We celebrated a milestone a few days ago. On July 6, it was twenty years from the day WCW presented one of its biggest matchups ever. July 7 was also twenty-two years from when WCW featured one of its most shocking moments ever. Both offer a very significant “explanation in miniature” as to why the company peaked as high as it did, and also why it collapsed as stunningly as it did too.
So for no reason other than to reminisce, let’s go back to the day when Red and Yellow turned Black and White, and the day Black and White got jackhammered in Georgia.
(check out part one here, where we looked back on Hogan’s heel turn and the birth of the nWo)
Hogan turning heel was one of the most shocking moments in the history of pro wrestling. I’d put it on the same lofty platform as Bruno Sammartino losing to Ivan Koloff and Undertaker losing at WrestleMania 30. Obviously this was different because it wasn’t a match but an angle, nevertheless to be a wrestling fan and to witness Hulk Hogan (wearing red and yellow) soak in boos and tell the audience to shut up was surreal. It ushered in a new era of wrestling and kicked off a faction that is still talked about today and still influences the product today, twenty-two years later.
But let’s go back only twenty years to see one of many examples of how it all went wrong.
Really, this event is the second of three catastrophically bad decisions that ended up nailing the coffin closed on World Championship Wrestling.
First there was Starrcade.
The year was 1997 and for a year and a half Hulk Hollywood Hogan had been running roughshod over WCW. What began at Bash at the Beach 1996 was the not the kickoff to a summer program, culminating in a blowoff that Fall or even that December at the company’s WrestleMania-like event. On the contrary, Starrcade 1996 featured Roddy Piper vs Hollywood Hogan as its main-event. It wasn’t exactly Rock vs Austin, ya know?
Everyone knew the real money match wasSting vs Hogan, and once again WCW played the slowburn, building and building throughout 1997 to the ultimate competition. Starrcade 1997 should have been the big victory. It should have been WCW’s equivalent of Austin beating Michaels in 1998. It should have been the feel good moment where the good guy wins and the fans get to rejoice after literally eighteen months of frustration, blueballing and screwjob finishes.
Instead it was a frustrating, blueballed, screwjob finish.
Part of it was Bischoff being backed into a creative corner and not knowing what to do with a conquering hero babyface champ. WCW had been getting by for a long time with a heel who cheated to retain the title. That’s being their bread and butter going back to the Crockett days.
Another part of it was Hogan (supposedly) not wanting to do a clean job. That’s pretty crummy if true, considering the ultimate job of a heel at the end of the day is to lay down and put the babyface over. He had his run as the babyface where everyone from Andre to Savage laid down for him; it was time to return the favor as a heel.
Instead they concocted a stupid “fast count” (that wasn’t fast) finish to protect Hogan, continue the story and keep Sting chasing. Fans naturally balked. After all, they’d waited long enough. It was time for a payoff, not a continuation.
The bubbling of fan discontent that had been percolating under the earth for some time finally started to produce cracks in the foundation.
Fast forward to January 4, 1999 and the last of the three big blunders. Kevin Nash was champion and now a babyface, leading an offshoot of the nWo to great fan acclaim. Hogan was the heel, still leading the OG black and white version of the group.
It was a huge faction vs faction world title match, so of course it took place on Nitro instead of PPV.
To be fair, it was the first show of the new year, and both companies often did something special on that show (the WWF had world title changes two years in a row, in fact, in 1999 and 2000). Going head to head with WWF’s world title main-event was simply fighting fire with fire.
Except WCW somehow managed to light himself on fire in the process.
Hogan fingered Nash and won the title without breaking a sweat. Once again feeling jerked around, and more than a little “done with it all,” WCW fans turned the channel to Raw in droves, watching Mankind capture the WWF championship to the elation of a sold out crowd. Most of those WCW fans became WWF fans and never looked back.
Smashed in between those two moldy pieces of bread is the turd that makes the sandwich: July 6, 1998, now twenty years ago.
Goldberg beat Hollywood Hogan clean 1-2-3 to win the world championship.
“Wait…why is this a blunder” you ask.
Well I’ll tell you.
For starters you have the fact that it happened on Nitro with literal days of build-up. What happened to WCW slowburning things, building and building anticipation to a fever pitch? Sure they blew it with Starrcade 97, but fans are fickle and can easily swing back around if you give them something to sink their teeth into. Instead, feeling the WWF pressure, WCW decided to play its biggest card in a desperate attempt to win one(!) week of ratings.
It wasn’t just the biggest match they had in their arsenal, either, it was the biggest match either company had. It could have been the biggest match in WCW history, in terms of heat and starpower. All it needed was a little stroking and stoking, but instead it was tossed out in a shortsighted attempt to get a little-w “win” over the rival.
But beyond that, there’s the moment itself, which is momentous in spite of itself. WCW did everything it could to make this moment less than magical, and the fact that it is at all is a testament to Goldberg’s huge popularity at the time…
WCW only managed to sell 27,000 tickets to the Georgia Dome show (they could have sold the place out with better promotion), but those 27k were going crazy for everything their hometown hero was doing.
Nevertheless, observe how WCW’s production almost ruined the moment. Right as Hogan was building up heat and getting ready for what should have been Goldberg’s big comeback and win, the camera cuts away to Curt Hennig strolling leisurely down the ring, there to support Hogan. During the same camera shot, we see behind Hennig’s shoulder as DDP and Karl Malone (in support of Goldberg) are leisurely strolling after Hennig. Keep in mind this is the most critical moment of the match and everything the fans (at home or in person) are supposed to focus on is suddenly shifted to three guys who don’t even have the energy to jog!
The camera cuts back just as Goldberg kicks out at two after back to back Hogan leg drops.
Just…just imagine this: Seth Rollins vs Brock Lesnar, SummerSlam 2018. Lesnar hits two F-5’s and goes for a pin and then, THE CAMERA CUTS TO DREW MCINTYRE BEING (SLOWLY) FOLLOWED BY DEAN AMBROSE, cutting back just in time to see Seth kick out of the dual-finishers. That’s insanity. That’s a moment even Kevin Dunn knows to keep focused on the ring and let the commentators stroke the emotions of the audience.
We then cut back to ringside as Hennig eats a diamond cutter from Malone. There’s no buildup, no suspense, no purpose other than to give Hogan something to look at while Goldberg sets up the spear. Just clunky clunky execution.
The moment he hits the spear though, followed by the jackhammer and pin…that’s a killer moment. It’s what Starrcade 1997 should have been. Except it was given away for free and was almost ruined by bad production.
It was a perfect example of what exactly was wrong with WCW. It had every possible reason to succeed, but failed just enough and in all the wrong times to crumble like a house of cards.
What are your thoughts, Cagesiders? Who remembers the Goldberg vs Hogan match and what are your memories? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
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