were expecting an answer, clearly, you’re just not getting how WCW operated in 1999. Consider yourself lucky you got a half-assed ret-con rather than nothing at all.
The entirety of Nitro was built around this, with the big reveal set for the final slot of the night. That left the rest of of Nitro to start the build to the next PPV, Road Wild, a bizarre tradition created by motorcycle enthusiast Bischoff to hold a PPV at the annual Sturgis motorcycle rally. It was held outdoors, in a large open area. If you’re wondering how they charged an admission or made money off this, the simple answer is they didn’t. Not one thin dime, at least at the “gate”.
And the build to this PPV was … well, here, let’s build the case, and you decide. The seemingly eternal Sting/Flair/Piper/Savage debacle, seemingly brought to a head at BATB (albeit against the wrong people) was given one more month of mileage … only now, Piper was excised, due to needing time off. While this eliminated the weakest link as far as workrate goes, there was still more heat to be found on the surface of Pluto than on a triangle feud between Sting, Savage and Flair. Even WCW loyalists couldn’t agree on exactly what they were feuding about anymore; Flair, surprisingly, had not betrayed Sting in any way, Sting and Savage had limited time together, and Savage’s attack on Flair was never given any motivation. It literally boiled down to “I don’t like you, grrr!”. Considering other angles and their intelligence-insulting booking, such simplicity could be regarded as a benefit. If one felt so generous.
The rest of the midcard were given their usual attention – as in, as minimal as necessary. Chris Benoit and Dean Malenko, along with Perry Saturn and Shane Douglas (returning to WCW after spending most of the decade in ECW), formed a stable called The Revolution, with a reality-blurring gimmick of being youngsters who had grown frustrated at the management for holding them back. Their promos – usually led by Douglas, far and away the best speaker of the quartet – were electric and cut to the bone, and got the crowd on their side against the “cancer” within WCW management (Douglas’ words). Naturally, this led to no push at all, but it made for a cool gimmick. Instead, Benoit and Malenko – still tag champs – feuded with Hugh Morrus and Brian Knobs, now united by Jimmy Hart in another gathering of midcarders known as The First Family. If you’re thinking that Morrus and Knobs were even lower on the ladder than Malenko and Benoit, know that the other two members were Jerry Flynn and The Barbarian. If The Revolution was a murderer’s row of untapped skill and potential, The First Family was more like petty theft’s row. Or maybe jaywalking.
The rest of the card – the part of the card that matters, in other words – was in stasis until the Sid/Goldberg stuff played out. You might be thinking “so, they put everybody into a holding pattern for a month?!”. And the answer is, nope, two weeks. That first week, Goldberg revealed the truth and Sid confronted him over it. Listening to the two of them engage in a dialogue was, to say the least, painful; Goldberg, mostly untested in long-form promos, was ill-equipped to deal with such a lengthy segment, and sounded like a buffoon. Which is better than Sid, whose rambling, incoherant, stream-of-consciousness promos often sounded like a verbal Mobius strip. On this night, he admitted Goldberg was “twice as smart”, but according to Sid’s math, he was also “twice as dumb”, and that meant Goldberg’s brain was “four times as big” as his own … which Sid then followed up with calling himself “half the man” Goldberg was.
Now, it should also be mentioned that, while this promo definitely pushed the idea of a Sid/Goldberg showdown, what it did not do was firmly establish a face/heel dynamic. While WCW had recent precedent to show they did not need – or necessarily care – about a face/heel pairing, that same precedent showed the crowd did not want rivalries between two similarly aligned wrestlers. And with both guys giving promos that would make Helen Keller ask them to shut up, neither man could even stumble onto heat or sympathy by accident. It was almost as if the promo was designed to be awful, and given how much corporate sabotage had gone down so far against Goldberg, you’d be excused if you thought this was another spoke in that wheel. Believe it or not, nope; the truth is, Bischoff really was trying here.
Because the ace in the hole was about to be played.
To remind you: this angle was set up by the previous night’s ending to the PPV. It was discussed at length – sometimes ad nauseum – over the course of that Nitro. In other words, it had hype. Wrestling crowds fall for hype. They crave it, and they love it when it’s well done. While it was only one night of hype, sometimes, that’s all you need. Especially during the Monday Night Wars, one night of hype, kicked off correctly, could be a wildfire.
All this is a way of explaining that WCW was capable of doing this kind of hype. It works, and they had full, clear evidence in front of them.
Which makes it all the more baffling that they did not hype the return of Hulk Hogan. Sure, his act was stale, but he did have some fans left. Generating some pre-return buzz could’ve drawn in a few pairs of eyeballs that wouldn’t have tuned in otherwise. Instead, Hogan returned with no hype whatsoever, to stand on the stage and watch Goldberg and Sid go at it, until they both stopped and noticed him. At which point, they stopped and stared. Yes, two athletes, both younger than Hogan and not coming off a catastrophic knee injury, in far better physical shape, were somehow brought to a grinding halt by a man halfway across an arena, who neither said or did anything.
Amazingly, WCW used Thunder to their advantage to announce that the next week’s Nitro would have Sid vs. Goldberg for the strap. Detractors asked why they would give away the match for free. Not to mention that, once again, WCW’s hype machine seemed to not quite understand how building hype worked. After so much time almost tacitly telling the viewers to ignore Thunder, the viewers, shockingly, ignored Thunder. And back then, the number of fans online was dwarfed by those not online. Imagine the shock of those 9 out of 10 viewers, expecting the slow build to Road Wild, to hear Sid/Goldberg was tonight … with Hulk Hogan as the guest referee. The match would be a technical tour-de-force, on par with Flair/Steamboat or –
Just kidding. It lasted two minutes, consisted of two tie-ups, two pushes and a headlock.
And that’s when Goldberg, in the headlock pushed Sid off, where he collided with Hogan. The Hulkster popped up and got angry … and then the lights went down, and “Sirius” by The Alan Parsons Project started playing. For some time in the 80′s, the music was synonymous with Ricky Steamboat, but in recent years, had become part of the pre-game entrance of the Chicago Bulls basketball team.
If you remember your WCW history, then you know where this is going.
Dennis Rodman returned to WCW. “The Worm” flashed the classic New World Order “4-life” hand gesture, sending Goldberg and Sid into a panic. Why, exactly, they should be panicked over a fragile-as-glass Hogan and a basketball player is a mystery, but it’s what they gave viewers. Rodman climbed in the ring, stood by Hogan … and attacked Hogan, alongside Goldberg and Sid.
Seriously, if you didn’t see that coming, there’s no help for you.
The remaining weeks had to quickly lay out two things: the card for RW, and just what in the hell was going on with the Goldberg/Sid/Rodman trio. Second issue first, it turned out that Goldberg, Sid and Rodman had set this up all along, as a trap for Hogan. This raises all sorts of logical questions that WCW had no time for, and anybody else would’ve thought of in under a minute: why did an aging, crippled Hulk Hogan warrant such an elaborate ruse? Where was this sudden burst of Machiavellian plotting coming from, given that neither Goldberg or Sid seemed capable of stringing two words together without sounding like they were drinking NyQuil by the gallon? Why go through getting a contract changed and faking a fight just to end up beating up a guy, when they could’ve done that without the conspiracy? How did Goldberg convince management to change the contract, and why weren’t they taking punitive action against him, given the now-explained purposes of said contractual amendment? And, unless Goldberg had turned into the Kwisatz Haderach, how did he know Hulk Hogan was returning to WCW when, keeping with kayfabe, WCW didn’t know?
One more logical question: how was this supposed to draw in viewers? Some of you may be saying “yeah, but WWF’s Attitude era was just as convoluted”, and that’s spot-on right. But it was also compelling. It was ridiculous and over-the-top, but the characters themselves were never made to look as stupid for it as WCW did.
Whatever the case, this needlessly convoluted scheme (something that was happening within WCW’s roster with alarming regularity) had the negative effect of having to rush-build for the next PPV. Hogan demanded revenge on Rodman and got it in a falls-count-anywhere street fight, to compensate for ring rust on Hogan’s part, and being God-awful for Rodman. DDP demanded a “rematch” against Sid – despite not having had a singles match to date – and, because they had unsettled business from BATB, Nash got a one-on-one shot against Goldberg. Again. At least WCW had the presence of mind to declare it “Nash’s final chance”, even if adhering to stipulations was not exactly WCW’s strong suit. One more match was made, and once again, it was another pop culture cross-over match, which seemed to be a staple of Road Wild over the years; this time, The Filthy Animals – Rey Mysterio, Eddie Guerrero and, of all people, Billy Kidman – were slated to face off against The Dead Pool, a new stable featuring Raven, Vampiro and The Insane Clown Posse, a rap duo out of Detroit whose rap songs were fantastic tales of evil clowns, dark carnivals and the apocalypse. They were huge wrestling marks, but had little real training, so of course, they’re represent the stable, along with Vampiro, in a six-man. Raven, still in the doghouse, would be relegated to the corner-man position and mouthpiece in the build-up.
For one night, anyway. That one night, the last Nitro before Road Wild, Raven would uncork a bottle of pent-up aggression and become the mouthpiece, not for The Dead Pool, but WCW’s entire midcard, cutting a promo that, in normal prosaic Raven fashion, was heavy on symbolism and hidden meaning. To the untrained ear, it sounded like a general doom-and-gloom prophecy. But to those in the know – and to those in the back – it was a pointed spear, thrown right at one Eric Aaron Bischoff, talking of being “over-looked” and promising a “revolution”. It sounded, for all intents and purposes, like a warning.
Or a call to arms.
PPV weekends are the final chance for wrestling promotions to put the final touches on a PPV from a backstage perspective; one last chance to give the script a tweak, one last chance for wrestlers to do a run-through, and one last chance to make sure the show has the proper flow. With the pressure mounting on Bischoff’s shoulders to get back on the track of profitability, not to mention the competition in WWF’s #2 PPV, Summerslam, the very same month, the day before Road Wild should’ve been spent doing just that.
What Bischoff would’ve preferred to do would be to soak in the biker culture, as he’d been able to do since the inception of the annual self-indulgent money pit known as Road Wild.
He did neither. Instead, he played firefighter, combating the inferno lit by Raven’s thinly veiled shoot promo.
Predictably, the upper end of the card was not sympathetic to Raven’s complaints; sources said Hogan thought Raven a “loud-mouthed punk” who couldn’t “catch heat if he was set on fire” and that he should be grateful he wasn’t “grubbing for nickels at the bus stop”. Nash dismissed the entire undercard as “vanilla midgets”. Flair said much of the undercard were “ungrateful bastards” who “couldn’t lace [his] boots with a year’s training”. None of this was news, especially not to the Dean Malenkos and Buff Bagwells of WCW, but Raven’s public diatribe about the elephant in the locker room had rekindled the fires of frustration. The reaction from the upper crust – overt now, not just assumed condescension – dumped gasoline on it. Knowing that a fire would attract attention, Bischoff made it his mission to put it out before the brass saw it, and called a locker room meeting to discuss the company’s direction.
By the time everybody gathered together, it was no longer a fire. Bischoff walked into a nuclear war. The undercard had taken a very hostile us-versus-them attitude, and the upper card either looked at their underlings with disdain, or blamed each other. Only Sting, Savage and DDP seemed above it all; Sting, because he truly wasn’t part of the political machine despite his position, DDP because his connections were never as profitable as they seemed to be (and he still didn’t want to burn bridges), and Savage because he was just too aloof to care.
Sources disagree on how long the meeting lasted, and what was said specifically, but they all agree on a few things: Bischoff laid the course for the year (Goldberg/Hogan II at Fall Brawl, Sting wins WW3, challenges winner at Starrcade), tried to give a we’re-all-in-this-together speech, and then betrayed himself by saying that opportunities were made, not handed out. That he could say that and not have a wheelbarrow under his crotch to support his Jupiter-sized balls was amazing. Again, sources disagree on what happened next; some people who were in the room have come forward to divulge, but their tales differ (and tend to slant in their direction), but the end result was the same: Bischoff said WCW had no room for people who didn’t understand the pecking order, and that if they couldn’t understand this, the door was open to leave, with the caveat of a one year, no-WWF clause.
Long having been frustrated at the course of his career, Raven stood up and left. Bischoff asked if there was anybody else; having seen one man be brave enough to make the stand, Billy Kidman, Perry Saturn, Hak, Mikey Whipwreck, Bam Bam Bigelow and Chris Kanyon followed suit. When Saturn left, Benoit tried to stop him, but was talked down by Douglas and Malenko; those pesky “sources” say Douglas said something under his breath about understanding Saturn’s feelings, but wanting to keep food on the table. This prompted an actual fist-fight between Douglas and Scott Steiner, who came to the defense of Bischoff. Eventually, the fight was broken up, but not before Douglas came out worse than he went in. At that point, Bischoff asked if there was anybody else; when there wasn’t, he declared the meeting over.
But the issue that prompted was not settled. Not until Bischoff won the argument.
24 hours later, Bischoff did just that. The Dead Pool, now renamed The Dark Carnival and represented in the ring solely by Insane Clown Posse, trounced The Filthy Animals – now just Mysterio and Guerrero – in four minutes, and the insufficient training of ICP nearly caused a few injuries in the process. Invoking the Freebird Rule, Bischoff sent out Malenko and substitute partner Douglas to lose the WCW Tag Titles in a one-sided, Saturday Night-esque rout by The First Family. And perhaps the biggest middle finger of all, Scott Steiner got to go out and win the United States Championship, despite having almost put Shane Douglas in a hospital with a broken rib and a black eye that engulfed half of his face. Benoit was spared the humiliation of on-screen punishment due to his trying to get Saturn to stay … but, perhaps for speaking up at all, or for being unsuccessful in getting Saturn to stay, he got left off the PPV entirely.
What was left, however, would make one wish for the punishment squashes, with the exception of DDP/Sid. DDP, known for meticulously planning his matches and rehearsing them with the repetitiveness of a Broadway play, was able to coax a serviceable match out of the big, lumbering Sid. Nothing that would make you feel good about paying the thirty bucks to see it, but a reasonable, if formulaic, big man/little man match.
The same cannot be said of the triple-threat match number one contender’s match.
Oh, you didn’t know? Yeah, neither did anybody else. WCW tacked on the stipulation at the last minute – literally. The change was sent to Michael Buffer’s earpiece moments before Ric Flair, the first of the three competitors, was announced.
Not that the addition added to the match. Savage, disgruntled by his lack of world title reign, was looking to take a hiatus, and slept-walk through the match. He wrestled with precisely enough effort to not hurt anybody intentionally, but not enough effort to be enjoyable. Flair was game enough to try, but between his age, his reliance on the hoary old spots, and unfamiliarity with the triple-threat format all combined like Voltron … only instead of making a massive robot, it made for an anchor dragging Flair down. Sting, likewise, came ready to work, but he couldn’t carry both his opponents. The result was a match that comes with a pharmacist’s warning not to watch before operating heavy machinery or driving. The only upside was the ending: Sting pinned Flair, clean as a sheet, to not only take the victory, but become the new #1 contender to Goldberg.
This puzzled the boys in the back. Bischoff had made it perfectly clear the day before that Fall Brawl would be headlined by Goldberg/Hogan II, and Sting would get the main event at Starrcade. Had he been lying? Was there a swerve coming? Nobody knew a thing, and in a weird way, the win hurt Bischoff backstage; he already had the rep of a double-dealer and a liar, but it was always done in a used-car-salesman, glad-handing kind of way. Now, he seemed to have done it straight to their faces. The uprising, seemingly, accomplished nothing. The fans didn’t know any of this, though, so message boards exploded all over the internet with the news of Sting’s win and the possibility of Goldberg/Sting looming in the near future. Suddenly, WCW looked like it had a possibility to get some positive pub again.
Hardcore matches, used properly, can hide deficiencies and accentuate the drama in a match. ECW used it to great effect, making workers barely able to apply a wristlock look like ring generals. The semi-main, ostensibly a hardcore affair, had an aging veteran hoping to coast on nostalgia to hide a bum knee and a barely-trained basketball player. Hogan had been in some brawls, but was never know as a hardcore wrestler, and Dennis Rodman’s experience was mostly limited to standing on the apron, being annoying and nearly botching the three moves he had a vague concept of how to perform. You shouldn’t even attempt to imagine how awful this was. A human being makes a greater impact on a chair merely by sitting down than they did in their swings. A trash bag of styrofoam peanuts was used; no joke, the softest material known to man, and Dennis Rodman sold it like he’d been hit in the head with a cinder block. And when they weren’t exposing the business by doing hardcore badly, they actually tried to [i]wrestle[/i]. The less said about this, the better. Construction barrels have more range of motion. Frank Gotch, current condition, has a better workrate. Just suffice to know that the end served as a metaphor for the entire match; Rodman was defeated after being body-slammed on a picnic table – yes, this was also falls-count-anywhere, which WCW never mentioned – then dragged to a port-a-john and thrown in. Hogan struggled with it for a good thirty seconds – more exposure of the business – before a couple bikers helped tip it over. Dennis Rodman’s final WCW appearance was to be swimming in fake human waste. As good an analogy as any for the product at that point.
And then came the main event. If ever was there a case study in diminishing returns, the trilogy of Goldberg/Nash matches between December ’98 and August ’99 was it. The first match was passable, nothing to write home about, but inoffensive. The first was shortened to give Goldberg a more emphatic victory, but it felt rushed, and asking either man to rush only made them look worse. It wasn’t a [i]bad[/i] match, but in comparison to the original, it was a pale shadow. The third? Right away, you could tell the motivation was nowhere to be found in “Big Sexy”. He wrestled like he was under triple the gravitational pressure. And both men felt listless and bored with their own job, as if they were killing time. This made every second felt like a minute on its own. You could just feel the match was there to be the preamble to something else, and that sucked any joy out of watching Goldberg Jackhammer Nash and beat him decisively. Again.
So when the post-match angle kicked in, it was almost a relief.
Except – everybody sing along now – it didn’t make any sense.
To set the scene: spear, Jackhammer, pin, win, arm raised. Goldberg shrugs and says his new catchphrase “who’s left?”. Goldberg drops down to the floor …
… and Hulk Hogan comes out. [i]And[/i] Diamond Dallas Page. Together, they make Goldberg back up – keep in mind, this would make Goldberg [i]return[/i] to the ring, not get farther away from it. Goldberg slides in the ring, then vacates it on the other side, seething as Hogan and DDP get in the ring and help Nash to his feet. Tony Schiavone – sounding less like a man with a functioning brain with every word he was forced to utter – actually proclaimed that Hogan and DDP were “saving Nash” from the “violent”, “sadistic”, “selfish” Goldberg. Remember: Goldberg did not touch Nash after pinning him, and was driven [i]back[/i] to ringside by Hogan and DDP. Once again, 1999 WCW story logic at its finest.
But hey, what good’s a sundae without a cherry on top? I got six words for ya, courtesy of Kevin Nash:
“We’re getting the band back together!”
If that wasn’t clear enough, allow Hulk Hogan to elucidate:
“New World Order Red And Yellow, brother!”
The road to Fall Brawl
The idea of a New World Order reunion was enough to make even the most die-hard WCW fan reach for the remote. The super-group had been around since the spring of 1996. They’d broken up the Four Horsemen, won War Games twice, swelled their ranks to nearly two dozen members, and splintered into warring factions before drifting away. While the fade-to-black ending was hardly satisfactory emotionally, it was at least an ending. Bringing them back as a face stable not only beat the dead horse, it ran it over with a train, burned it, and ran it through a wood-chipper. A New Kids On The Block reunion would’ve gotten a better response than another trip with the nWo.
If the fans were already sick of it upon (re)birth, backstage, the roster had gone from quelled to full storm-the-Bastille mode again, only 48 hours removed from their last revolution. The idea of the two biggest politicians in the company, plus Bischoff’s good buddy and neighbor, now collected on-screen, took worrisome to a whole new level. By the time everybody had gotten to Nitro, the undercard had already bubbled back up to storm-the-Bastille levels of anger, only 48 hours removed from their last rebellion. Bischoff swore up and down that WCW was still a strong unit working together, and the new nWo was a storyline, nothing more. Nobody believed it, and five more wrestlers asked for their release: Shane Douglas, Prince Iaukea, Lenny Lane, Lodi and Alex Wright. The request by Wright was especially troubling for Bischoff; considerable money and effort had been spent to repackage Wright into a Rivethead-style gimmick named Berlyn, complete with a comely lass as a “translator” and a massive Power Plant grad as a bodyguard, given the name The Wall. The plan was to make Wright into a top-flight heel; it had already been delayed once, due to the gimmick’s visual similarities to the killers in the Columbine high school shooting, so the request to leave was a sting. Likewise, Douglas’ request, so soon after returning to WCW, would kill the Revolution stable; Bischoff was already working out plans to rebuild it, now making Benoit the focal point (no doubt as a thank-you for “defending” WCW at the meeting). Bischoff pleaded with the dissenters to give him thirty days to prove the old boy’s network was not alive and well.
Leave it to Bischoff to cut off his own legs only a matter of hours later by having Hogan beg Sting to take his place at Fall Brawl against Goldberg. Certainly not the most tidy way to mop up the mess of a storyline, but at this point, the less WCW tried to dive into the deep end of the storytelling swimming pool, the better. It saved a ton on migraine medication for viewers, even if Hogan in a main event made one reach for the Mylanta. You can only imagine, though, how many people just jumped all over WCW for crowning a top contender and then shelving him in favor of somebody else [i]again[/i].
Meanwhile, as if in some bizarre karmic counter-balance to Bischoff pulling the nWo out of mothballs, the embattled WCW honcho brought back something else: War Games. The two-ring steel cage match, a staple of WCW and the NWA before that, was last seen a year ago being bastardized as some hybrid team/multi-man match that was as ridiculous to watch as it is hard to explain. This year would bring it back to its roots: five-on-five, one entrant at a time until all were in the ring, and then The Match Beyond would begin. The video packages to hype it showed plenty of highlights from better days: the Dangerous Alliance/Stinger’s Squadron match, the gory 1991 match that almost got Brian Pillman’s neck broken, and plenty from the classics of the 80′s. The selection of highlights was carefully chosen, both to re-establish the match’s fearsome reputation after several lackluster editions, and to gloss over the last two in traditional format, where the nWo had been heels and run roughshod over the roster.
But keen-eyed fans (the dwindling few) and detractors all noticed the same thing: WCW, while boasting a roster over-flowing with talent, lacked stables or cohesion, regardless of alignment, to bring together to make a War Games feud compelling. In the past, it hadn’t been a problem; there’d been stables to play off of, be it the Four Horsemen or the Dangerous Alliance or even (shudder) the Stud Stable. WCW in 1999 had no dynamic heel stable to rally around.
So, Bischoff, seeing that his idea to bring back War Games was seriously hobbled out of the gate … uhh, went ahead anyway. Over the next few weeks, the teams would coalesce, and they’d be, more or less, just groups of people settling individual grudges in one central location. The red & yellow nWo would be represented by Nash and DDP. Alongside would be Sting, and, in a transparent effort to throw the midcard a bone, Dean Malenko and the man who had almost quit the promotion, Shane Douglas. An odd mixture for sure, but it certainly didn’t lack in star power.
Standing opposed? Well … this is where it gets tricky. Revolution had been feuding with The First Family, so, Hugh Morrus and Brian Knobs were tapped. While it made sense from a storyline standpoint (hardly WCW’s strong suit of late, so give them a round of applause), it lacked marquee value. Standing alongside was Goldberg’s bodyguard Sid, Ric Flair (bringing the concepts of the Horsemen and beating a dead horse together) and … returning without so much as a whiff of promotion or fanfare whatsoever … Lex Luger. “The Total Package” had spent the bulk of ’99 out on injury, and before that, had less heat than an eskimo’s ballsack in brass underwear. His career had been one of broken promises and potential never met, and as the 90′s wore on, it only got worse. While they made the right move in having him attack Sting, it was like trying to cook a t-bone steak with a cigarette lighter; nothing was going to get Luger hot enough to justify suddenly being among the big dogs again.
Not to mention the fact that, once again, it was a member of the old guard sliding into a spot others below had worked so hard to not get. Once again, Bischoff had said one thing and done another. Whether it was intentional or not misses the point; opportunities for advancement were token and ephemeral, and somehow, you’d always get politicked out of it anyway.
Like Goldberg, that man who Bischoff had said [i]had[/i] to be a monster heel to get back his heat. Who was now acting like camp counselor staring down Jason Voorhees whenever he saw Hulk Hogan. No, really, Goldberg [i]ran[/i] from Hogan on one occasion, and acted piss-your-britches scared every other time they crossed paths. Watching Bischoff his the self-destruct button on his own plans, accidental or on purpose, was becoming sad. It was like watching a child with ADD manage to build a Lego castle … and then, by mandate of his pathology, smash it to ruins seconds later. Bischoff would later assert his booking of Goldberg was leading to Goldberg faking the fear and demolishing Hogan, which looks great in hindsight, five years later. But we have only his word for it. Hogan has said he thought the plan was what Bischoff told the room at Road Wild weekend. And Sting has said he was told in confidence Hogan was never getting the belt, and Goldberg was going to drop it to him at Halloween Havoc. A third plan variant comes from Bret Hart, who says he was told by Bischoff that, upon his imminent return, he would unseat Goldberg at Starrcade. And, hey, can you believe DDP was given a story about winning the belt? This time, Bischoff changed the event, saying he’d win it at WW3, after Goldberg was stripped and the belt was put on the line in the over-sized battle royal. Bischoff, of course, has denied telling these men these stories. One has to wonder why they’d all make up such stories of promises unfulfilled. That leads to the follow-up thought; if Bischoff was spinning so many yarns that went nowhere in so many directions, wouldn’t he get caught up in his own web sooner or later?
The answer to that question was a resounding yes. With his do-or-die deadline looming, Bischoff was doing his best to make every Nitro – and even every Thunder – one that drew in viewers and sold tickets. It wasn’t working; ratings were still eroding, as were ticket sales and PPV buys.
What nobody, not even Bischoff, knew was that doomsday was approaching far faster than he knew. And with all the nails he’d virtually handed upper management to nail his coffin shut, somebody would step in from the shadows and make sure the coffin stayed shut.
Like their rival’s “Big 5” pay-per-views, WCW’s PPV calendar had certain events that stood out above the rest. The Great American Bash harkened back to the JCP era. Halloween Havoc was likewise a long-standing tradition. Of course, there was Starrcade, WCW’s Wrestlemania. And on that list would be Fall Brawl, which had, in the 90′s, become the home of War Games. As has been previously stated, the pressure was on for one Eric Bischoff to make Fall Brawl a blow-away event, in more ways than one, and he’d put his eggs in two baskets: a revival of War Games, and Goldberg/Hogan II.
On Friday, September 10th, 1999, two days before Fall Brawl would bow, the pressure was lifted off Eric Bischoff’s shoulders. Not because of a grand epiphany, but because the brass came calling, slightly sooner than expected.
No, Eric Bischoff no longer felt the pressure of making Fall Brawl a success because Eric Bischoff was sent home. As in, relieved of duties.
What prompted the execs to take such action, 48 hours ahead of the pay-per-view headlined by a rematch one year in the making, a rematch Bischoff had sold as the ticket back to the promised land?
The midcard, that bastard child Bischoff had kicked around time and again, rose up and took vengeance. Specifically, one man in that midcard: the disgruntled, loose-tongued Shane Douglas.
Douglas, from a 2003 interview with The Torch: “I was talking to Perry [Saturn] the week before Fall Brawl, and he tells me he [i]finally[/i] got his letter of termination from WCW. He tells me his letter is dated the fifth of September, and WCW is firing him for failure to appear and perform at scheduled events. And they aren’t paying him for all the events he ‘missed’ in August and September, [i]and[/i] there’s a thirty day ‘waiting period’. So, they jerk him around for three weeks – that’s three weeks he couldn’t go to Philly or Japan or anywhere – and then tell him he’s gotta wait [i]another[/i] four weeks before he can do ECW or XPW or Japan or Mexico. It may come as a shock to you, but guys like me and Saturn, we did alright, but we weren’t making Kevin Nash-Hulk Hogan-Ric Flair money, not by a long-shot. Seven weeks without a paycheck is a long time, especially when it’s just a jerk-around. And the son of a bitch even had the gall to sign off with ‘best wishes’ at the bottom. My best wishes involve Eric Bischoff crashing into an overpass.”
After talking with Saturn, Douglas would talk to a couple more of the boys who took a walk at Road Wild, and would hear the same story. Armed with this knowledge, Douglas placed a call to Turner Sports execs and ratted out Bischoff. But it wouldn’t be the only sin to bite Bischoff in the ass; DDP, tired of being Bischoff’s pawn, came clean about the shoot fight with Goldberg, and how he was told to antagonize him. Between that damning evidence and Bischoff’s games with the releases (which, incidentally, he’d told his bosses were “cut-backs”, and made no mention of a talent uprising), that was more than enough to seal the deal on Bischoff’s execution.
With Bischoff sent home, the execs made a personal appearance at Fall Brawl to anoint Kevin Sullivan and JJ Dillon the interim creative team. And with it, they were given two mandates: one, Goldberg must defeat Hogan. Two, nobody from Bischoff’s former retinue (read, Nash, Hogan, etc) could be a part of the decision-making process. For DDP, not having Bischoff around was a relief. For Nash, nothing much changed.
But for Hogan, a new reality set in. He had a measure of creative control in his contract, and per the mandate of the people upstairs, that clause was now officially worthless. He tried to plead with them, to threaten a lawsuit, to explain the deal he and Bischoff had made about Hogan’s loss to Goldberg over a year ago. They would have none of it. Perhaps believing that, even at this point, Goldberg’s value could be rehabilitated, the execs insisted. It was like a bizarre inversion of the circumstances that led to the Montreal Screwjob; here, the wrestler with the poison-pill contract was the challenger, and he was not happy being asked to go out and do a job he felt was detrimental to his character. Only this time, there was no contract with another promotion for Hogan to fall back on; he was trying to bluff an opposition that held a full house, and he had, at best, a high face card.
For the new regime, that was only one problem. Another came in the form of that pesky, rebellious midcard. While Sullivan was certainly not Bischoff, that didn’t mean the old boy network was gone; it simply switched players. At best, the switch was a lateral move, as Sullivan had his preferences, and had heat with some in the middle ranks, most notable Chris Benoit. “The Crippler” would be encouraged (read: begged) to stay by Bret Hart, as a personal favor; through Benoit, Shane Douglas would stay as well, and that would inspire those who’d been hanging on based on Bischoff’s give-me-more-time promise enough inspiration to stay as well.
Alex Wright, however, would regret doing so by the end of the weekend. His Berlyn character was cool, edgy and unlike anything ever seen in wrestling. With a translator and a bodyguard, as well as a fresh look, he should’ve, could’ve, been something. But his scheduled opponent, Buff Bagwell, went to his new bookers and asked if the ending for his match with Berlyn – namely, Bagwell losing – could be changed. Not wanting to rock the boat, Sullivan declined, so Bagwell “came down with food poisoning”. Sullivan turned to an old friend, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, to fill in the spot … only Duggan was more a Hogan loyalist than anything, and he saw Berlyn as an upstart who hadn’t earned his spot. The resulting match saw Duggan no-sell almost all of Berlyn’s offense, making him look like a complete chump when he should’ve been building up Berlyn. Winning the (atrocious) match didn’t do anything to help; as fast as you could say “Arachnaman”, Berlyn was dead in the water. So much for good karma with the midcard crowd.
What came next, though, blew everybody’s mind and damn near made the internet collapse in on itself. After the stink-burger opener with Berlyn and Duggan, Goldberg came out. He didn’t want to wait; he wanted Hogan now. So, Hogan came out. The fact he was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt – not one of his cut-away, ready-to-tear Hulkamania shirts, but an actual, casual wear tee – should’ve been a tip-off something was wrong. Nobody picked up on it, not even Schiavone and the rest … although, to be fair, Schiavone had been beaten down psychologically so much, he wouldn’t have noticed if the Nitro Girls had a lesbian orgy in the middle of the ring. Anyway, Hogan climbed in the ring and stood there with the longest, saddest expression on his face. The bell rang, Hogan walked to the center of the ring and laid down. Goldberg looked confused for a moment, then shrugged and pinned Hogan. Nobody knew what to think; the crowd didn’t know whether to cheer or boo, and Schiavone stumbled over his words like he’d just learned how to use his tongue. On the way out, Hogan said to the cameras “stick it, Billionaire Ted” and proclaimed himself the “real money-maker of WCW”. Hogan’s name would not be mentioned again on Fall Brawl, nor the next night, and not for many months beyond.
That, seemingly, left War Games as the main event. If you’ve never seen it, you’ll be surprised to know that it was actually decent. By no means was it the barn-burner of 1991 or 1992, but it held up its end of the bargain. The heels won the coin toss (of course), there was some blood, and it went a goodish time. It wasn’t worth paying for the entire show, but it was definitely a good match to end the night on. It put a little something in the doubters mouth to chew on, gave the new (temporary) regime a feather in their cap, and gave the crowd something to be happy about, especially as the faces won, with Malenko getting the submission out of Luger.
But the new regime wasn’t finished quite yet (especially with almost a half an hour left on the clock). Goldberg came back out and demanded another opponent, saying he hadn’t come to a “sewer like Winston-Salem” to “play politics with old men” (the closest reference to Hogan since he walked out). So who should come out to answer the open challenge? Of all people, Chris Benoit. And while War Games was good, Goldberg/Benoit was [i]good[/i]. The kind of match you call up a friend and say “dude, you watchin’ this?”. The only thing unfortunate about it was that it was a fresh match-up that, with a little promotion, might’ve drawn some interest and maybe a few buys from fans who’d turned to the competition after years of the same old thing. For those who saw it, though, they saw the kind of match that you can almost literally see a star being made from. It was the match Goldberg needed back in January, instead of taking ass-kickings from drunks and opponents with no heat. And it was the kind of match that made people stand up and take notice that Benoit could pull out this kind of match with people outside the normal midcard merry-go-round. And to make it even better, it went twenty-two minutes, and did so in the right way; Goldberg didn’t drag it out, and Benoit didn’t guzzle the offense. It looked like Goldberg had finally met an equal, and on this day, he just happened to get in the winning shot first. In short, it was what Goldberg and WCW needed.
Too bad it needed it nine months ago, and was booked hotshot. Beggars can’t be choosers, eh?
Still, it was something good. Something promising. Something that gave the Sullivan/Dillon regime an instant boost of credibility. Even the harshest critics were hard-pressed to call Fall Brawl anything but a success, especially against WWF’s Unforgiven event two weeks later, which features a domestic-violence angle with Jeff Jarrett, Miss Kitty and Chyna, a muddled six-man main event for a vacant world championship (after Vince McMahon anointed himself champion), and a top-ten-worst-of-all-time match in the Kennel From Hell match. Against all fears, against case history, it seemed like WCW was finally turning a corner and shedding that shoot-yourself-in-the-foot mentality. And with Bret Hart returning, it really seemed like the sky was the limit. And all it took was getting rid of Bischoff.
Indeed, it looked like WCW had ditched the habit of shooting itself in the foot.
By the time Halloween Havoc rolled around, they’d be taking a chainsaw to their kneecaps. And fans would be wishing for a bullet to the head.
After all, Sullivan and Dillon were only given the position on an [i]interim[/i] basis.
To be concluded …
One more part to go before this story arc comes to its Final Chapter (and unlike Friday the 13th, there’s won’t be a crappy reboot sequel followed by a ret-con sequel). Hope you’re all enjoying this. It’s by far been one of my favorites, to write and to share with you. Once again, gotta put out the reminder that, a week after Part IV, I’ll be posting a special “aftershow” edition, where I answer some questions, reply to some feedback, and share some author’s notes about this story. But I can’t answer questions or reply to feedback if I don’t get it from YOU. Yeah, you, I’m talkin’ to you, mister. Got something you wanna say? Or a question? Doesn’t even have to be about this column. Could be about another edition of RTB … or if I’m a Joel guy or a Mike guy … my thoughts on the current product … my guilty pleasure TV show … ANYTHING you’ve ever wanted to ask or say. Now’s your chance. Take the mic, stand up and be heard. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, find me on Twitter @zeteticbynature, leave a comment below, or post it in the RTB thread in the forums. Be a part of it!
See you next week for Part IV!