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Hogan/Sting: 25 Years since Starrcade '97
It was the biggest match of the decade on the biggest show of the year. The spectacle let us down
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Despite being a wrestling fan my entire life, I had never made it to a wrestling show before a cold night in December of 1997. On the 28th, I made my way down to the MCI Center in Washington for what was supposed to be the biggest match of all time at what was billed as the biggest show of 1997.
It was quite the time to head to my first show. It was not a house show in a gym somewhere. It was not a TV taping in a small arena. It wasn’t even a live RAW or Nitro. It was Starrcade 1997. And we all know what match was the draw for that show.
The seats were good but not great; they were low in the upper enough to see the action rather clearly.
The best match of the night, naturally, was the opening bout where Eddie Guerrero defended the WCW Cruiserweight Title against Dean Malenko. Two of the best to ever lace up a pair of boots put on one hell of an opening contest.
It was typical WCW at the time; a very hot opening contest between two guys who could really go. Watch the video above (it’s the full match!) and you’ll understand why this match clicked and why it was so important; the crowd was IN to this.
Sadly, that type of energy and enthusiasm did not continue.
Let’s look at the next matches on the card:
The nWo team of Scott Norton, Vincent, and Randy Savage defeated the team of the late Ray Traylor and the Steiner Brothers in a six-man tag team match;
Goldberg over Steve McMichael;
Saturn over he who shall not be named in a Ravens Rules Match
Buff Bagwell over Lex Luger.
This is not exactly a great lineup of matches here. Even the Saturn-Benoit match was a hardcore junkfest instead of the technical masterpiece that it could have been.
After this came Diamond Dallas Page winning the US Title from Curt Hennig. To tell you how memorable this was, I remember Page winning the title but forgot that Hennig was the champ he won it from. In fact, I forgot Hennig was U.S. Champion at all because he was another guy poorly booked in the 1996-1997 time period.
At least the crowd popped; DDP was SERIOUSLY over in this time frame.
The next match was……..Eric Bischoff against Larry Zybysko…….with referee Bret Hart. Remember; this was about seven weeks after the Montreal Screwjob. Bret Hart was a hot commodity at this point and his advertised role on the show was to….referee a match between two non-wrestlers in the next-to-last-match on the card. A match that didn’t even have a clean finish to it.
It would have been, I don’t know, a great time for Bret Hart to have his first match in WCW? Something that was inexplicably saved for Souled Out a month later? There was (ostensibly) a spot open on the card; the advertised match between The Giant and Kevin Nash didn’t happen.
Not to fantasy book it too much, but the right course of action would have been to book Bret Hart’s first match against Scott Hall, who of course was one of a member of the Kilq. Hart going over Hall as “payback” for getting screwed by Shawn Michaels would have made for quite an angle and quite a moment.
It also would have made the ending of this show make a lot more sense.
Look a lot has been made about the booking of this show, Nick Patrick’s slow count, and Bret Hart making himself the guest referee to count the deciding fall.
There is so much controversy about Patrick’s count to this day that Conrad Thompson is dropping a special show about Starrcade and the count with Patrick and Eric Bischoff today. And even that’s retreating old ground for Thompson and Bischoff:
As somebody who was in the building that night the reaction was…..mixed? Fans were excited to see a title change, excited to see Sting take the title after the angle had run its course for over a year. But it was also deflating insofar as it was a schmozz Dusty Finish that didn’t make sense even in real-time.
I left the building that night with a sense of high expectations that were never fully realized. And yet they were not expectations set by myself; it was the expectations set by WCW themselves when they talked about the stakes in the match and how Hogan vs Sting was supposed to be “the match of the decade.”
I certainly did not feel any better about it when WCW ran the same match on Nitro the very next night. Or when Sting was stripped of the title after 11 days, making us all wonder what the 12+ months of buildup was for in the first place.
It didn’t stop me from watching the product. Nor did it stop me from going to another WCW pay-per-view show a few months later. And while I certainly was not the cynical “smart” wrestling fan that I would later become, I certainly knew that something was greatly wrong with WCW’s product.
Of course, given what was coming in WCW over the course of those three years, we had no idea what we were in store for….